Why does comedy make people happy?
Local comedian Dave Carter, who co-organizes the Shaskeen Pub’s weekly comedy night, says it’s a complex question. He says we all have a different baseline of happiness, and what we’re looking for is a difference from the day-to-day grind.
“Whether that’s going to movies, watching Game of Thrones, or coming to comedy night, its an escape from day-to-day,” he said. “Some people out there who are fans of comedy really need it and on the aggregate, it makes them happier.”
Studies show that laughing for at least 10 minutes a day release “happy hormones” like endorphins and serotonin into the brain while reducing the prevalence of stress hormones.
“It’s like the runner’s high, except it’s the laughter’s high,” said certified laughter teacher and founder of the New England Center of Laughter Marcia Wyman, who teaches people to harness their childlike sources of laughter from within.
Whether you’re catching some yuks at a comedy show or taking a laughter yoga class, setting and achieving a weekly quota of chuckles could equate to a happier, healthier life.
Let them entertain you
On Wednesday nights, Carter and his co-organizer, comedian Nick Lavallee, bring comedians to the Shaskeen Pub who range from pros from Comedy Central to up-and-comers from the greater Boston area to hometown heroes. Their goal is to foster a lot of laughs and create a big-city entertainment feel to a city of only 120,000 residents.
There’s a reason the West Coast showcase-style event falls on humpday night. A night of laughs is just what the doctor ordered to beat the workweek blues.
“Folks come in, people who are regulars of first-timers, and say Wednesday has always been known as humpday but in order to get over it, I come to comedy night and laugh,” Carter said. “Almost weekly people will say, ‘That was an awesome show. I came in here in a crappy mood’ or ‘I knew this was going to be a crappy week and I was able to come to [comedy night] and be entertained.”
Carter said jokes that focus on local subjects get the biggest laughs, because they give people the sense that they are all in it together, that they are part of a specific community.
But the local angle doesn’t stop outsiders and passersby from getting happy, either, Carter said.
“I had the opportunity to sit down after a show and talk with two groups, one from Ireland and one from Kentucky. … They had a tremendous time, even though the cultural translation was lost,” he said.
Actually, any joke people can relate to get warm responses, Carter said. Universal appeal is key. Scott Hayward, owner of Tupelo Music Hall, agrees. Tupelo has been interspersed comedy nights into its music-heavy entertainment calendar for nearly seven years, and Hayward said that audience really like it when their own experiences are brought out and poke-fun at on stage.
“It seems jokes that come across the best make us realize we’re kind of full of [it] ourselves,” he said. “Nothing is better than a joke that makes us see how silly [we] are. They can cut a big problem down to something a lot smaller.”
Comedy nights have a whole different feel than music nights at Tupelo, Hayward said. Most people who come for bands pretty much know what they are getting and have certain expectations. Listeners may be focused in one the guitarist, or listening to the words, and it has a way of bringing back memories in a sometimes complex way. But comedy nights are light and easy to digest.
“There’s an element of surprise. And there’s a lot of interaction. Some comedians work off the crowd. … It’s more ‘on the edge of your seat,’” Hayward said. “Comedy is a lot less complicated. ... People just forget about everything and laugh.”
Comedians are on the top of the list of laugh-inspiring resources, but what if we could be our own inspiration?
According to certified laughter teacher and founder of the New England Center of Laughter Marcia Wyman, on average children laugh between 300 and 400 times per day, while adults only laugh 16.
“And that’s only if somebody makes us laugh,” she said. “If no one brings comedy, we don't laugh.”
Laughter Yoga inspires a unique form of chuckles that doesn’t involve humor, comedy or jokes, said Wyman, who in 2010 suffered a stroke that left her left side paralyzed.
“My attitude was, if I’m going to be crippled for rest of my life, I might as well laugh about it, and lo and behold, I found a documentary on laughter yoga and found an instructor in Massachusetts to teach me how to do it.”
The practice doesn’t have side effects and doesn’t cost anything. Instead of laughing at things or people, it’s laughing for the sake of laughing. Since 2010 Wyman has been teaching laughter yoga classes across the state for groups as large as 300 people and as small as just one.
In her classes, Wyman trains her students to relax by thinking up images that trigger laughter. Some of the exercises have strange names, like “milk shake,” “hot sand” and “gorilla.”
During the “milk shake” exercise, people pretend they are holding a glass in each hand. They pour one into the other, and then pour it back again, making sound effects as they go. Then they bring the glass up to their mouth to drink, and they laugh.
Picture a whole room of people pantomiming and saying, Uhhhh. Uhhhh. Uhhhhahahahaha!
Hot sand goes something like this: oo oo oooo ouch ouch ouch ouch.
“And then we’re laughing,” Wyman said. “We’re childlike and the body doesn't know the difference between real laughter and fake. Once you get the fake going it almost always dissolves into real laughter.”
The images don’t necessarily have to be funny, either. Laughter yoga teaches people how to trigger laughter when thinking about things like “I don’t have any money.” Laugh experts say that teaches the brain to change its opinion about what it’s reacting to.
Of course, newcomers to Laughter Yoga often bring a fair share of skepticism.
“Oh yes, they are skeptical, but they always leave with a smile,” Wyman said. “They say, ‘Boy this is the best half-hour I’ve ever spent. I wish I’d done this earlier in my life.”
As seen in the June 5, 2014 issue of the Hippo.