In 1976, I used to go the Comedy Store on Westwood Blvd to see who would show up during the middle of the week. I was never disappointed sitting in that tiny dingy space with smoke and alcohol clouding up the atmosphere. Could always sit near or literally on the stage. One night a pre-Mork Robin Williams showed up. He was a refugee from Julliard and was trying out his outrageous routines. He performed an entire ballet/opera interpretation of childbirth from conception to first breath. Take my word no gory, explicit and hilarious detail was spared. It was a stunning and mind-bending show of machine gun lines, gymnastics and song. I was less than 10 feet from maestro Robin for those glorious 5 minutes. Being a student of the craft, at least I thought, but certainly a connoisseur of comedy—I present my worn-out Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce albums as evidence—I was rendered speechless. my mouth agape throughout the entire eruption of talent and hysteria. I had developed a habit of not laughing to avoid missing the next line or gag. But this time I was paralyzed by the enormity of the creativity and was teleported to Nanu nanu land. At the end, he brought the house down, people were enraptured trying to compose themselves. And there I was frozen looking like a hooked mackerel. Robin instantly noticed me and ran up and yelled, “Wasn’t that funny, wasn’t I funny?!!” I was a fossil. He grabbed my hand, and he started making symbols in my hands in some sort of crazy braille gesture. I remained inert. Then he declared, “Oh he’s Japanese!” And started to speak to me in faux oriental words. The small audience laughed at me as I could barely take in oxygen, incapable of laughing at myself.
I have never laughed so hard without laughing.
Laughing during the apocalypse
It is hard to laugh in these apocalyptic times. What can we laugh at these days? We all freeze up a bit. We feel guilty when we laugh today. There is so much despair, depression, grief, and anxiety. Life is so damn serious. Yes racism, climate change, this crazy pandemic, inequality, politics…. And our culture had let things go too far and we needed brighter boundaries of human decency.
Perhaps we have over-corrected. The oppressing forces we experience, and we enable, are choking the last gasp giggles out of us. Our senses of humor have been suppressed, compressed, and depressed by political correctness and the woke Olympics.
There is always the dangerous gallows humor–who wants that. You can humor up—make fun of elites, or your boss, or the Hippos (Highest Paid People in the Office).
Scarcity of Laughter
But fear, cancel culture and excessive fragility have put jokes, humor, and fun on the endangered species list.
Recent research shows laughing and smiling “plummet” at age 23. 23!
Stress, anxiety, and pressure to excel have also conspire to stunt the growth of our children’s funny bones.
A friend of mine relayed a conversation between her two daughters who were in the back seat on their way to school. They were just getting back into the classroom and headed to their second week of classes. The older one started high school and the younger sibling was beginning middle school. “What’s it like at high school? Is it really different?”, the younger sis queried. “Oh yeah, there is no play! No recess. No playground time,” retorted the big sis.
Earlier and earlier, we are putting the screws to our kids and our society to stop fooling around if you want to succeed and be happy. Yikes. The American Dream is sponsored by fear of failure.
But I digress. Where can we unleash our pent-up comedy reservoirs to generate some side-splitting belly laughs?
Laugh! At Yourself
Yeah we must develop the capacity to laugh at ourselves.
Cindy Lamothe observes: The act of poking fun at ourselves is admitting that we’re imperfect humans — but it’s only when we can recognize our own infallibility with kindness and grace that we’re more able to view those around us the same way. In forgiving all of our awkward mishaps, we make room so that others can, too.
This has been so hard for me. Trying to be correct, proper and a model for others. As the oldest and as a would-be leader, I have a storage unit of baggage that has made self-deprecation painful. Luckily having kids was part of my re-entry program into the land of authenticity. Kids are brutally honest and relentless. —How you look, what you say, how dorky, nerdy and out of touch you really are. I have been fed my share of humble pie by my family! Bitter pastry that is actually quite nourishing. 🙂 After years of engaging my authoritarian warp shields that only deflected the love from the family planet, I had to give in. I let them take
hundreds of photos and videos to document my Daddlyness. I am treated to re-runs at every holiday. Slowly I have appreciated how humorous I am to the world. And has become a weird source of pride. Dad, you are very funny—-looking!
Not talking about humility. As Golda Meir said, “Don’t be humble, you are not that good.”
I am talking about shining a light on your foibles and embracing your human imperfections! It is funny stuff.
Once you fall off that high horse into the manure. Or when you see yourself come out of the bathroom of reality with that ugly remnant of your ego stuck to your shoe. You begin to end the charade of perfection.
The benefits of laughing and especially laughing at yourself with others are enormous.
It Starts with the Brain
Laughing exchanges, the cortisol in our bloodstream with the good stuff in the brain: dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Dopamine enhances learning, motivation, and attention. Oxytocin is the “empathy hormone”. Endorphins trigger feelings of pleasure. Other benefits include: improved immune function, stress reduction, cardiovascular health, lower anxiety, and improved mood.
Laughter also works as an observation technique, reducing the amygdala response of “fight-or-flight”. Laughter allows us to pause, think and connect with the people and world around us.
Making fun of yourself and laughing AT yourself will inure many benefits.
1. People will gravitate to you and your leadership.
2. Your team/family will be more open to discuss their failures.
3. Cultivates a culture of creative thinking and problem-solving.
4. Co-regulates anxiety and stress associated with the expectation of perfection.
5. Builds self-compassion through authenticity.
We need to laugh more. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Start with the greatest sense and source of humor—YOU.
I smile every time I think of Robin Williams and my brush with his brilliance. His bits about parenting and his Dad may have been his most honest and humorous. I am still working at closing my mouth and being secure enough to enjoy when I am the punchline. Ask my kids how I am doing –still a work in progress–but their video collection is off limits!
Thanks for reading. John