And, hot off the press, the scorching new wellness trend set to take 2018 by storm is – drumroll, please – choreographed group laughter.
I made that up, of course. It’s not nearly gobbledy-gooky enough to pass for a wellness trend. But it has been said since Proverbs 17:22 that laughter is the best medicine. Well, what Proverbs 17:22 actually says is:
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”
But ‘laughter is the best medicine’ has a better ring to it and it’s the sort of quasi-medical common sense that I’m absolutely inclined to believe.
Disclaimer: I’m part of the practitioning of laughing arts, being the scriptwriter behind the Christmas pantomime, Cindy and the Villanelles, showing this week in Wanaka, New Zealand. Cheesy community in-jokes, local actors, lolly scrambles, singalongs, a dreadful panto horse social media campaign … I know, I know, panto is to Serious Thespians what TV talent shows are to Proper Musos. But there’s a time and a place for communing in ridiculous fun.
In the process of laughter, this is what happens, physically speaking. Let’s say someone tells you a joke. Wait, let me tell you a joke:
Trojan the Panto Pony went to the doctor and said, “I have a sore throat.” The doctor said, “It’s OK, you’re just a little hoarse.”
Did you laugh? Gelotologists (laughter specialists) will tell you that in order to decide whether or not to make you laugh at that, your brain will have to do a left cortex, frontal lobe, right hemisphere sensory process to see if it counts as funny. If it decides in the affirmative, your brain will then contract your facial muscles and possibly convulse other body parts such as your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. You may start to breathe faster and create involuntary, variably pitched, often repeated sounds. You might start to sweat or cry. Occasionally you may lose muscle strength or bladder control. But, like, in a good way. But then, when was the last time you laughed until you cried? Or until you peed your pants just a tiny little bit?
Embarrassing laundry moments aside, laughter does everything that an organic turmeric, beetroot and spirulina (sugar, lactose and gluten free) paleo smoothie does, and then some. It reduces stress, releases endorphins and lights up your social brain like a Christmas tree. There is a slight chemical difference in your noggin as to whether you’re laughing at or with someone else. A gelotological chap called Professor Dirk Wildgruber has studied this and discovered that there is way more “mentalizing” with taunting laughter than there is with joyous laughter. Plus, it’s not that nice to laugh at people when you can laugh alongside them instead.
Laughing alongside is sort of the whole point of a pantomime. Remembering not to take yourself or anyone else too seriously. Or too eruditely or anything. As Trojan the Panto Pony would like me to point out, “that doesn’t behoove anyone.” Which is a seriously important lesson for this time of the year. Modern Merry Christmas seems to be set up to bring out the anxieties in us all. Families, finances, fake cheer, falsetto songs, other words beginning with ‘f’ that you want to repeat again and again over the bland pointlessness that is turkey. And all that research that says people are more likely to laugh, for real, in company, was not conducted at strainingly convivial corporate or co-habitual Christmas gatherings. Oh no.
But laughter also gives you a bit of a mind-body cleanse, which gives you perspective, and perspective is good. Like, at least your house isn’t about to be bulldozed by an evil property developer who wants to build a car park on the site, while your father’s affections are being rudely snaffled by your new and very bearded stepsisters, while you are like, literally the only person in the universe not to get an invite to the ball that you eventually ride to in a vegetable, wearing clothes that aren’t even yours and you have a stupidly early curfew and have to talk to a mind-numbingly boring man who thinks he’s God’s gift, but you don’t even mind because you’re doing it all for love and family.
Or at least I very much hope not, because otherwise all our audiences are going to be laughing at you and with each other, at the turkeyed-up fairy story that is Cindy and the Villanelles.
Liz Breslin lives in Hawea Flat, New Zealand and writes poems, plays, stories and articles as well as a fortnightly column for the Otago Daily Times. Her website is www.lizbreslin.com
Cindy and the Villanelles is showing at the Lake Wanaka Centre from December 21-23
Read more about the funny side of life by browsing Corpus under Humour.