Anti-Science

The First Rule of Laugh Club . . .

Yesterday, a Bostonist editor pointed out a weird article in the Boston Globe about Laugh Clubs, a terrifying idea in which people fake-laugh at things in the hopes of feeling better. I was just going to mock it, but then I found out that it was connected to something kind of scammy-sounding called Laughter Yoga International. Here’s a snippet:

Is laughter, in fact, the best medicine?

The answer is a resounding . . . no. Don’t be stupid. Everyone knows that booze is the best medicine, followed closely by penicillin, then more booze, then chemotherapy, and then laughter.

Despite the fact that laughter is only the fourth or fifth best medicine, the Boston Globe reports on a made-up trend based upon 20 suburbanites forming a “Laugh Club,” in which the idea is to, well, laugh and maybe heal? The article states that people have been gathering together to laugh about absolutely nothing since 1995, but our research into Pauly Shore movies shows that the practice goes back to at least 1990.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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26 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of these things. Or something like it, anyway.

    It started in India. It’s a bunch of people who get together every morning and just start laughing. I imagine it’s a little strained at first, but soon it gets rolling. As I understand it, it’s meant to wake you up, get your cardiovascular system engaged, and generally put you in a good mood to go tackle the day.

    (I don’t know if some people put a woo spin on it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Still, I know how I feel after a nice uncontrollable laughing fit.)

    John Cleese talked briefly about this in a documentary several years ago called “The Human Face” (which I highly recommend – available on DVD now). He went to one of these, and you can watch him laugh until he’s red.

    I have no idea how this would manifest when done by a group of Bostonian 20-somethings. If it’s just a bunch of drunk Sox fans standing around and shouting “wicked!” at each other, the effect might be lost.

    I’m glad to know these are still around. I had worried that they had been replaced by Twitter with everyone just tweeting “lulz” until they felt healed.

  2. So I had a stint with depression in my 20’s, and still have to fight it occasionally. As such, I always try to look for the humor in things. It’s a coping mechanism.

    And lord knows, I can get uncontrollable giggles. A friend in college knew it well and would try and incite them in boring (but important) classes.

    But man, I can’t conceive of forcing a laugh. And something like this would bring out the mule in me, no doubt, resulting in no laughs whatsoever.

  3. I just discovered something like this the other day! Someone slipped a flyer for “laughter yoga” into my mailbox the other day.

    Apparently it’s endorsed by Oprah, among other things. And while I got a good laugh out of it, the idea of sitting around with a bunch of people forcing laughter sounds awkward at best and damn creepy at worst.

  4. If I’m paying for the opportunity to laugh I expect it to take no effort. I want the comic or movie to pull it out of me and force it upon me.

    To pay some one just so I can stand around and “learn” to laugh, well that’s just sad.

  5. While finding humor in situations, and laughing at those situations, particularly stressful ones makes sense, the idea of big $$$$ for ‘correct’ laughing sets off my woo meter.

    waiting for woo…

    “Also on LYI’s site, you’ll learn that laughter can fight cancer, a statement that hovers somewhere between “sort of true” and “not at all true,” but probably falling safely within the “not legally accountable” spectrum.”

    Is laughter yoga on a slippery slope to paranormal woo? Wait Wait let’s test it:
    HA HA HA …. No I’m still losing hair.
    –Guess it doesn’t cause hair loss.

  6. Here’s a link to the John Cleese thing.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2008/04/28/john-cleese-visits-l.html

    I don’t know if the Laughing Club in India is the same group as the yoga thing Rebecca’s talking about. I didn’t get the sense from the video that there was a fee involved. That *might* be an American scam. Certainly there is no mention of Dr. Funshine.

    I’m a little surprised at the cynicism so far for the actual concept (I understand cynicism about the fee). The idea of not laughing until you are given a reason to laugh is alien and backwards. You laugh until you have a reason to stop.

    Spending 30 seconds doing a fake laugh until it grows into a real gigglefest (which I believe it inevitably will unless you are just being obstinate) seems like a small price to pay. Laughter *is* infectious.

    But no, don’t give Dr. Funshine any money.

  7. If a group is required for some reason, just join a “live studio audience” for some sitcom. Or find out who records laugh tracks and get paid to do it.

    Or for maximum healing effect, go through a terminal cases ward at your local hospital and claim you’re some kind of Patch Adams therapist and laugh at all the sick people.

  8. @phlebas:

    I don’t know if the Laughing Club in India is the same group as the yoga thing Rebecca’s talking about.

    I haven’t seen the video you’re referring to yet, but LYI is founded by an Indian “guru.”

    I’m a little surprised at the cynicism so far for the actual concept (I understand cynicism about the fee).

    Not sure if you’re referring to me or someone else, but just in case: I’m not at all cynical about the idea of fake laughing until you feel better. I’m just terrified of it. People standing around fake-laughing at each other? Seriously. Terrifying.

    But like I say in the article, if that’s your thing, go for it . . . just don’t buy into LYI’s bullshit implication that it will cure your cancer. As for me, I will somehow get through life seeking out and laughing at things that actually amuse me, while avoiding things that terrify me.

  9. I am shocked that you would suggest that alcohol is the “best medicine” that is just irresponsible. What if someone read that and beleived it. They could become alcoholics and die in a bicycle accident. Sex. That is the best medicine.

  10. @Rebecca:

    I haven’t seen the video you’re referring to yet, but LYI is founded by an Indian “guru.”

    It would be a shame if it was the same guy. As it was presented in the documentary, it was really laughing for the sake of laughing — a concept I find both silly and endearing.

    Not sure if you’re referring to me or someone else, but just in case: I’m not at all cynical about the idea of fake laughing until you feel better. I’m just terrified of it. People standing around fake-laughing at each other? Seriously. Terrifying.

    I didn’t actually mean you :) The last thing I’d say about you is that you need a better sense of humor.

    My point is that in that environment it would very quickly stop being fake, for the same reason watching a comedy is better with people who are into it instead of watching it alone.

    I do understand the terror, especially if someone who wants you to call him Dr. Funshine is saying that you’re one check away from curing your Parkinsons. That is WAY messed up — if I walked into a room filled with strangers desparately laughing to cure their Lou Gehrig’s disease, I would find it ghoulish and would back away with all speed.

  11. Why don’t they just go to a live comedy show?! I’m going to see Gabriel Iglesias for $28. And Greg Proops is also going to be here that weekend for $15. And there are tons of local, cheaper ways to see some comedy, too.

    Or just put in your favorite funny movie . When I’m feeling down, I put in Bad Santa because I know “you’re not gonna shit right for a week” gets me every time. Because I have a sick, sick sense of humor. Or Pinneppple Express because I love Saul.

    But forced laughter?! No thanks. I’d rather have the real thing.

  12. @marilove: If you wet to see *Julio* Iglesias for $28, then I’d be LOL at you!

    From the Bostonist article: “suggesting that unbeknownst to you, your facial expression can affect your emotions, as opposed to the other way around”. I once read in Discovery mag (yeah, big deal) about “serious” research that suggested just this. If you smile at the mirror, you supposedly tend to react nicely to the image and endorphins yadda yadda*. So there may be something about it.

    * What do you know, the spell checker tried to change “yadda” to “Saddam”.

  13. @Chupacabras: Yeah, as I recall there’s quite a bit of research into emotional feedback from facial expressions. I’m not sure about reacting to an image in a mirror, but there does seem to be feedback from the physical act of making a face.

    One hypothesis is that it helps us interpret emotions in others. When we see a face, it triggers certain neurons in our brains required to mimic their expression. That, in turn, triggers the emotional state under which we would normally make that face, which gives us a hint at what the person we’re looking at is feeling.

    For example, I see someone smile –> neurons I use to smile are activated –> smiling makes me feel happy –> the person I’m looking at is probably happy.

  14. @marilove:

    When I feel the need to laugh, I just put in an Eddie Izzard DVD. Or watch The Princess Bride.

    I love to laugh. It is great therapy, and like Chasmosaur, I use it as a coping mechanism. I’m apt to make inappropriate jokes to get through things, though I’m careful of my audience. I try to be respectful.

  15. @phlebas: I didn’t know there were any organized thingies for laughter, but it is certainly a good idea. Wait! Hear me out!

    Yes, the idea of just sitting around forcing laughter sounds creepy. But about a year ago I was stressed and unhappy, and really feeling it. Then something made me laugh so hard snot came out of my nose, and when I could finally stop, I felt wonderful. Bye, bye stress/unhappiness/depression.

    So I started going to websites to find stuff to make me laugh. And I started exaggerating my laughter if nothing really tickled my funny bone. You know, instead of a mental, ‘ha, funny’, I laughed out loud.

    And now my blood pressure is down and I sleep better and I feel more relaxed.

    Laughter isn’t the best medicine. But it helps.

  16. @MiddleMan: No, actually. I think a woman with a good sense of humor is sexy. The ability to have a good laugh is a sign of a good personality, IMHO.

    @Chakolate: I could use some of that myself for that exact reason. Share links? You can keep your snot, though… ;-)

  17. I did this once at a camp thing for “Animatrices” (No idea what the word is in English) It was actually really fun! At first it feels weird but then you start giggling at all the fakelaughing and soon you’re Real laughing and it’s kind of cathartic.

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