These clubs are a laughing matter By Ron Wiggins, Palm Beach Post Staff Columnist
Sunday, October 6, 2002
I love the dialogue in the old movies where a jealous boyfriend gets his hackles up when his femme runs into an old flame.
"Who was that?"
"Nobody, Nick. Nobody at all."
"Don't give me that guff, Kitty. You had a thing with him, didn't you?"
"I tell you it was nothing, Nick. Vince and me, we just had a few laughs, that's all. A few laughs."
That should have satisfied Nick. A few laughs is a miserable, pathetic thing. You need lots of laughs. Laughs galore. Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter oxygenates the organs, tightens stomach muscles, aids digestion and, like love-making, raises the blood pressure momentarily and then brings it down. You can't laugh too much. The world's laughter deficit is no laughing matter.
So maybe there's not that much to laugh about.
Buzzzzzz! Wrong answer, sad sack. We have ways of making you laugh.
We? That would be the World Laughter Tour Inc. that has laughter down to a clinical science, a Pavlovian exercise, a bonk on the funny bone. Founded by psychologist Steve Wilson of Columbus, Ohio, the "cheerman of the bored" imported the idea from India and trains laugh leaders who start their own laughter clubs.
Many clubs are free. Some are for profit.
Jo De Lucia's Health & Harmony Laughter Club is free, y'all come. De Lucia, a licensed massage therapist at Palm City's Apree Salon, paid $339 for a training session in July and got her laughing papers. Now her group of about 20 glee mongers meets 9 a.m. Sundays on the beach in front of the House of Refuge on Hutchinson Island for a one hour laugh-in.
I went, I saw, I made a fool of myself. But so did everybody else. I laughed my fillings loose.
And it wasn't even funny. Well, it was funny haha, but not really funny, if you know what I mean. No, you couldn't possibly. Let's give De Lucia a crack at it.
"Alohahaha," she began.
"Alohahaha," chorused back her congregants.
The laugh leader explained that we had gathered not to tell jokes but to prove to ourselves that "emotion follows action." Frown and go hangdog like her granddaughter when she doesn't get her way, and welcome to your sulk. Make yourself laugh, laugh on purpose, laugh on command, laugh by the numbers, laugh as part of a laughter exercise (laughtercise), and real laughter, real mirth follows.
"You can't measure funny, but laughter can be stimulated," she said.
And then the 20 of us, four men and the rest women, including a fair sampling of psychologists, teachers and nurses, were put through our paces. Laugh? It was as easy as falling off a unicycle.
We did the fake little cocktail-party titter, taking one another's fingers and giggling as if we had just been told something just too, too precious. We penguin walked and giggled. We did the roller coaster hands over the head shriek laugh, the conga-line laugh, the tango laugh, the hot sand ouchy laugh, the high-five-low-five laugh with everybody in the circle.
Do you feel like an idiot? Yes. For two seconds, but everyone else is acting just as moronic.
"The smile is the shortest distance between two people," De Lucia said. "And unless you have a hernia or prolapsed uterus, there are no contra-indications for laughter. It oxygenates both sides of the brain. It's fun."
But so contrived. So not spontaneous. Laughter should be spontaneous.
Should? Should? When I proposed that to Steve Wilson, World Laughter Tour Inc. founder, on the phone, he laughed in my face. Wilson, a psychotherapist who has been teaching the therapeutic benefits of laughter since 1984, said that he might have agreed until 1999, when he made a pilgrimage to India to chuckle at the feet of Dr. Madan Kataria.
Guru of giggles in IndiaKataria, a physician, is a laughter guru, founder of a laughter club movement in India. Kataria notes that induced laughter is clinically proven to afford the benefits of spontaneous laughter: enhanced sense of well-being, endorphin production (associated with pleasure) and improved immune response.
"I brought Dr. Kataria here for a lecture tour. We visited 14 cities in seven weeks and launched the World Laughter Tour."
Wilson said that his Columbus-based business has trained 450 laugh leaders and seeded at least 200 laughter clubs.
"In India, laughter clubs are social. Here, the Western mentality sees it as a health option. We train people in the method and see a lot of educators, health-care and clinical workers."
Wilson said that the world laughter movement is in the incubation phase and that, as we laugh, the world will start laughing with us, and that's a good thing.
"We have started a world epidemic of laughter, and it is going to draw nations together."
First skeptical, then soldAt Jupiter Medical Center, Sherry Miller's day job is lab supervisor. For fun, she leads the Laughter Club at the Jupiter Medical Center Mind & Body Institute, and she has done so for two years. Hers was among the first five World Laughter Tour clubs in the United States.
"About eight years ago, I had a heart attack, and, while taking some time off, attended a seminar on the benefits of laughter and humor. As a scientist, I was skeptical until I did some research." Her group meets 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Mind & Body Institute. It's free.
"I do charge for public speaking, but the Laughter Club is free. We have five to 20 people attending, and we'd love to have more."
I asked Miller why she thinks laughing drills lead to mirthful laughter.
"Sometimes it's hard to laugh without being in a group. When it's a group thing, it gives you permission. I do know that when Dr. Kataria started laughter clubs in India, they began with jokes and humor. They soon found that went stale and bawdy. That's when he developed the program."
And that program can also be organized for fun and profit.
Laughing on way to bankJanet Lifshin of West Palm Beach launched her Humor Alliance for Healthy Attitudes (HAHA) on April 1. Membership is $25 a year. Nonmembers pay $10 a meeting.
Lifshin says 25 to 75 people attend her monthly meeting, which is held at a different place every month.
"This month it's Ellie's Diner in Delray Beach on Federal Highway. It's really mushroomed, and I have people calling all the time asking where's the next meeting."
Lifshin got interested in laughter work seven years ago when she lost her husband to illness. "My husband was the funny one. I went in search of laughter. I became passionate on the subject. Now I teach a course in 'Love, Laughter and Lifemates' -- how to find your soulmate."
She attended a World Laughter Tour seminar last February and recognized a business opportunity that went hand-in-joy-buzzer with Lighthearted Enterprises, her umbrella organization.
"Because I charge, I offer a wider program than just the laughter exercises. The program usually features a speaker or entertainment with a humorous theme, and then a mixing activity. I want people to have humor buddies."
I get it. Like the old flames from the movie.
You remember Kitty and Vince, the humor buddies who "had a few laughs" and went their separate ways. Clearly, the laughs were too few. Sometimes it takes more than a whoopee cushion and shaving cream in your shorts.
You've got to do your laughtercises.