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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Newspaper column for next week

Here is my LIVE WRITE column for next week. Comments welcome ... and I could use a better title. Any suggestions?


This column will make you laugh or it will fail. It’s meant to support your health through an evidence-based practice...laughter.

Before I proceed – I offer a disclaimer. Writer E.B. White said, “Humour can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. “

Modern neurophysiology states that laughter is linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which produces endorphins after a rewarding activity. This might include after you have good meal, after you have sexual intercourse and after you understand a joke. This means that after you laugh, you feel good, which is healthy. (And let’s face it; laughter is more accessible than sex or even a good meal.)

While it is a cliché that "laughter is the best medicine", there are proven medical theories that attribute improved health and well-being to laughter. For example, a study demonstrated that neuroendocrine and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter. This provides support for the claim that humour can relieve stress.

Here is a test – read this: When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 C. The Russians used a pencil.

If you laughed at that (or even chuckled), you have confirmed what the LaughLab at the University of Hertfordshire, UK learned, in collaboration with the British Association for the Advancement of Science. LaughLab solicited more than 40,000 jokes from around the world and then had people rank them (for funniest). They had almost 2 million ratings. The joke above was judged the funniest by Canadians.

While some jokes in the study tickled the funny bones of people across national boundaries, there were distinct national differences. For example, people from Australia and New Zealand have a strong preference for jokes using wordplay.

Patient: “Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I've got some cream for that.

Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:

Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”

Humour has some identifiable ingredients. These include surprise/misdirection, contradiction, ambiguity or paradox. A good joke also appeals to feelings or to emotions.

Jokes can be hurtful, but when used well, they can also be insightful. According to writer and humorist Mary Hirsch, “Humor is a rubber sword - it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”

Whether you smile, chuckle, chortle or belly-laugh – enjoy humour where you can find it…and pass it along.

(A final note: If this column has done nothing for you – you might agree with these sentiments from Groucho Marx, “I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.”)

For you humour 'researchers' , here's the Laughlab link.

i like groucho's one-liners.

''i never forget a face - but in your case i'm prepared to make an exception.''

so what do the brits prefer? i think a sense of the absurd and the self-deprecatory (possibly the opposite of the americans).

''doctor, how much time have i got left?''
''well,...i wouldn't buy any more long-playing records.''

i don't know if it's the same place in hertfordshire but they've been on the news here promoting laughter workshops - apparently you don't need a joke to laugh because laughter is infectious. you try it! if your in a crowd, start laughing and i bet people will join in without knowing why.

if it was for a UK readership, i may title this piece ''you've got to laugh...'' because that's an expression we often say when things go wrong.
... why not:
Excellent article and fun to read,
thanks Gary.
Thanks boys - good suggestions - both better than the working title I think.

Ian, here was the winning joke in the UK

Top Joke in England

Two weasels are sitting on a bar stool. One starts to insult the other one. He screams, "I slept with your mother!" The bar gets quiet as everyone listens to see what the other weasel will do. The first again yells, "I SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER!" The other says, "Go home dad you’re drunk."

Results were regional however - here's the winning joke in Scotland (frugal of course):

Top Joke in Scotland

I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers.
yes, the surreality of weasels appeals! :o)

plus i don't suppose weasels will rush out and burn any flags...

(zee's title is better.)
Great article as usual Gary... and even though I'm not Canadian, I laughed out loud when I read: "The Russians used a pencil."
BUT.......... speaking of me being American and you being Canadian, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop by my place for an incredibly scary (and I mean scary) tidbit of news I came across about Canada and the US... hint: We just may become one big miserable family... courtesy of folks like Donald Rumsfeld... if they get their way.
I adapted Zee's title when I submitted it to the newspapers today.


Thanks Zee!

Tina - I think you have some Canadian genetic material in there somewhere...
LOL! I have to say, growing up in the Netherlands, we're closer to the British sense of humour. I had to laugh out loud at the british and scottish one mentioned, the russian one and the 'texan' one was ok. I grew up watching British comedies (mum ain't it hot, dad's army, the original three's company, are you being served when it wasn't as old as it is now!!, fawlty towers first time around , you get it). Great article/post Gary, I definitely need to write something about this for a change of pace. The politics is getting me down and I need to write about something different to keep my spirits up. I was just thinking I needed to start a comedy night (film) at home because I just need to laugh so bad (I really don't have any friends here at the moment otherwise that's who you'd joke around with, can't help it, I'm drawn 'that' way)..laughing is so good. I always enjoyed watching the CBC monday night half hour of their taped Just for Laughs festival..I'm telling you, that's what I need to start down here in Texas!!

HA! Joking!
Um, that was me and not Mr. Pink.
Also, it was not Nvisiblewmn.... Geez....
I've got a built-in laugh-generator with this boy of mine. Great column, Gary. I really liked the Russian pencil too.
Well, Gary, I laughed. And I immediately felt better. Now I'm going to go and have some sex and then a good meal.

Mr. Pink, invisiblewmn & Jublu - are you three having some kind of party?

Josie - glad I could contribute in a small way to a fine evening for you!
A great column Gary on a very topical issue, laughter...I think it really works in all times!

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