World Laughter Day – A Force For Global Peace and Universal Celebration29 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2022
It’s now official. Doctors around the globe have proved beyond doubt that laughter is a highly potent medicine. When enjoyed in liberal doses it has the power to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, improve the appetite and decrease blood cholesterol levels. Dr Lee Berk, of the Loma Linda University, California, has been studying the subject for over twenty years and claims that a laughter session carries the same benefits as a spell of jogging or a work-out in the gym. His life time’s work shows that is has the power to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. In one experiment he took patients with heart disease and split them into two sections. The first group was given the task of watching a comedy film every day for a year. The other acted as a control group, being free to spend their time however they fancied. At the end of the twelve month trial it was found that only eight per cent of the merry makers had suffered a further heart attack, compared with forty-two per cent of the controls. Clearly this is serious stuff. It’s no laughing matter.
Now I’ve written about the value of laughter therapy before, and I make no apology for doing so again, particularly as May 2nd is World Laughter Day, a celebration established in 1998 by Dr Madan Kataria. This is a medicine we should share with our friends. It’s cheap, can be obtained without prescription, and carries only healthy side effects. As my contribution to this year’s event I’ve delved into my archive files and unearthed what I believe to be one of the oldest recorded jokes. It appears in a book called ‘Philogelo’, which literally means the ‘laughter of love’. This is an anthology of well over two hundred gags, some of which date back nearly two thousand years. The one I’ve chosen is the first recorded ‘doctor, doctor’ joke. It tells of the patient who visits his doctor complaining: ‘When I get up after a night’s sleep I feel dizzy for a few moments, then my head clears and I feel alright.’ To which the physician replied: ‘Then stay in bed for an extra few minutes before getting up.’ It’s not riotously funny, but it does at least show that our comedy has improved with the passage of time.
Today we have access to wall-to-wall humour, provided twenty-four hours a day by TV sit-coms, stand-up comics and comedy films. If we’re feeling low, we can use the internet to source an endless supply of humorous quotations. Today we even have geeks who are trying to develop computer programmes capable of creating jokes. Two researchers in this field have had some success in developing an algorithm which can identify puns. It works by identifying words which don’t seem appropriate within their context and then searching for words which have a similar sound. But even this analysis isn’t foolproof. For instance, it correctly spotted that the following play on words was meant to be amusing. Mother to son: My word, you’ve been working a lot in the garden this summer.’ Boy: ‘I have because teacher told me to weed a lot.’ On the other hand it didn’t spot that the following dialogue was intended as a pun, because it seems to make literal sense. Patient: ‘Doctor, doctor I swallowed a bone.’ Doctor: ‘Are you choking’ Patient: ‘No I really did!’ It seems that it will be some while before we get robots writing comic repartee.
One of my personal delights is when radio announcers give way to a fit of the giggles while making a serious news announcement. This happened in 1978 when Reginald Bosanquet, for many years ITV’s leading anchor man ‘corpsed’ when reading a news item about the firemen’s strike. The government called in soldiers to man some antiquated ‘Green Goddess’ fire engines. They lacked experience, and Bosanquet had to narrate the story of the team who had been called out to save a cat stuck up a tree. The film clip showed them setting up their extendable ladder, then rescuing and releasing the cat. Satisfied with a job well done, they climbed into their vehicle and drove off, accidentally running over and killing the cat. It was a sad end for the poor pussy, but the irony and incongruity of the sequence of events set Bosanquet, and thousands of viewers, into fits of convulsive laughter. The memory of that newscast still makes me smile. So let’s keep chuckling, firm in the knowledge that a laugh a day will keep the doctor away.
© Donald Norfolk 2010