Why laugh­ter re­ally is the best medicine

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - MIND MATTERS - WITH PA­TRI­CIA CASEY

AS you read this, I am in Ed­in­burgh at the fes­ti­vals. The In­ter­na­tional, Fringe and Tat­too fes­ti­vals, have just be­gun and the book fes­ti­val be­gins next week. The Fringe is prob­a­bly the best known and peo­ple think of it as a com­edy fes­ti­val, but it also com­prises drama and mu­sic in all its forms, as well as dance and spo­ken word, such as po­etry and sto­ry­telling. All of th­ese have their ap­peal, but its rep­u­ta­tion has been built on com­edy.

Over one mil­lion ex­tra peo­ple visit Ed­in­burgh dur­ing the fes­ti­vals, mostly for the Fringe, with over 3000 shows to choose from. Many well­known co­me­di­ans cut their teeth there, in­clud­ing Stephen Fry, Ardal O’Han­lon, Rowan Atkinson and Tim Vine. Some con­tinue to ap­pear even af­ter they’ve achieved in­ter­na­tional fame

All gen­res of com­edy — and there are dozens — are on of­fer and ob­vi­ously the qual­ity varies from abysmal to sidesplit­ting, though per­sonal taste plays an ob­vi­ous part in that judge­ment. Stand-up is the most com­mon and var­i­ous styles are on of­fer rang­ing from black to blue to dead­pan. Im­pro­vised com­edy is hugely pop­u­lar and while many may not be fa­mil­iar with this, the best per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of the style are Paul Mer­ton and Greg Proops. Whose Line Is It Any­way ran on TV for many years. This is highly en­gag­ing be­cause of the au­di­ence’s in­volve­ment, sug­gest­ing themes to the ac­tors who then con­struct a short per­for­mance around th­ese. An ex­am­ple might be a com­edy mu­si­cal based on Shake­speare’s Ham­let in a space sta­tion.

At the Fringe there is a daily im­pro­vised per­for­mance of Jane Austen’s works and th­ese are sold out every year. “Im­prov” is zany and ap­peals to the ridicu­lous. It is my pre­ferred genre. Then there is anec­do­tal or sto­ry­telling com­edy, some­times based on em­bel­lished truth but the nar­ra­tives can also be fic­ti­tious. Gyles Bran­dreth, a former MP, fa­mous also for one-lin­ers, is the fun­ni­est ex­em­pli­fier of this style and he is back at the fes­ti­val this year.

The ap­peal of com­edy is in­escapable. “Laugh­ter is the best medicine” as the pro­saic adage says. There is some truth to this since laugh­ing has an ef­fect on the lim­bic sys­tem in the brain. This is the part that pro­duces emo­tion and the amyg­dala is one of the struc­tures in­volved in mod­er­at­ing emo­tions such as love, af­fec­tion/friend­ship and mood. Loud, un­con­trol­lable laugh­ter is con­trolled by the hy­po­thal­a­mus.

An­other struc­ture, the nu­cleus acum­bens is in­volved in plea­sur­able feel­ings as­so­ci­ated with some ad­dic­tive drugs and also with laugh­ter. The fun­nier the per­son per­ceives the con­tent to be, the more blood that flows to the nu­cleus acum­bens. So this is the area of the brain con­cerned with hu­mour ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Com­edy has been shown to im­prove blood f low and in­crease good choles­terol. It also re­duces blood pres­sure. Laugh­ter demon­strates clearly the link be­tween mind and body, the psy­cho­log­i­cal and the phys­i­cal.

At a per­sonal level, laugh­ter is a re­lax­ant that can re­duce stress and dif­fuse anger. It can gen­er­ate bonds be­tween peo­ple and make the joker like­able. In larger groups laugh­ing to­gether can cre­ate a sense of be­long­ing.

On TV, the sit­coms use laugh­ter tracks and this is be­cause laugh­ter is con­ta­gious (to quote an­other ba­nal, but wise phrase “laugh and the world laughs with you”). Hu­mour is a tool used by peo­ple in stress­ful jobs or who have dif­fi­cult per­sonal sit­u­a­tions to deal with.

Com­edy is of­ten frowned upon as low­brow when com­pared to opera, se­ri­ous theatre or visual arts. But sev­eral third-level in­sti­tu­tions have fac­ul­ties de­voted to the study of hu­mour and com­edy. Brunel Univer­sity in Lon­don has a centre for com­edy stud­ies re­search and Columbia Col­lege, Chicago also has a com­edy stud­ies fac­ulty. Sal­ford Univer­sity in Manch­ester has a com­edy writ­ing and per­for­mance course as have many other col­leges in the UK and the USA.

With the Ed­in­burgh Fringe ac­com­mo­da­tion all booked out, I can rec­om­mend a few clips of some of the fun­ni­est co­me­di­ans I have had the joy of see­ing.

Search YouTube for Gyles Bran­dreth on a TV panel ex­plain­ing the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, Tracey Ull­man run­ning a “Woke” sup­port Group or Rhod Gil­bert dis­cussing his anger man­age­ment di­ary.

En­joy and laugh un­til your sides ache and tears run down your face!

Laugh­ter is a re­lax­ant that can re­duce stress and dif­fuse anger. It can gen­er­ate bonds

be­tween peo­ple and make the joker

like­able

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