Jorge said, “While a Mexican was doing a magic trick he said ‘uno, dos,”..’ then disappeared without a trace.”
The pun was only mildly amusing, but coming from my Mexican-heritage friend gave it a funnier twist that triggered the laughing nerves in my brain. So, I started laughing–laughing very strongly. Then Jorge egged me on by repeatedly starting to count in Spanish. Then I reached the point of no return.
The paroxysm of laughter became unbearable. I struggled to contain myself because I started feeling dizzy. Then I just glanced at Jorge and another laugh attack began. It was very hard to catch my breath. I nearly had the wind knocked out of me by the violent laughter. I felt like I might pass out or even die.
My friend must have seen the panic on my face, so he slapped me on the back. I laughed for several more minutes, but with less intensity. For the next ten-minutes or so, the laughing fits erupted for a few moments then subsided. After I settled down, Jorge said, “OK, no more puns for you.”
There’s no way to predict when my reaction to jokes will cross the line from hearty laughter, into frightening paroxysms. Although very strong laughter can nearly scare me to death, I still love silly stories and good-natured humor.
I asked how Jorge learned about how slapping the back can ease the Panic associated with laughing too hard. He said that his husband José often suffers from the same problem. One day, Jorge felt desperate during one of the episodes. Some sort of instinct caused him to reach out and slap his husband’s back. When José gets the hiccups, the back slap works for that, too.
I wonder how many other folks get these over-intense seizures of laughter. I also wonder if anyone has ever actually died as a result of such a violent laughing fit. The paradox of laughing hard and fear of death is deeply disturbing. Strangely, the realization of the fear does nothing to arrest the laughing–even while struggling to take an in-breath. If laughter is the best medicine, is it possible to overdose on it?
Jorge shifted the conversation slightly. He mentioned that perhaps it’s true that hyenas do actually laugh. There is some anecdotal evidence that they do. There are also videos on the Internet that seem to prove it.
I grabbed my tablet and Googled animal laughter. I didn’t come across evidence for laughing hyenas right away, but there were mentions of primate studies. Ten years ago, British psychologist Marina Davila Ross studied infant chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas. The juvenile apes were gently tickled and they responded by laughing. Other observations showed mature apes also responded to awkwardly humorous situations by laughing. So apparently, we inherited our laughing response from the great apes’ and humans’ last common ancestor that lived 10 to 16 million years ago. The study appeared in June 2015 in the science journal “PLOS ONE”.
Jorge appeared satisfied with our short discussion about laughter. He warned that he was going to test my “laugh reflex” again. “Uno, dos, not a trace.”
I easily kept a poker face.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ellen DeGeneres. “If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”