“I was having dinner with Garry Kasparov and there was a checkered tablecloth. It took him two hours to pass me the salt.”
The little quip is cute but does not warrant the fit of laughter it triggered in me. I laughed and laughed until it felt like I could not inhale. The moment of fright allowed me to finally breathe in. Immediately afterwards, the laughing fit resumed for several more minutes.
Meantime, Jonathan witnessed the laughing episode with an expression of shock and disbelief. He tried to calm my fit by telling me random sad or horrifying statements. His attempts at morbid countermeasures only prolonged the laughter. Eventually, the laughing fit ended. I breathed several sighs of relief, mopped the tears from my eyes, and cleaned my eye glasses.
My young friend apologized for telling me the little joke. Jonathan said he had become seriously concerned for my well-being. I replied that I had done so, too.
Laughter is a peculiar act. We must be in a certain mental state in order to enable it. I don’t know exactly what that state of mind was when I felt that I might actually die of laughter. I won’t analyze Jonathan’s little joke. Doing so will ruin it.
I cannot envision Gibran engaging in the type of uncontrollable laughter that Jonathan’s little joke about chess triggered in me. Perhaps Gibran imagined the glorious pleasure of mirth. Mirth is an atmosphere of joyous laughter. Laughing fits are rooted in absurdity and incongruity. As I ponder the deadly laugh, perhaps there was an atmosphere of mirth because we were both glad to get together as friends after Jonathan’s lengthy absence.
I’m sure state of mind is the main factor behind laughter. People who pay money to attend comedy shows are in the mood to laugh. Friends enjoying each other’s company are already primed to smile and laugh. Had I been angry towards Jonathan, his little joke would not have even elicited a giggle. Happiness and anger are polar opposites. The lightness of joy engages mirth but the darkness of anger causes scowling.
“I realized that comedians of the day were operating on jokes and punch lines. The moment you say the punch line, the audience either laughs sincerely or they laugh automatically or they don’t laugh. The thing that bothered me was that automatic laugh. I said, that’s not real laughter.”–Steve Martin
A former acquaintance, Diane, practiced the sort of automatic laugh that Steve Martin mentions. She tried too hard to be cheerful, but you could hear the struggle in her voice. I gave her an “E” for effort, but the sincerity wasn’t present. After she left town, I hope she sought therapy. Diane never kept in touch, so I don’t know if she could ever authentically laugh or not.
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce.”–Molly Ivins
I miss the wry humor of Molly Ivins. Her commentary and sense of humor are much needed in this day and age of crisis and infamy. She was a humorist in spirit and actuality. Her laughter was contagious to freedom warriors and lovers of good journalism.
All things considered, laughter is an important ingredient in a well-lived life. Even a little sense of humor is important to enable us to laugh about our quirks and flaws.