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"Sometimes you have to give others permission to laugh with -- or even at -- you. When a friend went with me to buy a wig to cover my hair loss from chemotherapy, we giggled at some of the truly silly-looking wigs we saw.
"Upset, the saleswoman said to my friend, 'You shouldn't be laughing. Your friend has cancer. This is serious.'
"I said, 'No, you don't understand. A wig is not serious.' And she said smiling, 'You know, you're right.'
"It's something I've tried to teach my kids as well. When my 23-year-old daughter saw me with my bald head and no breast, she said, 'You look just like a Buddha without the wisdom," and we both howled.
"I think we are never braver than when we stand tall and look into the sun and laugh. Laughter may be a form of courage."
TV journalist Linda Ellerbee writing about her cancer (McCall's January 1993)
According to Linda D. Henman, author of the paper "Humor As A Coping Mechanism: Lessons From POWs," humor seems to be one of the main reasons for the VPOW's health.
Henman also writes that "For most of the VPOWs coping with captivity involved developing mirth and honing humor skills." In this issue I'm going to look at some of the things the VPOWs did to find humor in their situation, and how you can apply these strategies to your workplace.
One of the VPOWs recalls an incident when he was in solitary confinement. One guard asked another a question, and in response, the second guard put down his rifle, took off his bullet belt and overcoat, reached into his pocket and brought out a Baby Ben clock. The first guard had obviously asked what time it was. The fact that a guard had to virtually undress to tell his colleague the time struck the VPOW as hilarious.
"And I'd been beaten pretty severely every day for most of a month and I was just absolutely rolling on the floor. When this was all over I realized I thought I was going to die today; and all I did was have a good laugh.' And so it became apparent to you that humor was going to play a major role."
This VPOW was able to use an intrapersonal (within himself) humor strategy, taking an external situation and seeing the absurdity in it. He then (as did many of the other VPOWs) came to realize the importance of his sense of humor, and consciously sought out opportunities to use it.
We often trivialize the value of humor, ("Oh that's just being silly") which causes us to use it less. So the first step in developing a sense of humor is consciously acknowledging how important it is. This involves reframing humor from "Oh that's just being silly" to "This is one of the best ways to protect my mental health." Consciously acknowledging the value of something gives us the motivation to do it.
We can then use this motivation to develop our ability to see absurdity in everyday life, as did the VPOW in solitary confinement. On one hand humans are dignified, intelligent creatures, while at the same time we do completely ridiculous things. And when we look, these things become pretty apparent. For example, why would someone pay $200 for a tie, something that hangs uselessly around your neck? Instead of a tie, why not hang something useful like a flashlight or a Swiss Army Knife around your neck? Or why do we get so excited about technology like cell phones, laptops, and wireless internet connections that allow us to work anywhere, anytime, all the time, and then complain that we never get to relax?
These observations may not make it into a comedy routine, but they can certainly give us a chuckle or two during the day. And we're all capable of making them and sharing them with others. It's just a matter of looking at all the contradictions and incongruities surrounding us.
Excerpted and Edited from GET MORE LAUGHTER IN YOUR LIFE! Vol 2, #8
Editor: David Granirer - North America's Psychotherapist/Stand-Up Comic:
A couple of weeks ago our paper recycling bin was finally empty, so Mr. Stevens seized the moment to try & get rid of some boxes. We searched high & low to find his box cutter. Finally, tired of the search, I asked, "Honey, did you try & board a plane recently?"
Nicole Bilotti, Comedian, San Francisco, CA
So often I forget that we (in comedy) really live on Planet Comedy and that not everyone on Earth appreciates the fact that we're just here on loan.
The other day at the office I was struggling to cut the strapping off a case of computer paper. Out of frustration with the ineffective box cutter I blurted out, "I don't know how you can hijack a plane with one of these; I can't even get this box open."
My boss's son was horrified and felt it his duty to remind me that the events of 9/11 were tragic and nothing to joke about. (Maybe, if Dennis Miller had said it, things would
have been different.)
Nicole Bilotti, Comedian, San Francisco, CA
Federal Aviation Agency 800 Independence Avenue S.W. Washington D.C. 20591
I have the solution for the prevention of hijackings, and at the same time getting our airline industry back on its feet.
Since men of the Muslim religion are not allowed to look at naked women we should replace all of our female flight attendants with strippers.
Muslims would be afraid to get on the planes for fear of seeing a naked woman, and of course, everyone in this country would start flying again in hope of seeing a naked woman.
We would have no more hijackings, and the airline industry would have record sales.
Now why didn't Congress think of this?
One of my all-time favorite quotes is "Today's crisis is tomorrow's joke." And yet, the events of September 11th have given even the funny folks like David Letterman enough of a jolt that nothing seemed too funny for quite a while. At this point, some people are laughing and some people are still having a tough time with it. So here's my own case for humor in times of tragedy.
In communist Czechoslovakia, as I was growing up, humor was what got us through. When we escaped, the only actual possession I brought with me was a humorous book in Czech. We only had $100 in real cash, but the book was far more valuable in its help with our ability to cope. Mom read it to me as we were in an Austrian jail. At first, I wanted to flung it across at her. As I started to listen, after a while I forgot where we were and I began to laugh. That was precious and that book, and trying to see humor in the smallest things helped us cope.
Similar stories are heard from Vietnam veterans or survivors of any other horrors - including simple ones like being kept up at night by babies or dealing with a less-than-pleasant boss. Humor is a coping strategy in its attempt to explain the unexplainable. It helps us find our voice, our expression, our creativity - and perhaps most importantly, it gives us a sense of being in control. Even where it is an illusion of being in control, the emotional and mental benefits are enormous. So - send in the clowns..
Reprinted from OCTOBER 2001 SUCCESS HARMONY - a newsletter with tips on improving your life and business results. (c) 2001 Pavla Michaela Polcarova
To subscribe to the Success Harmony newsletter, send any email to email@example.com
Lord Richard Buckley
(Reprinted from OCTOBER 2001 SUCCESS HARMONY)
"Comedy is tragedy plus time." (Carol Burnett)
"Waitress wanted. Must be able to swim under water." That was the humorous sign posted in the window of a restaurant submerged in water during the mid-West floods several years ago.
A few days later, a billboard appeared down the road. It too added some humor to the soggy situation. "The weather lately," the billboard read, "gives a whole new meaning to Roe vs. Wade."
And, after a major earthquake hit San Francisco, one man put a sign on his damaged house that said, "House for rent. Some assembly required."
While the people above were able to find some humor in their catastophe, the tragic events on September 11th were so horrendous, with so many lost lives, and with such widespread consequences, that humor, even with all its beneficial coping traits, took a while to return.
According to one news reporter, the time it took between the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and the first attempt at Internet humor was 5 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes and 1 second. And the results weren't that funny. It consisted of a listing of anagrams of the name Osama bin Laden. The most humorous: "No! A mad lesbian."
But it was humor, nevertheless. And it was a reminder that life must go on. In spite of our overwhelming loss, deep down we know that laughter provides relief. We know that it helps us cope. We know too that if we can laugh, we will somehow get through it.
And if we can't laugh now, perhaps some day we might. Who, for example, would have thought that anyone would ever be able to laugh about the Holocaust where millions of people were killed? Yet, here we are today with the hottest musical comedy on Broadway, "The Producers", being about Hitler.
Humor, no matter when it comes, helps us bear the unbearable. A small bit of humor even helped some people in the World Trade Center triumph over tragedy.
A group of office workers, who were running down flight after flight of steps, didn't know if they had the strength to make it to the bottom. They stopped at the eleventh floor and couldn't go on. Then one woman suggested that they pretend it was New Year's Eve. En masse they began a countdown with each flight of stairs and shouted out
" . . . 10,
Encouraged by this bit of levity, they all made it to the street and to safety.
Allen Klein, MA, CSP author of "The Courage to Laugh"
This an editorial John Cantu wrote for the first HumorMall ezines published after September 11, 2001.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, two thousand years before Shakespeare, the ancient Athenians created a theater. Roughly speaking 500 - 300 BC is called the golden age for the theater and that was the first time that plays were written and performed. Plays were written in honor of the god Dionysus, the god of fertility and procreation, and were either comedies or tragedies.
All the actors were male and they all played multiple roles so a mask was worn and used to show the change in character or mood. Today, in the Western world, two masks have come to represent the theater: The two masks of comedy & tragedy.
Usually, they represent the contractions of life. The often coexistence of comedy and tragedy. Probably one of the best examples is an episode on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. WJM-TV's children's show host, Chuckles the Clown, dressed as a peanut, is accidentally killed by an elephant.
His death provokes numerous newsroom jokes by Murray, Lou, and Ted. They are then chided for insensitivity by a highly offended Mary. They all attend the funeral, and once it is underway, Mary starts to get a case of the giggles. Try as she might, she cannot hold back the giggles that well up until she is laughing uncontrollably during the funeral ceremonies.
"Chuckles Bites the Dust" is an example of what is commonly thought of when one says that comedy and tragedy often go hand in hand.
But Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we experienced a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking, 'Is humor really appropriate at a time like this?' I know some of my professional friends have expressed that attitude to me.
But let me share with you what Bubba Bectol said when he had to give a humorous speech right after the crashes were announced to his audience:
"I simply said at the very first. 'We are facing a new type of 21st century enemy! This enemy is faceless and without a country. Its main mission is to change our way of life or destroy us. When they hear us not laughing anymore, they will know we are dead. I am a comedian, I came here to make you laugh, I am going to try and do that, I'm tired of hurting and I refuse to let anyone change my way of life. I don't know if I can get thru this myself, but I'm gonna try. If any of you don't think you can laugh today, please be excused with my blessing!"
I waited 30 seconds, not a person left, I proceeded and blew the room away. When I finished no one wanted to leave, they wanted to talk, be happy and continue their lives as they wanted to live it, not as others want us to. "
Cantu says, "I feel the same way. If the SOBs are permitted to allow us to be fearful of laughing and/or going forward with life, then they will have won. So, I have decided not to delay, but rather to publish HumorMall Joke Study on its customary schedule - always two - eight days late."
Cantu, I really enjoyed your editorial and Bubba Bectol's story. A world without laughter is, in fact, a dead world. We need to show the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks that our spirits have not caved, that we are not afraid of the future. The thing is, each of us grieves differently. I may be ready to get on with life after 3 days, a friend needs a week, yet another person may need 3 months.
A good comic is sensitive to this fact and "reads" his audience. Bectol's introduction reflects this sensitivity. I think the comedian's greatest service in the upcoming months can be to remind people of the past tragedy - but at the same time nudge them towards normalcy with laughter, the best medicine of all.All the best from Portland, Tina
A wannabe humorist and popular speaker, Tina Knight currently earns her salary by managing eCommerce projects for a global high-tech company. "I ask you, what's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?"
How can we maintain our humor in times of tragedy? I believe we simply have to allow ourselves to do it. If I may, I would like to share 2 personal experiences with you.
In 1954 my older brother was killed in a car accident.
He was 22, I was 18. He had been married 10 days before his accident so you can imagine the trauma of our family. After the funeral service our house was filled with relatives.
To break the aura of doom I got out a comedy record (Andy Griffith's monologue on football) and played it. The laughter eased our souls and brought us back to the reality that life goes on for those left behind.
In 1960 I lost a son who was born premature and lived for only 10 days. When I walked into the mortuary to arrange for burial, two employees were enjoying a good joke and laughing out loud. Despite my own sadness, I thought, "Why shouldn't they laugh and be happy in their work? My loss was not theirs."
While we may feel that the 09/11 tragedy was a loss to all of us, we still have to go on with our daily lives. And the best way to do that is to remember the good, not the bad. We must allow ourselves to laugh - at ourselves - if nothing else. Even the people who lost loved ones related, during various TV interviews, humorous little tidbits about their relatives.
Remembering happiness helps ease the pain.
Laughter, above all, is still a great healer. So let's not be morose. Keep those jokes a'comin'.
Laurie James, born and raised in Canada, began a career in comedy when she was 23 years old. She considers herself "almost retired" from that vocation and now devotes her talents to full time writing. At present she is attempting to sell her memoir, "Once a Baptist" to a publisher.
To join the Laugh Lovers discussion chat and lurk or participate send any email to LaughLovers@Yahoogroups.com and no subject line or message is need since subscriptions are all processed via computer.
People are concerned and maybe a little afraid of things that may happen. They wonder if it's OK to laugh or feel good. We have an opportunity to help them find the way back to some type of normalcy, by letting them know it's OK to laugh again. Laughter is the medicine every one Needs. It can open the door and start the healing.
Just as "Comedy & Tragedy" go together, we've all had the tragedy. Let's given them the comedy. I know you're all up for the task. "Everyday a great day if you make it that way". Make someone laugh, it will make you feel good to. Smile at someone.
Funnyman George White, San Mateo, CA
The second editorial John Cantu wrote for the HumorMall ezines published after September 11, 2001.
One final thought from Cantu on the use and appropriateness of humor in speeches and of laughter and joy in the midst of tragedy:
"Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl
Editorial Review Amazon.com (Note - this is for background informational purposes only. HumorMall.com does not sell this book.)
"This is among the most influential works of psychiatric literature since Freud. The book begins with a lengthy, austere, and deeply moving personal essay about Frankl's imprisonment in Auschwitz and other concentration camps for five years, and his struggle during this time to find reasons to live.
(Cantu says "Here, I've SNIPPED academic material Info about Frankl's psychological theories." )
"This is a fascinating, sophisticated, and very human book. At times, Frankl's personal and professional discourses merge into a style of tremendous power. "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is," Frankl writes. "After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."
"One of the ten most influential books in America."
Library of Congress / Book-of-the-Month Club "Survey of Lifetime Readers"
Excerpt from "Man's Search for Meaning"
"Humor was another of the soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well know that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. I practically trained a friend of mine who worked next to me on the building site to develop a sense of humor. I suggested to him that we would promise each other to invent at least one amusing story daily, about some incident that could happen one day after our liberation.
"The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent."
My favorite ironic observation of the moment: "Bill Maher of "Politically Incorrect" is losing stations, because of saying something politically incorrect."
Malcolm Kushner, Author "The Light Touch" and "Public Speaking For Dummies"
"We are court jesters. In good times we make fun of the king. In bad times, we make fun of the enemy."
"Mankind can destroy, but it can also create. That is why we are here: To make art together. To celebrate what is good in defiance of what is evil. In memory of what is lost. That is what we do."
TheatreWorks artistic director's curtain speech welcoming the audience to the first post-terror performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Ovetures" in San Francisco, California.
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