Thursday October 22nd 2020

THE LAST LAUGH : Here, this’ll take the edge off

We’re dying – all of us are, but some with a little more haste than others. We two who are writing this column have been given timelines which can be counted in months. Facing your own mortality raises several questions: how can I get one of those lovely Ghanaian coffin makers to fashion me one in the shape of a giant cock? What sort of contest can I organise for my friends to see who gets the playstation in my will? Does this mean I get a license to take medicinal marijuana? And – what will people remember us for? We hope that some of you, at least, will remember The Last Laugh.

It’s one of the cornerstones of comedy: man walk along the road, man doesn’t see banana peel, man slips on banana peel, man falls on his bum, everybody laughs. A quick glance through the 100 most popular You Tube videos will show that most of them involve people getting hurt in some way or another. The nose dive off the diving board. The foot to the groin. The good old fashioned falling on your face. We love to laugh at the misfortune of others.

Reading the comments people post alongside these videos gives us clues as to why. “Thought you were having a bad day? Watch this!” Yes, nothing makes us feel better than other people getting it worse than we have it. This is why we want to see the pie in the face, the sad clown. Because laughter is only a millimetre away from tears. Laughter is our safety net. Laughter is our last line of defence.

The rationale is, it can’t be that serious, otherwise they wouldn’t put it on the Funniest Videos clip. That person was fine, really. Sure they may have broken a few bones, but in the big scheme of things, they were fine. Sure the guy slipped on a banana peel, but he got right back up again, he was fine.

Truthfully, there is absolutely nothing funny about pain.  So why are we writing a Last Laugh column about pain if there’s nothing funny about it? Well, it has some amusing side effects. Like the astonishing things you do while high on pain meds. Like a friend of ours cashing in on our pain to get some sympathy sex. We’re writing about it because we experience it. And we write about it because while pain might be no good for laughter, laughter is sure as hell good for pain. Pain has a way of cutting to the core of things. Nothing takes your mind off things like pain. Anguish. Agony. Words we use so carelessly, and yet when we come face to face with them, we cannot laugh them off. We cannot brush ourselves off and walk away. No, nothing takes your mind off things like pain except, occasionally, laughter.  Laughter distracts us.

One of us made the remarkable observation recently that it’s impossible to orgasm while laughing. Well, perhaps it’s impossible to scream while laughing too? And while it’s difficult to laugh while you’re in pain, sometimes it’s the only thing left warding off the darkness. Charlie Chaplin, the king of slapstick, got it right when he said “Smile, though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking”. So we write this to say please go on laughing. Please go on joking. There’s a lovely story of the woman many years ago who started laughing when her doctor’s beard caught fire from a nearby candle, and surgery had to be halted to let her laugh it out. That’s what we want for everybody: to be so filled up with laughter that the pain just has to wait a little.

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