Gail Appelbaum

The Joy of Laughing
I love to laugh.  I don’t mean a ha, ha, ha laugh; I mean laughing hysterically, tears flowing down my cheeks, my legs crossed tightly so that no fluid flows from another orifice.  It is particularly delicious if I have another person to share it with – someone who gets hysterical too.  I have always been a laugher. As a teenager, my nickname amongst my closest friends was “Gigs.”  My husband and son still call me that.   I was told that I came in second place for the “Wittiest Girl” in the 1961 South Broward High School Yearbook.  Sandra Weeks won, and she got her picture in the book alongside the Wittiest Boy.  Personally, I don’t think she was so witty, but, by and large, I have gotten over the loss.
Before I talk about what makes me laugh, I want to tell you what doesn’t make me laugh hysterically, or really, what doesn’t make me laugh at all.  I really don’t like jokes. I’d say that 99% of the time, I don’t think they are funny.   I especially dislike when people tell jokes all the time.  Jokes feel manipulative to me.  I feel put on the spot to laugh.  If I don’t laugh, I feel like I have let the other person down, or else that the joke teller perceives me as someone without a good sense of humor, too serious, too uptight if it’s a “dirty” joke, or just not hip enough to get it.   I feel that serial joke-tellers are using the jokes to hide from being known.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe they just think that their jokes are funny.  Also, I  usually don’t like to hear stand-up comedians do their shtick.   I probably sound like a curmudgeon, but it irritates me to see or hear a crowd laughing at something that I don’t think is funny at all. 
However, I love neurotic humor.   Woody Allen gets me every time – or shall I say, “I get him.”  Whether he is doing a stand-up routine or in his films, I can dig into his basket of fears and paranoia and totally know what he means.   Like the scene in Hannah and Her Sisters, when he leaves his doctor’s office after finding out that he did not have a fatal disease.  Walking onto Fifth Avenue he clicks his heels with great relief knowing that he is not going to die.   A nano-second later, he sinks into despair, consumed by the inevitability that one day the results will be different.  Well, this really cracks me up.  I probably miss the next five minutes of the movie because I’m laughing so hard, all the while trying to suppress my laughter so I don’t disturb others in the audience who have already moved past the joke.  I’ve seen that film about a half a dozen times, and react similarly every time.  Fortunately, there are DVD’s and Netflix.  Now I can now laugh to my heart’s delight in the privacy of my own home.
 So, what brings me into the most delicious, out of control, spontaneous laughter?  It is me catching myself doing an idiotic or embarrassing thing.  I can be alone, with my husband, son, a close friend or just remembering something I did that cracks me up.
 For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was on Metro North going into the city to meet my cousin, Shelley.   I call her to tell her that I might be a few minutes late.   While we are talking, I decide to use my cellphone to check the time.  I start to rummage through my bag, feeling around for the phone.   My throat begins to tighten; a sour taste of nausea moves from my throat to my stomach; there is a slight tightening of my chest, accompanied by an overall feeling of disorientation and fear.  At the same time, I am trying to listen to what Shelley is saying, while anxiously taking items out of my bag one by one and placing them on my lap.  Where is the damn phone?!?!   I couldn’t have left it at home!  It’s bad enough that I forgot my watch, so I have to use the cell phone to find out the time, but now I’m worried about my forgetfulness and my overall “famished-ness.”  Okay, it’s time to fess up and tell Shelley that I really wasn’t listening to what she was saying because I was trying to find my phone in my purse.  As I tell her that, I realize that I am to talking to her on my CELLPHONE!!!   We are both submerged in uncontrollable laughter, which doesn’t stop until I notice that the train has arrived at Grand Central Station.  
As I rise to leave the train, a handsome African-American businessman in his mid-fifties says to me smiling, “It’s wonderful to be able to laugh like that.  It keeps you young.”  I agree!
Copyright © 2010 by Gail Appelbaum