Why laughter is vital

I have a close relationship with the BBC iPlayer. The programmes I want to watch or listen to tend not to be on when I can watch them, so catch up makes a big difference to my life. I spend tea breaks watching Michael Portillo programmes about trains and usually late nights guiltily, and invariably sleepily, watching what I have amassed in the past few weeks. Sometimes this can prompt me to plan day trips or write posts here. The post about Stirling that will appear here in the next few weeks was inspired by watching a series of documentaries about the history of Scottish art, for example.

Tonight I was sitting listening to a series of programmes about Billy Connolly, presented by the comedian Janey Godley and recently broadcast on Radio Scotland. While I didn’t learn much new, what came through was the genuine love for him from his friends in the stories they told.

It set me thinking about humour and laughter. It is crucial to life. I like to laugh and to hear other people laughing. People are funny, even if they don’t always realise it or mean it. A few years ago, I used to work in a museum where we sometimes were visited by a local man involved in the town history society. He was, to put it mildly, a torn-faced bastard and on the sunniest of days, he could always be trusted to turn the sun upside down with a weary pessimism. For the first few times after I met him, I would have to leave the room soon after he came in because I couldn’t hold my laughter in any more at his unrelenting stream of misery. I actually came to like the guy in the end for his interesting tales of wildlife sightings and for one memorable occasion when on seeing I was reading Michael Palin’s diaries, he proceeded to demonstrate a silly walk from Monty Python.

More recently than that, I was going through a difficult period work-wise. The job I was doing at the time didn’t suit me and where I wanted to be. I was venting forth about it one night to one of my relatives who told me that one day it and all of the weird and wonderful characters would be material for my memoirs. And so it might be, if I ever write memoirs, once I’ve lived a bit more. Every morning on the way to work, I listen to music, usually geared to the job or my mood or inclination. For a while, the first song was a Proclaimers song called ‘Like Comedy’, which has the wonderful verse, ending with:

‘Give if a few more years and look from this angle

Where it looks more and more and more like comedy’.

And it’s true. Life is generally absurd. I laugh at myself just as much as I do at the world. I can be an absolute choob at times, forgetting where I’ve put things or what I was about to look up. I can say things and think ‘why on earth did I say that?’ Or just think them. More often than not, I snort or chuckle to myself, which I tend to restrain when in company where other people are far more interesting. My brain doesn’t have much of a filter so what ends up coming out of my mouth might not be well worked and sometimes that makes people laugh unintentionally. A lot of the people I know are funny people and there is nothing I like more than seeing the world just that wee bit differently by a passing comment from someone.

Last weekend, I came home from work and watched a Kevin Bridges DVD. Kevin Bridges, like Billy Connolly, is incredibly funny and particularly relatable as he came from a working-class Scottish background fairly similar to my own. Sometimes all you need is just to laugh. It is mind-altering and induces much the same feeling in me of happiness and serenity as a Monet painting or ‘Sunshine on Leith’ or looking out to sea. Unlike each of these, though, you can do it anywhere, at any time and without warning. Sometimes, it’s advisable to moderate it but oftentimes it can’t be helped and that’s the best kind in my experience.

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