By Joan Trossman Bien 11/10/2011
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. — Kurt Vonnegut
Experts say that laughter is good for your mind, soul, body. It is also the Holy Grail of comedy performers. The business of comedy, however, can be a harsh mistress, with most clubs and comedians operating close to the line. Yet there is something magical about making people laugh that has no equal in the world of performance.
from chuckles to guffaws
What if there was a simple treatment, available to all of humanity, that could lower blood pressure, reduce pain, give the body a great workout, reduce the dangerous stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, increase the immune system’s ability to fight tumors and disease, reduce the number of common colds, increase memory and ability to learn, and improve creativity and alertness? What would you pay for that treatment?
It is free and is recommended to be used often and liberally. Studies have shown that laughter does all of the above. Of course, a Marx Brothers movie, although pretty darn funny, won’t cure disease, but the laughter that accompanies it can help your body fight disease. Besides, it is so much fun to have a deep, irrepressible, shared, can’t-breath, must-get-to-the-restroom kind of laugh. When the paroxysms finally subside, you feel a glow. That is the effect of the endorphins that have just flooded your brain. You feel more relaxed due to the actual workout your body has experienced. And you feel calm due to the reduction of the stress hormones that often course through your bloodstream.
A study from Oxford University found that people laugh more readily when others around them are laughing. In fact, being in a group makes one 30 times more likely to join in the laughter. According to Psychology Today, not only does laughing with another person establish a connection between two people, it is possible that shared laughter is more important in a successful marriage than just about any other single factor.
Other benefits are the reduction of one’s blood sugar level, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, and improving the ability to solve problems.
A day without laughter is a day wasted. — Charlie Chaplain
Karyn Buxman is an author and past president of the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor (AATH). She said she decided many years ago, as a nursing instructor, to spend the rest of her life researching and teaching the AATH techniques.
“I am committed to the strategic use of humor for health, profitability and happiness,” Buxman said. “Humor by chance is beneficial, but humor by choice creates life-changing results.”
Buxman believes that the more difficult parts of our lives are the avenues for making us laugh. “Most adult humor comes from pain — we laugh about it when we can emotionally detach from it. I think the degree of laughter is in direct proportion to how much relief we receive from the discomfort/stress with the humor.”
Humor is also a socially accepted form of stress relief, but a deep belly laugh has not always been socially correct.
Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill manners.
— Lord Chesterfield
For those with their noses in front of their faces instead of high up in the air, Buxman gave more examples of the benefits. “Humor helps relieve anxiety,” she said. “It diffuses tension, it helps reframe a situation, it allows people to express anger in a (mostly) socially acceptable way.”
Other observations about humor and laughter: “Every kind of laughter is contagious,” Buxman said. “Just as yawns evoke more yawns, the very sound of laughter evokes more laughter from others. Men prefer more slapstick and targeting others than women (think Three Stooges). Women’s humor tends to be directed at self (Roseanne Barr).”
If you are single, here is an important note. “While sense of humor is one of the top traits sought in couples who are dating, men and women view this differently,” Buxman said. “Women prefer men who will make them laugh. Men prefer women that will laugh at their jokes.” Hmmmmm, maybe that explains the blank stares that I used to get during my dating era.
the high of being funny
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
— Mark Twain
Did you know that longtime NBC 4 weathercaster Fritz Coleman was originally a stand-up comedian? Furthermore, Coleman is still a stand-up comedian who performs at every opportunity. In fact, Coleman came to Los Angeles from his home on the East Coast to try his hand at professional stand-up. After a couple of years of performing for free, Coleman became a paid regular at the famed Comedy Store on Sunset. It was there in 1980 that the KNBC news director saw him perform and offered him a chance to audition. The rest is history.
“Other weathermen hate that story,” Coleman said. “You know, meteorologists who have studied this and have been doing experiments in their basements since they were 5 years old. But not me.”
Coleman said he decided that his life must be that of a comedian when he saw George Carlin perform. “I had never seen live stand-up before. I’d heard albums, but it was my epiphany, my life-changing moment. To see a guy get up on stage and just talk about his thoughts, with no notes, and I compare it to be like hang-gliding naked, where you’re up there alone. It’s your thoughts, you live and die by your words. If you are successful, it’s the greatest amount of control and greatest amount of acceptance you can feel from a group of people at any given moment.”
Coleman elaborated on the feeling. “When people react to your words, it is, without exaggerating, a spiritual experience if it’s working. If it’s not working, it’s a nightmare that is difficult to explain to people. It’s the loneliest period of time you can spend if your audience isn’t with you for one reason or another. You are totally responsible for your own performance. That’s your little universe that you create with little word pictures and invite people into your universe. It’s beautiful.”
With the fearful strain on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die. — Abraham Lincoln
Jason Love is a young stand-up comic who hails from Ventura County and often performs locally. He said he has been a jokester for most of his life and has paid the price. “I have been doing stand-up since tenth grade, when I got suspended from the high school by the principal who thought it was disruptive to the other students.
Love is taking this professional road because he said he doesn’t easily fit into most jobs. “I began stand-up because there seems to be no place for me in the real world,” he said. “I worked briefly in a corporation. I remember sitting around the meeting room with the bobble-heads, thinking I would rather eat my lunch out of a dumpster.”
Sometimes the laughs come easily, especially when an improvised moment nails the situation. Other times, not so much. “I was working out material for three people at Lulu’s Beehive who may or may not have spoken English,” Love said. “They just stared at me like the RCA dog. On nights like that I question all the good nights and whether I should just join the circus.”
Love is comfortable performing in Ventura County. “Some Venturans are a little rough around the edges, but at the end of the day they just want to have a good time. That is super-refreshing once you’ve tried to unfold the arms of the too-cool-for-school Hollywood crowd.”
The funny business
Operating a successful comedy venue requires nerves of steel, so who better to run the club than a stand-up comedian? Randy Lubas and his partner, Andres Fernandez, are just the right people. Lubas, the main site operator, has been facing audiences for most of his life, both in clubs and on the road for corporate events.
Lubas bought the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club three years ago because he felt he could make it more vibrant and active. And he was willing to put in the elbow grease necessary to make it all work.
“We have tripled the business and we have been doing sensationally in spite of a very tough economic time,” Lubas said. “It has been done with relentless energy, marketing, and absolute creative marketing that you have to continually think ahead and be prepared to try new and different things. Never be satisfied. It has been paying off and we are hopeful that we will be expanding.”
Lubas has increased the number of shows. “When we bought the club, the owner was doing only one show on Friday and Saturday nights. Now we do Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, two shows Saturday, and Sunday. Sometimes we do Tuesday for a special event. All of it is stand-up comedy.”
It was hard for Lubas to use another business as a model for the club. “We created our own business model. We are grass roots and we worry about every dollar we spend. Instead of concentrating on big names and expensive tickets, we guarantee you are going to see a great comedian, you just may not have ever heard of them.”
The business of comedy is quirky and unique. “One thing that is different about comedy from other businesses is that laughter is a healthy and exhilarating experience,” Lubas said. “The harder times are, more people need laughter. It is live and visceral. You will laugh harder at a comedy show than you will laugh at the biggest-selling comedy movie of the year.”
Lubas is certainly trying a different kind of marketing. He has organized a first-ever three day comedy festival, which begins on Nov. 11. “There will be over 100 comedians performing at 33 shows at seven locations. I have rented the Ventura Majestic Theater where we will have Louie Anderson, Jeff Garcia, and the legendary comedian Gallagher. We will have shows throughout the Ventura Harbor.”
Why would a hard-working and very busy club owner/comedian voluntarily take on such a large project? “I am doing this because I am a visionary,” Lubas said. “I have fallen in love with the city of Ventura, and I believe that I can make it a magnet for tourism and for commerce.”
When people are laughing, they’re generally not killing each other. — Alan Alda
When you think of improvisational theater, usually comedy comes to mind. Of course, improvisation is merely an acting technique, not a definition of what the audience will experience. It is common, however, for an improvisational show to yield more than a few hearty guffaws.
The Ventura Improv Company has been making people laugh and think for 22 years. Tom Mueller is one of the performers and is also co-creative director of the theater group. “I guess persistence is the key to longevity,” he said.
Mueller explained that improvisational comedy is unique. “The difference between comedy and other types of theater is, the audience laughs more and the laughter is intentional. The actors don’t worry about being funny. It is kind of like the au jus, it kind of comes out when you cut the meat. If you try head-on to be funny, it’s not funny.”
With a troupe of about 20 members, Ventura Improv Company also holds workshops. “We’re always interested in recruiting new people,” Mueller said. “Our mission, the short version, is to create joy. The longer version is to explore improve and share that back with the community. I think improv is true community in the sense that we draw our talent from the community, we rely on the community to play, and one aim of improve is building community.”
I am thankful for laughter, except when the milk comes out of my nose.
— Woody Allen
From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.
— Groucho Marx
www.venturacomedyfestival.com, Nov. 11-13, 644-1500
www.venturaimprov.com, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura, 643-5701
www.venturaharborcomedyclub.com, 1559 Spinnaker Drive #205A, Ventura, 644-1500