Laugh in Loud

Have you ever noticed that laughter at inopportune times is downright the funniest thing ever? I’m talking tears down the face, body shaking, can’t stop no matter what laughter. It is so transcendent that when we stumble upon it, which is the only way to access this rare delicacy, it’s utterly impossible to resist. Whatever is happening in that moment is hijacked into hilarity. Once you start laughing, when you are clearly not supposed to be laughing, all bets are off. You can’t even care who you offend, disobey, or bother, because that sweet effusion of laughter is coming from the inside out.

I grew up Catholic. What’s that got to do with laughing? Insert punchline here. Actually, the real answer is not much. At least I can’t recall any gospels that had me rolling off the pew. Nor had I heard any priests deliver their sermons like stand-up. No. Growing up, church was serious business. A lot of kneeling and reciting and feeling bad packaged as guilt and “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” And, whether you’re religious or not, the life of Jesus is no joke. His suffering is not in any aspect trivial. Which is why, a little bit of humor in the church I was raised in would have been helpful. Maybe one of twelve apostles could have been a real cut-up. You know, like the character in the sitcom that unwittingly gets into compromising situations and says, “Did I do that?” Or perhaps there was a thirteenth apostle named Jerry who was hilarious, always cracking Jesus up, taking his mind off things now and then. All of this is to say, when I went to church, laughter was out of place, frowned upon, and uncalled for, which is exactly why laughing there was the funniest thing ever.

This forbidden laughter thing runs deep for me. Imagine, there I am, one of a slew of seven kids pushed together shoulder to shoulder on a wooden bench too small for the lot of us, ballasted on either side by stern, solemn parents. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, in the midst of what was probably a lovely hymn, the ancient and crotchety Mrs. Witherton lets out an operatic soprano wail, sounding less like singing and more like she was squeezing a goat. All it took is one raised eyebrow from my sister and we’re off! Our laughter percolates up from an inner furnace that has been stoked by the absurdity of life. We convulse with laughter that never makes it out of our mouth. The pew shakes, and our quakes make it down the row on either side to what my mother would call “hairy eyeballs,” which means in no uncertain terms to cease and desist immediately upon penalty of “you don’t want to know what will happen to you!” Even after the singing stops, when there’s that weird communal quiet that can only happen in a packed church where you can’t even hear someone breathe, we’re about to die from laughter and it is ecstasy. At this point, we’re basically on death row with our parents, and our internal organs are about burst from the sheer pressure of holding the hilarity in, but we don’t care. It is the best of times.

I think this means we are all a bunch of seven-year-olds deep down, at least I am. It’s probably why we laugh at physical comedy - someone falls down or runs into a wall, it can be hilarious because our inner self hasn’t forgotten that time when everything was silly. And, let’s face it, much of it still is. Unless it’s a tragic occurrence, let’s laugh more. Our overwhelmed, frustrated, and prickly adult-selves will appreciate the respite. Perhaps I’ll make myself a reminder, a bumper sticker that reads, “Laugh like you’re in church.” No one else will get it, which will just make me laugh. On the inside.