Laughter is an amazing thing. It’s the outward expression of joy and it comes along with a whole heap of health benefits. Laughing relieves muscle tension, reduces hormones related to stress, releases endorphins (the body’s feel-good chemicals), and generally creates a physical feeling of well-being. If wealth was measured in laughter, the wealthiest people would probably also be the healthiest. So if you have a choice between laughing or not, why wouldn’t you choose the former?
In the past few months, I’ve been making a habit of attending comedy shows. I’ve always been a comedy enthusiast, inspired by people who can get up on stage and crack jokes in front of strangers (often revealing intimate personal details in the process). It’s no easy feat to think on your toes and tell jokes on the spot, opening yourself up to hecklers and other spontaneities that arise in live performances. That alone is reason enough to always show appreciation. Comics get up there to make you laugh and hope for an open-minded audience that is prepared to do just that.
You would think that people attending stand-up shows would show up with their laughing shoes on, right? Well, in recent months, I’ve been amazed by the number of people who approach comedy performances with judgement and a holier-than-thou attitude.
In October, I had the privilege of attending the Canadian Comedy Awards and one of its showcase events. The night of stand-up was graced with the presence of such comedy greats as Shaun Majumder, Steve Patterson, Nikki Payne and Laurie Elliott. My company for the evening was a few television executive types. These people worked in and, you would think, knew comedy. What they didn’t know, unfortunately, was that front row orchestra is definitely not the same as front row balcony so we wound up sitting as close to the stage as possible, staring straight up at the comics. I slouched in such a way that I wasn’t too uncomfortable but, of course we were the only people the comedians could really see since the spotlights would have rendered their far-sightedness useless.
Being right in the comics’ line of vision, I wanted to make sure they knew I was enjoying myself, which I was. I laughed uproariously and clapped enthusiastically. I let myself just roll with the jokes, even when they weren’t entirely my style. The people I was with, however, couldn’t have seemed less engaged. They half-heartedly chuckled at really funny jokes, they barely cracked a smile at the more subtle ones, and they failed to applaud virtually every time a comedian finished a set. Their seeming lack of enjoyment was only really broken when Nikki Payne told a joke about throwing feces like monkeys, particularly at co-workers at the office. At this, my company practically rolled out of their seats with hysteria yet the rest of the evening they had watched with an air of superiority. The attitude they exuded said, “We know comedy and compared to what we’ve seen, this show ain’t nothing.” Well bully for them!
The following month, I attended the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund’s Cream of Comedy – an evening showcasing fresh-faced comics competing for a cash prize, a scholarship for the Second City Training Centre, and serious bragging rights. Spoiler alert! Half of the comedy troupe “British Teeth” that won the 2011 prize hailed from the same high school as yours truly. Pretty great stuff!
I also attended this show with some friends who work in the business of television and comedy. These folks were younger and had far less input into what actually makes it on the air than the people I went to the Canadian comedy showcase with. These friends were also in less demanding jobs, and were less stressed out so I just assumed they would generally be in better humour and would let themselves really enjoy the show. It turns out I was wrong. I was laughing the night away and hearing crickets beside me. One friend later said to me later that she wished she had sat next to me. She felt like a pariah for laughing while the others looked on with straight faces.
At the same show, a man sitting within my line of vision also caught my attention. As with most comedy shows, there were a lot of crass jokes being told and plenty of imitations. This guy couldn’t have looked less impressed. All of his friends were cracking up but he was just shaking his head and putting his fingers to his temples. These jokes were evidently giving him a headache. I just don’t understand what people expect out of events like these. If he was looking for highbrow, classy entertainment, he should have gone to the opera. The same goes for everyone else who just refused to enjoy the evening.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to another evening of comedy. This event was a fundraiser for a cancer support network called Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto. It was called “That’s What She Said” and it was the fourth year that the show had gone on. The event is, and has always been an all-female line-up of comedians. As you might imagine, there tend to be many jokes about gender stereotypes, relationships, and everyday life. I see it as a pretty strong showing of feminist ideals, even when the jokes might poke fun at the classic power divide between men and women. Well, the woman sitting next to me was not at all open to the jokes about sex, love and family roles. She shook her head and scoffed the whole night. She seemingly found the jokes degrading. I don’t think she was entirely familiar with devices such as satire and sarcasm.
At the end of the show, a staff member from the charity got up to thank the very funny comics for their wonderful performances. In her thank you, the staff member dared to use the word “girls.” The woman next to me would have none of that. She loudly huffed, “women!” Then she looked around for other disapproving audience members (of which there were none). Granted, “girls” was probably not the best word choice but come on! Lighten up! That wasn’t the point of the message and it was just a slip of the tongue by someone who isn’t particularly comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Had she let her guard down for a moment or two, this woman may have seen just how impressive, empowered, and gosh darn funny the evening’s comics were.
The point of this tirade is that it’s not worth it let a single opportunity for laughter to slip by you. Life is so much more enjoyable when you let go of your inhibitions and see the humour in every situation. If you don’t feel that way, it’s your own loss but don’t show up at an event that’s supposed to be funny just to be a stick in the mud for everyone else. Seriously, if you’re ill humoured and not laughing, the jokes better be really terrible or outrageously offensive. There isn’t a problem with simply not laughing too excitedly, the problem arises when people approach comedy shows with a closed-minded, bad attitude. If you recognize yourself as one of these people, try lightening up next time and allowing yourself to laugh. You’ll find that you leave the event recharged and feeling great, and you’ll think twice about being so judgemental next time.