The last laugh

Hfu Reisenhofer worries that his funny bone may be his Achilles heel

The Knowledge

The giggles are no laughing matter. They’re undignified, unprofessional and can cost you your job, your marriage and, in extreme cases, even your life. Luckily I still find myself employed, still have a ring on my finger and, by all accounts, am still breathing – yet apparently, ‘death by laughter’ is not as uncommon as it may seem.

The earliest recorded case occurred in the fifth century BC and involved a Greek painter named Zuexis. He is said to have died laughing while painting the goddess Aphrodite, shortly after the haggard woman who commissioned the work insisted on modelling for the portrait herself. One can appreciate why he might have found the suggestion so humorous – but not so with another Greek, the third-century BC philosopher Chrysippus, who came to a hysterical end at the sight of his donkey eating figs. Well, at least that’s one version of the story.

But don’t let the seemingly innocent, unlikely trigger persuade you that laughter is anything but serious. It should, in fact, underline its irrational, unpredictable nature – a side-splitting bolt of lightning that can strike at any time and often for no apparent reason.

I recall one occasion when a friend and I were unceremoniously ejected from a school history lesson after our sudden uncontrollable laughter disrupted our poor teacher’s rather sombre dissection of Peter the
Great’s lasting legacy. To this day, I can’t for the life of me remember what on earth had been so funny, but it tickled us so much that we needed a good ten minutes to regain control of our senses – by which
time the no-doubt great things attributable to the Russian tsar were forever lost to us.

The same friend and I have ended up in stitches on plenty more occasions since – embarrassingly, always in public places – but he’s just one of a small group of friends and family members who possess the ability to locate in each other the switch that appears to shut down all traces of self-control and adherence to decorum.

I naturally find this extremely unsettling (to think that certain people have such power over me!) yet also strangely therapeutic, almost pleasurable. It is for this very reason I have mixed feelings about my old school friend’s proposed visit to Dubai. Do I sensibly turn him down or throw caution to the wind and invite all manner of undignified mayhem, not to mention the risk of death?

Research into the effects of laughter on the body may provide the answer. Apparently, it’s great for your lungs, reduces cortisol (the hormone the body releases when under stress) and increases natural killer cells (a type of immune cell that attacks virus and tumour cells). In fact, it’s so good for you that today there are more than 5,000 laughter groups in cities around the world, including Dubai.

I’ll probably invite him over, then. Surely the benefits outweigh the risks? Besides, if the decision does prove fatal, I really can’t think of a better way to go.

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