The Link Between Laughter and Tears
“Humor and pain, like comedy and tragedy, have subtle similarities. At the basic level, they are essentially the same. A person who has suffered great pain and tragedy in life also has the ability to transcend it and convert it into comedy. If you look at the history of those who have made the world laugh, you will note that they did, indeed, suffer great sorrow and pain before discovering laughter. Shakespeare created immortal masterpieces of literature but lived a personal life wrought with longing and loneliness. His every work is a constant dance between the tragic and the comic. The legendary Doctor Patch Adams, who proved to the world that, indeed, laughter is the best medicine, lived a life of hardship and struggle. His patients loved his humor because they knew that behind the façade, he understood and deeply shared their pain.
A few years ago, NBC held a prime time talent contest called Last Comic Standing, where Dat Phan, a young Vietnamese-American became the champion and attained instant stardom. Today, he lives his dream of making a living while making others laugh. As a kid, he and his mother lived on the streets of San Diego and slept on bus stop benches. Growing up, he worked as a waiter, a busboy, and a doorman at a casino and a comedy club. Phan is not hampered by his past experiences. His hardships have become an integral part of his humor, as has his upbringing in a poor cross-cultural family. “I do whatever it takes to do stand-up,” Phan said in an interview. “There is an abundance of material in struggling and poverty and trying to make it. There is so much humor in that, it’s unlimited. You have to be able to see it. You have to be very creative. In the beginning, I didn’t do real well, I bombed dozens of times. Something sick inside told me to keep on trying because I had nothing to lose. I kept exposing myself to different audiences. I kept bombing and failing and being disappointed until I got just one laugh. And that laugh gave me encouragement to continue and pursue a career and a skill that makes others happy. The pain of my past has been my driving force and I believe that no matter how hopeless it seems there is always something to look forward to. In life, you can get to the next level if you’re willing to give up everything and give everything you have in your heart to make it!” says Dat Phan.
Kahlil Gibran rightly said: “The selfsame source from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” Very often when we are laughing uncontrollably, we find tears streaming down our faces. And, quite as often, after we’ve expressed our pain through crying, we find ourselves laughing joyfully. Both laughing and crying provide cathartic cleansing. Our facial expressions also mirror this kinship. That’s why, at times, it’s hard to determine if one is crying or laughing. Somewhere in the depths of our souls and somewhere in the recesses of our limbic brains, laughing and crying are separated by a very thin line, just as comedy and tragedy are.”
When speakers, trainers and other facilitators play hopscotch over this fine line that divides comedy and tragedy using personal anecdotes and situational humor they create rapid rapport with their audiences and transfer new learning deeply and powerfully.
To make being funny a part of your skill sets, come look me up in April in Singapore, I am running a one-day workshop where you will not just know the science behind humor but you master a few techniques to consistently employ humor in most all of your interactions.
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