Brian Regan, comedian extroardinare, performed Oct. 20 to a crazy crowd--a crowd that included one guy who just kept shouting randomly until he left the theatre--and led me to believe that he can save the world.
This is nothing new.
As you all know, endorphins released by laughter increase life span. And even though scientists have found evidence of humor in some animals, no creature actively seeks out laughter the way human beings do. I would even posit that humor helped win World War II for the Allies, because comedy shows kept the soldiers going, fueled the war effort, and healed wounds after the conflict. So what? So laughter is a part of who we are. But I am not making some vacuous point that laughter makes us live longer or encourages us to live better lives or any such happy mumbo jumbo.
Laughter can save the world in two forms only: pure power, and pure innocence.
Let's sound the grim wake-up call about power: humor trumps logic in messaging. George Carland and other comedians win people's minds politically by making them laugh at the opposition. It used to frustrate me to no end when people I disagreed with used jokes to counter my logical arguments--and, without ever answering me, they won the support of those around them.
But laughter's manipulative messaging power can take any side and any form. That alone will save nothing.
Enter Brian Regan.
Much like the illustrious Jackie Chan, Regan focuses on the ordinary human being. He constantly makes fun of himself, and all of us, in a way that reminds us of our universal humanness: his hilarious comments on Mubarak's soldier riding a camel out into an angry mob did not excuse the dictatorship, but did turn the soldier into a human being for the audience--a feat that I could never accomplish with any amount of preaching about loving your enemies. Most importantly, Regan cuts out gratuitous violence, sex, and certain language, forcing himself to actually think rather than simply appealing to our easy instincts.
Why is that important?
I heard once that a study shows children laugh something on the order of several hundred times a day. Adults on average laugh fifteen. I posit that the loss of laughter rolls in with the loss of interest, the loss of sensation. Why do I say this?
Visit any video store and check out the adult comedy section. What's funny? Sex, Quinn Tarentino-style violence, and sex. Awkward cruelty in conversation, too, makes adults roar, but don't you dare forget sex.
Visit the children's section, and you find variety galore: puns, bloodless physical humor, universal awkwardness, and misunderstanding inhabit worlds ranging from the ridiculous to the every day schoolyard. The violence in shows like Tom and Jerry emphasizes optimism, a Peter Pan immortality--and even though pulverized and pounded cat and mouse never die, they often recognize a "too far," a meanness that makes them friends for a brief moment of apology. Brian Regan's comedy emphasizes that kind of humanizing sensitivity, where we laugh at everything from odd voices to pure stupidity.
We need that reminder of our common, embarrassing, silly humanity. We need it every day when we disagree or make the most important life choices. We need it in foreign policy so we see people, not ideologies or forces, as actors: when we think about Arab Spring, remembering humanity keeps us from only worshipping our favorite cause--democracy--and reveals human costs such as the increased religious persecution under the new democratic regime in Egypt. We need to see politicians as people when we think about the presidential debate, or we become so wrapped up in beating our opposition that we analyze candidates only in the light of electability, rather than paying attention to policy and character. When we learn to laugh like children, we learn to see people like human beings again, because we see their foolishness reflected in the little every day things that we do.
Is this absolutely absurd? Perhaps. Perhaps to alter our senses of humor we would have to alter all of society. I'm fine with that. But how? If we had more comedians like Brian Regan, would that change anything? Does supply ever create demand?
I don't know. But I do know that you are what you laugh at, and what you put into your heart will eventually escape. Laugh at the right stuff and save the world.