Tag Archives: Laughter

Laughter in Hell

When I was writing Mating in Captivity and was interested in making a distinction between eroticism and sexuality, I made a connection that I had never made before. That helped me understand why I was so interested in writing about the erotic – not in the narrow sense that modern society has defined it, but rather that quality of aliveness, vitality, and vibrancy that animates us.

-Esther Perel

I was listening to a podcast interview with Esther Perel recently where she talks as she often does about the study of aliveness and the erotic as related to the family and community of Holocaust survivors from which she hails. She often says that in the camps after the Holocaust there remained two different types of survivors: those that did not die and those who came back to life. One might wonder as I did when I first started studying Perel’s work, what the erotic has to do with Holocaust survivors.

As mentioned in the quote above, the term Erotic Intelligence coined by Perel, refers to a much broader definition of what it means to be alive than what most of us or used to. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Perel was very aware that her parents made the decision, to be not just survivors, but to make of their survival all that they could and to “come back to life” rather than to be alive and exist in a state of death. The energy that lay both in that choice and the work, the daily practice of joy and gratitude required, all contain the spark of the erotic and those things which universally signal aliveness for us all.

She talked in the interview about the role laughter played for survivors of the Holocaust, laughter in the darkest, the most terror filled times, “Laughter in hell.” This notion grabbed me and I took note of the times when laughter in my life during rough times (many of which I still wading through) have brought me and people around me to laugh totally at random. Marginalized oppressed people all over the world relate to this kind of laughter, the kind that pushes up defiantly through the ugliness and pain of human injustice and disparity and explodes into spaces blanketed with fear, sadness, hopelessness and depression like light breaking. Perel talks about laughter as autonomy in dark times when one feels that the sense of control over everything else has been lost.

The affirmation of this through Perel’s study touched me deeply. It confirmed something I had always suspected about why laughter is so important to me. There is a sense of unabashed freedom and bonding, a collective agreement, a belonging when we laugh together and even alone. There are times, in my therapist’s office when we will both share bursts of unexpected of laughter, sometimes moments after I have been crying. And that laughter…man, it makes me feel like no matter what, I still have the energy of life in me, that I have not shut down completely, that light can still enter and will again and again if I hold space for it. And I hold space for laughter in my life actively. I hold space for laughter and to make people laugh and to laugh at myself most of all.

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Silliness Makes Me Happy

My dad gets all the credit.

He is a seriously wonderful father who is also prone to silliness and has been since I was born. There was a lot of laughter in my family growing up, a lot of clowning and jokes and silliness. My dad was the one who had us watching the Marx Brothers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Flip Wilson, SNL and many other truly ridiculous human beings. Just silly people who made me laugh until my stomach hurt. It cultivated a special place in my heart for comedy and comedians in general.

My dad used to pick me up, dance me around the living room and ask me in a snobby British accent, “Are you having a lovely time dahling?” And I would look at him and say “No.” We both fell apart laughing. I was aware of the irony of this routine and I enjoyed playing his straight man.

Sometimes there’s just nothing like laughter to diffuse darkness, to bring people together, to clear the air, to begin healing or just to take a break from the impending doom that hangs over each day in this diabolical administration.

My husband and I have been watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” on Netflix, a concept show created by Jerry Seinfeld which I originally thought was kind of an obnoxious vanity project. But the the thing is, when you’re as funny as Seinfeld, you could literally pick up comedians in a cheese bus and it would still be hilarious as long there was a camera around.

It’s exactly what it is. Comedians are an odd bunch of people who really only like hanging out with other comedians and this is that. Candid, coffee, cars, comics.

I like to laugh.  I need to laugh. I like to share laughter and I have always loved making others laugh which for a woman has always been a harder road as a profession. Tracee Ellis Ross has been one of my favorite silly people for the longest because she doesn’t let vanity and patriarchy stand in the way of getting a laugh. She is legit crazy and she utilizes that crazy in the most disarming ways. She also slays as a fashion icon. Those qualities in a woman, let alone a Black woman are very rarely celebrated together as strengths. To me they are personal goals.

For me silliness is fuel. If I can’t make fun of myself and situations that are often taken way too seriously, I often feel like I’m perpetrating the fraud of looking like I have a clue about what’s going on or that I am actually as cool as I occasionally appear to be, that I am not full of chaos, rage, doubt, sadness, loneliness and questions.

We are all performing in some type of drag most of the time, performing gender, beauty, respectability. When humor is used to crack facades and address the need for them at the same time, it’s a win win. Comedians provide a public service. They live to make us laugh and I live to laugh.

I need to laugh. Its part of my self care routine now more than ever.