Your boyfriend just broke up with you. You failed all your classes. Your dog died. Your dorm’s on fire. You bought the Head & Shoulders conditioner at the store instead of the two-in-one bottle you meant to get.
The cure, according to a recent study, is laughter. Not only can laughter make you happy, but it could help you live longer and stay away from heart disease and high blood pressure. Glass-half-empty types often make the mistake of plunging themselves into marathon soap opera viewing and the quart-sized Cherry Garcia tubs to placate their problems. The prospect of socializing — let alone laughing through the pain — is but a distant, impossible dream of their younger, more naïve selves. But Northwestern’s comedians disagree with a unanimous raspberry — laughter is the key to a long and happy life.
“Laughter is such an honest and basic human response,” Communication junior Tim McGovern said. “I’ve centered my whole life around laughing and making people laugh.”
McGovern and seven other students form Mee-Ow, Northwestern’s short-form improvisation and sketch comedy group. For McGovern, improv comedy is not just a therapy for the audience, but for the performers as well.
“Improv rehearsal really is the highlight of my day. All my troubles wash away, and all you have to do is focus on playing games,” McGovern said. “Something I feel like people don’t allow themselves to do is have fun in a completely childlike but not childish manner.”
Jack Novak, another Mee-Ow performer and Communication senior, recalls the unfortunate events surrounding his audition for the group during his sophomore year.
“It was the day after the worst break-up ever, and I got in! Being able to totally escape from it made my improv better,” Novak said.
Professor Cindy Gold, head of the acting program at the School of Communication who was a stand-up comedian in New York in the 80s, attributes the better performances from actors when they are depressed partly to lowered expectations.
“The other part is the adrenaline,” Gold said.
Too often, the sorrow one feels is not personal but one strand in a greater web of national and international mourning. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. Princess Diana. The Holocaust. How can comedians alleviate pain that runs so deep when joking about it is forbidden?
“As a comedian, part of the job is pushing people in a way that helps them free their perspective on things,” Novak said. “You turn the insanity of something that happened in on itself. It’s a way of fighting back.”
Dan Perlman, a SESP freshman who performs stand-up comedy in Chicago every week, said the level of offensiveness depends entirely upon the joke.
“There was this guy at MTV, Russell Brand, who the day after 9/11 showed up dressed as Osama bin Laden. I think the mistake that some people make [is] that just being outrageous is automatically funny, and sometimes it’s just being an idiot,” Perlman said.
“I’m a big proponent of laughing at national tragedy, because — err — not — that’s not what I meant. It’s not like I’m watching CNN with streamers,” McGovern said. “Although they’re on different sides of the spectrum, crying and laughter serve the same purpose and can push you through tough times.”
If you insist on a desolate life, staying home, switching between Grey’s Anatomy reruns and The Hills and wondering why you never meet a guy like Spencer, here’s a philosophical sucker punch straight to the kidney of your melancholy:
“You know how Buddha is sometimes portrayed as laughing?” asked Novak rhetorically. “Well, there’s this whole kind of sense in a form of Buddhism of continuous laughter at everything in the world. Because the idea that all this material stuff isn’t real and it’s all an illusion, we’re all just silly people. We’re all still being duped, and that’s something to be laughed at. So that’s something I connect to: Laughter at everything.”