Faking laughter -- an exploration
by Bob Banner
Ive been a laughter yoga instructor for about 6 months and oftentimes the discussion afterwards has led to the faking aspect. One person actually has refused to come again since he didn't like that he had to fake it. Other people would talk about that they did fake it but then often it would become real and then perhaps go back to faking it.
It's a funny thing actually. And I don't have all the answers but am wildly interested in exploring the realities and/or subtleties of faking laughing.
I was contemplating that one evening after a session as my own faking was fresh in my mind and body. I was thinking of what we "really" laugh at. And the expression itself was a key -- we laugh AT. Usually we laugh at people, and ourselves, and a racist or sexist joke. We laugh at the cartoons when characters blow up each other or when someone falls in a hole or gets trapped and flies into the trees or over a cliff and on and on and on... I'm not about to declare a sanctimonious dictum that regulates all humor to degradation. That would be ludicrous. Remember we are exploring here. There are some jokes that I laugh that it touches a funny bone in such a way that oftentimes intellectualizing it beats it up pretty badly.
So then I was thinking about all the other human responses and/or emotions like fear, anger, confusion, disgust, frustration, grief, crying, yelling, that we have done in our lives. Were we faking it? Was it real? Was it real and then got to a point when it was over and then we decided to keep it alive by faking it? And perhaps someone who is consoling your grief for example suddenly stops and says okay, I sense you are now faking it. So what's going on? You've seen it? Felt it? Witnessed it or actually done it yourself?
Or perhaps you did feel someone faking it on TV and was not moved at all. And then suddenly seen another show and would start crying and the realness was so raw that catapulted you into a genuine grief-full and shaking crying bout.
What's that all about? If faking laughing was as crude as faking crying then there'd be no way we could keep on laughing; yet we do.
Faking anger oftentimes is called conscious anger since it is not fueled by a real emotional response of anger but an act, and acting out, a faking of anger for desired outcome, like knowing that if you raise your voice a bit you will get the respect that is required for the young students to actually do what you are requiring them to do. However, it can be tricky, this faking business, since if it doesn't sound real then you might not get the desired outcome. So there is a thin line between conscious anger and real anger and the recipients might not have a clue and often we must trust the person who's giving the anger since it appears so real we often would go to the side of real anger than fake anger.
Can one fake laughter and get away with it? Yes and no. If someone tells a joke and you don't get it and try faking a laugh most people will get that you are pretending.
What about fear? We fear something isn't often from an imaginary fear? Sebastien told us in our leadership training that 96% of worrying never comes true yet we keep believing in it imagining that 96% of worrying will definitely come true. So does that mean that we are faking our fear that there is no genuine basis of being fearful? Perhaps our whole lives are pretending certain emotional responses. One teacher told me "when are you going to stop pretending that you are not enlightened?" or another teacher would say, “stop pretending that you are pretending.”
I'm just posing questions here. Perhaps going to acting school we may discover how true faking an emotion or to "get into the role" of the emotion so you can get the audience all stirred up.
That's another part that needs to be explored -- we have actors who will act and pretend and fake so that we the audience will fall into their drama and we pay the movie people, filmmakers and the actors plenty of money especially when we are at the edge of our seats or sobbing our eyes out or feeling so rageful that we finally reach resolution when someone is murdered, for example. So what's this all about?
Can you fake an orgasm? I've heard from more than one woman that that is possible and actually I feel sad for both parties, the woman who who's had to fake it and the man who is oblivious to his partner who cannot know what she's feeling.
But faking orgasm is not going to give you the health benefits of real orgasm. However, I told that to a woman friend and she said that its not true... one can get really worked up faking an orgasm.
Faking anger may be more beneficial to your health than a real angry outburst but then again that is debatable since we need to understand the emotional posture of the person giving the anger. If he or she hasn't done it very much it might be beneficial. However if one is expressing real anger frequently than might be very harmful.
So what does all this have to do with laughter? And why would anyone want to fake laughter? Is it funnier if you sit in front of a cartoon laughing your ass off or watching that list of films Norman Cousens used to make him laugh so he could cure himself of cancer? Rather than faking it? Let's take a look at this notion of "making us laugh, or angry, or cry, or whatever." Does is imply that we need an external stimulus to make us feel one way or another? Could this be the clue as to why millions of people are addicted to watching an average of 5 to 7 hours of TV a day? Would we be absolutely bored out of our skulls if we didn't have that social peer pressure of others acting and faking and being real just to get a reaction from us... So we feel alive? Is that why we do it? Do we really prefer to feel alive viscerally from others' dramas rather than our own?
So back to faking laughter. I can only speak for myself. I fake it and sometimes it becomes real, and then when I hear someone else laugh I get triggered by the infectiousness of laughter and continue. When this goes round and round and less energy is going into the left brain to try to explain it while the right brain simply wants to laugh and feel the joy it's easier for me to let go and simply laugh.
Why? Because I'm an idiot who has no sense of authenticity? Arent I my own master and not to be controlled by an outside entity? The difference is that I'm not watching a cartoon or a comedian but I'm with people who are participating in an EXERCISE where peer pressure is about joy, not a cult to steal a country's oil reserves or a cult to kill innocent women and men and children.
I'm laughing because I need it. I also sense that it's changed me to become more joyful and the health benefits are fabulous even if I am faking it. I tell people in the class that ten minutes of sustained laughing is equivalent to 30 minutes on the rowing machine in a gymnasium. For the heart, not for the arms, unless while you're'll laughing you are working out with weights! The point is, as made many times during the laughter yoga training, is that "some people jog, some people swim, we laugh." But I like to simply say I laugh, swim, jog, play tennis, run, walk and anything else that gives me that sense of mysterious joy. And you know what? If you don't use it, whatever it is, you will lose it.
Bob Banner is a certified Laughter Yoga Teacher who leads sessions in San Luis Obispo County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.