Humans release the feel good hormone – endorphin – in many ways. More often than not it is released in copious quantities when we laugh because endorphins primary goal is to fight pain. Endorphins release tension, increase blood flow, dilate the pupils and perform many other ‘feel good’ physiological deeds on our bodies. Feeling good produces wonder in our minds. The wonder of the moment. The wonder of joy. The wonder, of magic.
We love to laugh. To be honest, we haven’t got the time not to. Walt Disney in his original film Mary Poppins worked with Richard and Robert Sherman to produce the song ‘I Love to Laugh’, also called ‘We Love to Laugh’. This song, with a beautful uplifting melody and striaghtforward but truthful lyrics, says so much about us as people just wanting to feel good and promoting laughter as perhaps the best conduit. It was my favourite song on my Mary Poppins Album growing up as a child and I was sad to see that it wasn’t reproduced in the stage musical version.
We laugh at what is funny. We laugh, at comedy. Sometimes this comedy can be at the expense of someone else’s misfortune whether it be a physical injury or a set of circumstances that a hapless person may come up against. This comedy is generally performed by skilled and talented actors to make us laugh out loud and thus release those awesome endorphins. We laugh because things are funny but we laugh even more because so much of what we see performed, as comedy, finds its roots in truth. Oscar Wilde put it best when he once said, if you want to tell people the truth , make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. Funny, isn’t it…
There is no true story that doesn’t make you laugh and cry. No matter how awful and tragic a story there is always an element of comedy. It releases tension – we need that release – even Shakespeare does this in the beginning of Macbeth before the murder of King Duncan where there is some serious comedy schtick going on (pardon the pun…).
Everyday we see stand up comedians talking about everyday things or actions and showing us just how funny they can be. Now a lot of this could be down to the comic delivering the gags and stories but without the quality material in the first place, there would be very little comedy. I had a very skilled comedian, Jimeoin, split my sides with laughter just by trying to show how to put an ice cube container filled with water back into a freezer. Actual, truthful things we do every day, are so often the funniest.
Tim Ferguson of Doug Anthony All stars fame in his recent conversation piece on ABC Radio Australia, argues that comedy is the higher art form over that of drama because comedy is truth. Drama deals with true things but can never portray truth otherwise we may have actual deaths on stage! Comedy is the world’s most successful performance genre.
Coupled with truth, comedy’s other great strength is surprise. Whilst comedy is by no means systematic, good comedy does revolve around principles and one of those priciples is surprise. The staging of the premise, having the audience expect one thing and delivering another creates a misdirection. The ‘punchline’ delivers something, if done well, the audience would never ‘pick’ and so the positive impact and the amount of laughter is significantly increased when comedy is done well. Coupled with surprise, timing is comedy’s other main prinicple. The two, in essence, go hand in hand. We have all witnessed (or experienced) that awkward moment when a joke is delivered and its timing was terrible. The result is no laughs and more often than not, complete embarassment for the comedian.
Which leads us to a final correlation (alluded to above). Surprise or misdirection and timing are also vital traits for magic. Magicians constantly strive to use timing and misdirection to perform their ‘death defying’ feats or heart stopping illusions. So in a practical sense, magic would not be magical without surprise and timing and neither would comedy. In the middle lies truth and so perhaps this means that in order for both comedy and magic to be successful each must be truthful. The relationship is clear:
Comedy = Truth = Magic.