There’s not a lot to laugh about at the moment. And yet the laughing group appears to have assumed mini-trend status in recent years; a backlash against the rise of burnout, work-life imbalance and other stress-related buzz-phrases of modern society. I’m also told that the appearance of a laughing club on The Secret Lives of Us inspired hoards of bayside scenesters to jump on the funny bandwagon in the early noughties.

Frankly, the idea of penning in an hour a week to laugh with a bunch of strangers has always seemed a bit contrived to me. I also questioned whether the health benefits of spontaneous belly laughter — lower blood pressure, strengthened abdominal muscles, etc — could be induced by a weekly session of mimicking the real thing: surely endorphins can’t be that easily deceived? Finally, it made me sort of sad to think that our fast-paced lifestyles are such as to require reminding, via iPhone calendar or some equally dire electronic function, to do something that one hopes would come naturally.

Anyway, I recently decided to sign up for a session at my local laughing group, curious as I was about this semi-new phenomenon. I roped in a friend to accompany me, in return for a promise to learn the art of parkour with her (a proposition for another time), and off we went to our local laughing venue.

I quickly realised this would not provoke the sort of carefree hilarity suggested by the televised Secret Life romp. For a start, our session was held in a church hall rather than a park, which rather dampened the hopes I had secretly harboured for a barefoot and bohemian chuckle under the trees. It was also meltingly hot that day, so in an awkward twist of events our group was reduced to one-fifth of its original size (read: there were two other people).

Our kindly host Ronnie, a pastor who clearly had bigger fish to fry in the running of his ministry, made an effort to appear unfazed by the underwhelming turnout, guiding us in some getting-to-know-you exercises. In a throwback to primary school orientation week, we begun by introducing ourselves with alliterated names — a rather straightforward task, seeing as we only had to remember Giggly Gary (quite an old hand, it would seem) and Marvellous Marge (who declared she was lonely after “losing her dancing partner” — we didn’t ask what that meant).

And then we laughed. Ronnie led us in a ho-ho-ha-ha-ha sort of chant, then demanded we laugh “like chainsaws”. We had to drink imaginary cocktails, romp on an imaginary beach, and generally indulge in a seemingly endless stream of Ronnie’s organisational offerings. When I questioned the physical benefits of such pseudo-laughter, Ronnie assured me the body can’t tell the different between faking it and the real thing. Egg on my face! Apparently forced laughter still boosts immunity, decreases pain, reduces snoring and triggers an onslaught of other unexpected benefits.

The whole thing lasted about an hour. And guess what? It was quite fun. Not in the out-and-out belly-laugh sense, but in the mildly daggy and amusing way. And sometimes, that’s just what you need.

The details: Look up your local laughing group at Laughter Yoga International.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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