Bill Cosby cracks me up.
He always has. In the mid 1960s I would sprawl out on the living room floor, laughing uncontrollably as I listened to his albums “Why Is There Air?”, Wonderfulness” and “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow…Right!” I learned his routines by heart, right down to his vocal inflections and street-smart attitude. I would deliver my 15 minutes of stand-up on the back porch for family or anyone who would sit still long enough. The funny thing is, I can still listen to those recordings and laugh anew, even though I’ve heard the punchlines thousands of times. The joy is in the release that laughing provides.
Humor is a balm for the brain. In a study published in a 2004 issue of Neuron, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study how the brains of 16 healthy adults responded to funny vs. non-funny cartoons. The brain scans were used to detect areas of the brain that were activated when the subject found the cartoon funny.
The study showed that in addition to activating areas of the brain involved in language processing, humor also stimulated regions of the brain known as reward centers, such as the amygdala, which releases dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful chemical that plays a vital role in the brain’s pleasure and reward system.
So, what can you do to put more funny into your life and reap the health benefits?
Watch Comedy Central – Whether your tastes skew toward the down-home “Blue Collar Comedy” of Jeff Foxworthy and his pals, or the crude social parodies of South Park, Family Guy or Futurama, you’re sure to find a sitcom or stand-up comedian that tickles your funny bone. My wife loves watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” just before bedtime. She laughs loudly and easily, which is a great way to release the day’s tensions and get ready for sleep. As for me, how will I survive without new episodes of “30 Rock”?
Attend a Live Comedy Show – I’ve seen Bill Cosby live several times and he’s even funnier in person. Scientists postulate that communal experiences like concerts, comedy shows and other live performances heighten the experience and provides a “group catharsis” through laughing, cheering and applauding.
All I know for sure is that it feels good.
Listen to Comedy in the Car – Tune in to a morning drive-time show or a DJ’s interview with a comedian who is in town for a gig. Or check out Sirius XM satellite radio’s family comedy channel. One of many stars you’ve never heard of is Jeanne Robertson, a 60-something professional speaker and storyteller who never swears or uses one-liners.
She tells stories which are poignant and very funny. If you have a favorite comedian, load their routines into your mp3 or CD player and enjoy a laugh during a slow, sometimes frustrating commute or trip to a doctor’s office. Laughing keeps you relaxed and puts things in perspective. So, go ahead, laugh it up! Your brain and the rest of your body will thank you for it.