When I went to see the movie Deadpool I knew even before I went in that I was going to like it. And I was right. It was fast, funny, violent, hilariously profane and starred Ryan Reynolds. What’s not to like?
So I was happy. I had fun. But not nearly as much fun as the young man sitting four rows down on the left. This guy was having a seriously good time. At one point he was laughing so hard I thought they were going to have to carry him out on a stretcher. And it wasn’t obnoxious laughter either—he was laughing in all the right places—he just seemed to be having so much more fun than everyone else. And it was contagious. I think I spent at least as much time laughing along with him as I did at the movie itself.
Which made me wonder—would I have found the movie as amusing if I had been sitting watching it on my own at home—or even if that young man hadn’t been in the audience? Probably not. A shame really, because I’d like to be able to laugh like that more often, and I’m not really sure why I don’t.
It’s not like I never find anything funny. I giggle a lot. And probably even smirk, chuckle, snicker, titter, and maybe even snort (very unladylike, I know) on a fairly regular basis—but that real full-on, from-the-gut, makes-your-eyes-water-and-leaves-you-gasping-for-breath belly laugh . . . not so much.
But the thing is, you don’t really ‘decide’ when you are going to laugh, do you? Or what you are going to laugh at, or how hard you are going to laugh. It just happens—and often at the most inopportune moments. I’ve just read a blog where a man told a story of when he and his brothers were at their mother’s funeral and their grandmother unexpectedly sent forth a very loud and unapologetic burp, sending the brothers into fits of ‘quiet hysterics’ . . . (I guess they should be grateful granny didn’t fart—that might have sent the whole congregation into meltdown . . .)
But sometimes it doesn’t even take a granny-burp. Sometimes there is no obvious reason to be laughing whatsoever, other than someone else is already laughing and you seem suddenly, and inexplicably, incapable of not joining in.
Scientists think this ‘contagion’ effect might be because laughter may have been a precursor to language and that our ancestors may have laughed to show they were friendly and meant no harm to others. Consequently we are hard-wired to respond to laughter. (I guess that is also why sitcoms still use the ‘laugh track’. My advice, they should track down that young fellow that was at my cinema—he was a laugh track all on his own.)
And it seems that we humans don’t hold the exclusive rights to laughter either. Experts (I always want to put that word in inverted commas, but I don’t want to offend anyone, so I won’t) believe that other animals laugh too, although, at this stage they seem to believe that apes and rats are the only others to do so. The chimps and gorillas I get—closest living relatives and all that (and we all know someone who actually sounds like a chimp when they are laughing, don’t we?)
The rat thing is just a tad weirder. ‘Tickling‘ experiments done on rats (because why wouldn’t you want to do a tickling experiment on a rat?) discovered that when rats were being tickled, they produced high-pitched, ultrasonic vocalizations (chirps), and these sounds were only made when they were playing. And, what is more, these rats actively went out of their way to get more tickles (as you do), further indicating that they were actually enjoying the process. (These giggly rats also preferred to play with other ‘chirpers’, which stands to reason really—why spend time with the grumpy old codger in the corner when you could be having a chuckle-fest with the fun crowd?)
I was a little surprised though, to see that there appears to be no evidence that cats and dogs laugh. As an owner of three incredibly silly and giggly dogs, I am absolutely convinced my girls spend the majority of their (awake) time laughing. (The same experts who did the rat experiments above would no doubt call this ‘anthropomorphizing‘. I have one thing to say to that—have any of these experts ever owned a dog?)
And—okay, sure—I admit that you don’t often see cats rolling around on their backs, tongues hanging out, eyes rolling madly, while waving their legs in the air with gay abandon when something amuses them (behaviour far too uncouth for most cats)—but you can just tell from their expressions that they are laughing (hard) on the inside . . .
Anyway, I am not quite sure how I managed to get from Deadpool to tickling rats but the long and the short of this story is that I am planning another trip to the movies this weekend and I am kind of hoping that young man is going to be there again.
I am feeling in need of another really good belly-laugh . . .