“Why does the porridge bird lay its egg in the air?”
—The Firesign Theatre
Laughs. Laffs. Larfs. Chuckles, chortles, snickers, snortles, cackles, giggles, bladder-venting guffaws… whatever you want to call them, everyone (at least those not in need of heavy-duty medication and an emergency rectal cob-ectomy) loves to have a good one. A good, gut-busting laugh is the one thing that is perhaps more popular than even a nice vigorous roll in the hay, mainly because the religious guilt-merchants of the world haven’t yet quite managed to convince everyone that it’s a sin to laugh. Give ‘em time though… even as we speak, they’re undoubtedly hard at work trying to ensure that we can all go through life unburdened by the simple pleasures of laughter as well as those of a good ol’ curtain-tearing, moon-howling toe-curler of a fuck.
But for now it’s still ecclesiastically sound practice to have a solid, roaring laugh as often as you want to. Comedy itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, and some of it is even intentionally funny now and then. Every year, thousands of far-from-popular schoolkids turn to amateur Village Idiocy in an attempt to keep from being completely ostracized by their peers (and most find, usually through massive, decades-of-therapy-inspiring social trainwrecks, that this generally will still not get them laid… though it does tend to get them far enough out of the nerdly fringe that in most cases ass-kickings become much less ubiquitous than they otherwise would have been). Hell, science is even finally recognizing the obvious health benefits of laughter… though if the religious right can find a way to tie medical studies of laughter to stem-cell research, you can bet either your own ass or the ass of somebody nearby that the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson will be braying for the banning of laughter within a three-block radius of any hospital. (For the sake of The Children, of course.)
The uncertain future of medicinal mirthijuana aside, though, laughter is (for many of us, anyway) one of the best things in life. It’s something that people can dig the whole world over. Where laughter starts to get creepy, though, is when things like this recent little nugget from USA Today pop up and slap you in the frontal lobe:
When the stress of the war in Iraq becomes too severe, the Pentagon has a suggestion for military families: Learn how to laugh.
With help from the Pentagon’s chief laughter instructor, families of National Guard members are learning to walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion and blurt “ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho.”
Oh, there’s a barrel-of-drugged-fish worth of joke material there all right, and then some. I think we can all agree on that. But the program in question is genuine, if slightly demented. Yes folks, when you’re worried sick about a family member who has been sent off to a foreign land to be a target with feet by a president who can barely get it together to hit the ground when he falls off his bicycle (at least not with a preliminary stop-over on top of the nearest Scottish policeman), the obvious solution is to have a retired Army colonel run you through some Pentagon-approved laughter drills. That’ll fix the problem. And if, for some bizarre reason, you have actually gotten this far in life without having learned how to laugh, well then who better to jump-start your funny bone than the Pentagon’s “chief laughter instructor”? Never mind the very basic fact that forced laughter is rivaled in its uselessness only by bad sex, counterfeit money, and the love poems of Michelle Malkin.
But the article continues…
“I laugh every chance I get,” says the instructor, retired Army colonel James “Scotty” Scott. “That’s why I’m blessed to be at the Pentagon, where we definitely need a lot of laughter in our lives.”
Okay, is anyone else getting an uncomfortable and yet unshakeable image of some brass-collared Robert Stack clone penciling himself in for 15 minutes of brisk, cleansing laughter from 2:46 – 3:01 PM on the third Tuesday of every month?
“Whatsa matter there Colonel James ‘Scotty’ Scott? You seem a little tense. Base canteen run out of Sanka again?”
“No Bob, but with my schedule I just haven’t had time to meet this month’s minimum laughter requirement. Next month, though, I’ll have to find a meeting to cancel so I can catch back up, otherwise Rumsfeld will have me cleaning garbage cans out back of Cheney’s house again… and if I never see another Hefty bag full of empty KY tubes and dead pigeons it’ll be too damned soon for me!”
“Better get yukkin’ away then, fucko!”
Scott, 57, is certified as a laughter training specialist by the Ohio-based World Laughter Tour, a group that promotes mirth as medicine. It touts scientific research that suggests chuckling can boost the body’s immune system and decrease stress hormones.
Now, I don’t doubt for a second that laughter is good for the immune system, reduces stress, cures your asthma, or any other ol’ thing you might be able to think up for it to do. After having read accounts of people dodging the cancer bullet by holing up in a room with a TV, a VCR, and tapes of all their favorite comedies, I’m perfectly willing to allow that laughter may well qualify as some sort of wonder drug. No arguments from me there as long as goddamned Pfizer doesn’t float enough bribes to the government to patent it and then turn around and charge me every time I giggle at a fart joke.
However, does it not encapsulate exactly how far wrong our society has gone that there is actually such a thing on God’s green fucking earth as a “Certified Laughter Training Specialist”? Are there truly that many people out there who don’t have at least the basics of laughter figured out by about, oh, let’s say roughly five minutes after they’ve left the flippin’ womb? Yeah, there’s the initial system shock of being unceremoniously yanked out of your nice, warm, cozy little world into a jarring realm of harsh light, cold air, and beer farts (pay-to-the-order-of: Pfizer Inc.—one dollar and NINE CENTS!!), not to mention the lunatic in the mask slapping you on the ass without even introducing himself (though this can certainly be considered early postnatal job training for future stewardesses, waffle waitresses, and altar boys) but then shortly after that, once everyone starts in with the “Schmimmy-schmoopy-woopy-ba-ba-goo-goo” nonsense… well, the shit just gets inordinately funny from that point on, doesn’t it?
“Great Gerber’s Goop! I say, did the breasted one just photograph my excrement?! How delightfully absurd! And now… oh my God, she’s actually posting it on the Internet, isn’t she? Color and texture ratings? Oh my, what a simply brilliant jape!! BWA-HA-HA-HAAAA… oops. I say, Mummy! Come quick, and bring the panoramic lens! I think this one may be Pulitzer material!”
What sort of crazy-ass, pudding-eating cult programming do we have to be subsequently run through for the basic ability to laugh to be stripped from us sufficiently to warrant the services of a “Certified Laughter Training Specialist”? And yet, apparently this “Scotty” character has built himself a career based around precisely this. What’s next, “Certified Gravitational Counselors” for people who have trouble with the whole concept of actually hitting the ground after falling off of a log? (Or, in the case of our president, a Scottish bicycle?)
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, says the Pentagon is committed to the program and values Scott’s skills. “We sent him to the training,” she says.
Aha… the plot thickens. “We sent him to the training.” So even the apparent Grand Poobah of Mandatory Yuks at the Pentagon himself had to be trained in the evidently lost art of laughter. Just what we need, a born-again chuckle junkie going door to door trying to convert people! Though like the Watchtower people, I imagine that a “Certified Laughter Training Specialist” is probably going to provide the discerning victim with a hell of a lot of unintentional humor, so perhaps this is, in fact, the secret to Colonel James “Scotty” Scott’s success. Maybe this guy’s trip is so bizarre in real life that it’s virtually impossible to not laugh at it. Perhaps—just perhaps—it’s not so much the “laughter drill” program that’s effective with these people as it is the basic surreal circus-geek aspect of “Scotty’s” whole “laughter boot camp” schtick. “STEP riiiight up, folks! SEE the crazy, cuh-RAYYYZEE COLONEL as he BITES THE HEAD off of a real live KNOCK-KNOCK JOKE! STEP riiiiight up…”
The laughter program was Scott’s idea. It costs the military virtually nothing, because Scott already travels to states as a director of military family support policy.
He has taught National Guard family group leaders in Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho, and will do so in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, he says. Another laughter trainer is working with folks in North Carolina.
“We believe our program prevents hardening of the attitudes,” says Scott, in one of his wordplay aphorisms that beg for a rimshot. The founder and chief executive of the World Laughter Tour is psychologist Steve Wilson, who calls himself “Cheerman of the Bored.”
“Hardening of the attitudes”? “Cheerman of the Bored”? Whew, well, these guys would sure have been running Bill Hicks right out of work were he still with us, wouldn’t they? Talk about material spun from threads of pure fucking gold. Lighten up there, Noel Coward! I’m running out of ribs over here!
“The guiding principle is to laugh for no reason. And that’s one of the reasons it works so well for military families,” Scott says. “There’s a lot they have to be stressed over, a lot of worries, a lot of concerns.”
Yep, never mind that your father/husband/daughter/mother/son is sitting in the desert on the other side of the world waiting to be blown to smitheroonies for the sake of Bush’s freedomizational democracifying scheme, and that you may very well be living on food stamps and gummint cheese in a shack somewhere because the family’s breadwinner has been stop-lossed into staying on active duty for about a year-and-a-half longer than they were supposed to have don, just walk like a penguin and repeat over and over to yourself “Ha ha, hee hee, and ho ho!” and it’ll all be all better in no time.
As foolish as students might feel, Scott says he’s lost only one participant: a Marine sergeant major who, Scott says, fled the room with a bad case of the giggles.
Evidently bellowing the phrase “You have got to be fucking kidding me!!” qualifies in Pentagon parlance as “a case of the giggles”.
Mary Frances Booth, the wife of a retired soldier, took the class last year and is an ardent devotee.
She and her two daughters—Meaghan, 10 and Sarah, 8—were sobbing after Booth dropped her husband at the Boise airport Sunday; he was headed for Afghanistan for work as a civilian contractor, she says. Then Booth called for one of the laughing drills.
Again with the laughing drills! Let’s see now, you’ve got your manual of arms, you’ve got your 10-mile run with full pack, you’ve got your morning series of deep knee bends, and you’ve got your mandatory laughter series. “All right ladies! Drop and give me twenty!”
“They rolled their eyes at me and thought, ‘Mom’s on her laughing thing again,’ ” Booth says. “(But) it made it a little bit better.”
So would a big fat ol’ joint at that point, wouldn’t it?
Y’know, here’s a crazy idea, instead of sending Colonel James “Scotty” Scott around to give military families “laughter training”, how about start providing these families with a living wage, stop cutting veterans’ benefits, stop reneging on enlistment contracts and forcing soldiers to remain on indefinite active duty, and stop threatening soldiers with cancellation of their life insurance policies if they purchase their own state-of-the-art body armor rather than relying on the military’s inconsistent distribution of obsolete, cumbersome pieces of medieval plate mail? Forced laughter is clearly not going to fix any of these problems. Perhaps the government endeavoring to not slap our troops and their families around like two-bit hookers would be just a wee bit more beneficial overall than continuing to screw them over and simply advising them all to just “laugh it off.”
But of course, we don’t want Colonel James “Scotty” Scott’s not-inconsiderable talents as a “Certified Laughter Training Specialist” to be allowed to go to seed, do we? And his organization is called the World Laughter Tour after all, isn’t it? So… why not put him on a plane and send him over to Iraq to wave his magical “wakka-wakka” wand over the Shi’ites and the Sunnis, and end the civil war? I mean, if laughter is supposed to be the answer to the problems of military families who have been ripped apart and then short-changed and ultimately forgotten by the U.S. government, why not put it to the true test and try to solve a centuries-old tribal blood feud via “laughing drills”?
“Okay there, Ali, whenever you feel the urge to blow up somebody else’s beloved old golden-domed mosque in retribution for their recent act of retribution over your own previous act of retribution thrice removed, what I want you to do is to bray like a donkey, spit like a camel, and bark like a dog instead. Go on, try it. YOU heard me MAGGOT!! BARK LIKE A DOG, YOU TURBAN-WRAPPED PUKE!! BARK LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING DOG!!!
No, no, no… of course we won’t see Colonel James “Scotty” Scott’s charred, decapitated body swinging from a rope under a Sunni Triangle bridge somewhere. Nope, I’m tellin’ ya, the Sunnis and the Shi’a will be openly cuddling one another in public before you can say “Improvised Explosive Device”.
Or, how about sending him around to other predominantly Muslim countries to defuse the violent demonstrations resulting from international publication of a handful of political cartoons featuring everyone’s favorite cartoon character Muhammed, The Wacky Prophet From Next Door? Because clearly, if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to mellow out a pissed-off crowd of religious zealots who are preparing to burn down a foreign embassy, it’s an aged U.S. Army colonel standing there with a bullhorn ordering them all to repeatedly chant “Ha ha, hee hee, and ho ho.” Isn’t it?
And while we’re at it, can we also send Colonel Guffaw over to Europe to whip those cartoonists into shape? Let’s be blunt here folks, the problem with those Muhammed cartoons wasn’t their heretical nature. No, the real problem was, they just weren’t funny to begin with—and we’re talking Family Circus, Hi & Lois levels of Not Funny here. I’ve seen accounting textbooks that were funnier than those chunka shit cartoons. Now, you ask any stand-up comic standing behind chicken wire at the Laugh Roundup in Toothrot, Arkansas trying to get through his act whilst losing as little of his own blood as possible, they’ll tell you the same: if you’re going to insult the easily-angered, that shit had best be goddamned funny. Otherwise, you might be waddling like a penguin afterwards, but it won’t be part of some fruity-ass “laughter drill”. It’ll be because of the “Black and Decker drill” that Elmer Dinkley and his drinkin’ buddies shoved up your ass in the middle of your act.
(TOOTHROT, AR) The World Laughter Tour was brought to a sudden and tragic halt today by the sudden, violent rectal insertion of an as-yet unidentified power tool into the reigning Cheerman of the Bored by a patron or patrons at Laff Till Ya Spit, a local comedy club. Club owner Eb McTeasel and his ever-present shotgun Elvira were pointedly unavailable for comment. Details are sketchy at this time, but it appears that the incident was not the work of international terrorists, although the White House has issued a strongly worded (and painstakingly spell-checked) warning to the government of Iran in connection with this incident, and the Department of Homeland Security has rounded up several local convenience store owners and spirited them away to an undisclosed location, just to be on the safe side.
Copyright 2006, Patrick Russell
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