“Lunchtime Laughter”? What? And…Why?

Some might argue we’re a motley crew. Ranging in age from 30 to 93, in t-shirts, unshaven with unkempt hair, we meet Monday through Friday at noon, following the lead of our in house “comedy care” expert instructing us to breathe deeply, make funny faces and, depending on whatever comedy principal we are taking on that day, tell silly stories. Most of them are made up, but not all. When you have a lifetime of international intrigue and drama like Rosalee, our almost 90 year old, or of producing game shows like one of our other participants who chooses anonymity, “I don’t want anyone coming after me,” he told me, you don’t need to rely only on the imagination. As the saying goes, it’s funny because it’s true and these stories shared daily do exactly what the best of comedy can, lend us perspective, get us thinking about something other than ourselves, and help us be a little more grateful even if nothing looks like we thought it would.

We’re in day 42 of our midday series. The intention all along has been to briefly escape what I have come to call The Corona Hostage Crisis. We recognize that it’s easier for us to find some levity because we are not on the front lines, not first responders or hospital workers. But many of the seniors who participate are isolated in their rooms or their homes, and for at least half an hour a day, they see faces, share laughter, and make connection with other humans.

Perhaps not unusually at this point, my quarantine is also steeped in grief. My mother passed away three months ago from complications from Alzheimer’s. There is a cutting of the marionette strings that occurs after both parents pass that I don’t think you can prepare for. You can’t prepare yourself for a feeling you’ve never had before. Which, seen through a different lens is kind of cool. To see that even in my 50’s I can have a reaction, a feeling, that is unfamiliar, something new that I don’t know.

Pre-Covid, I often found accepting that I don’t know something freeing. It let me off the hook, made me “teachable,” as the self-help people suggest. It’s a little more troubling in our current circumstances. Because “I don’t know,” is playing like a drumbeat under every moment. Leaders we turn to precisely because we think they have the answers, or assumed they would in a crisis, are leaning heavily on “We don’t know,” or variations on the theme, “I wish I knew more,” or “I wish I could tell you more.”

This is why I have become one of the biggest fans of our daily half hour of simple laughter. If something sounds silly or nonsensical it’s because it’s supposed to. That’s the game. There is no expectation that anyone have the right answer because there isn’t one, that’s what makes it fun. For half an hour it’s okay if a blue penguin flies in the air to eat a chocolate bar that fell from the sky. We’re good with that. It’s a brain exercise and those of us drawn to Laughter On Call like being reminded that when all else fails, we can still exercise our brains.

If you’re drowning in anxiety or paralyzed by the relentless unknowns, or just feeling alone, I invite you to join us. You’ll hear surprising stories from our engaging seniors, and you’ll have the chance to allow your imagination to give you some relief. Magical realism is a lot more entertaining than the science non-fiction we find ourselves facing. For a reason none of us want to analyze, taking this ride together makes the rest of the day a little less scary.