There are traditional venues for humor. Sitcoms with laugh tracks, stand up routines with live audiences, and perhaps the mere entry of a jovial uncle can subconsciously cue oncoming humor. You might allow your muscles to relax, let ease take over.
And the benefits of laughter are well-documented. Crack a giggle or guffaw unabashedly and you might be in for decreased stress levels, improved blood pressure and flow, better glycemic recovery, pain relief au natural, and even a friendly spike in the immune system. Used appropriately in professional settings, humor more effectively hold the attention of your audience longer hand help them retain more. There is an entire conference (which in my experience, was truly hilarious) which is organized annually precisely to explore that intersection of humor and business.
But what about humor in the abstract. Like when we say in no uncertain terms, “oh, that’s funny” without actually laughing. Are the benefits retained? If our mind registers humor without physically acting on it, do we get the full effect — or is it the equivalent of phoning it in?
I pose this question because I haven’t found enough evidence to support a bet either way. And because I am a solid fan of the humorist genre — — through a run of recent successful audiobook experiences including Sloane Crosley, Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Tiffany Haddish, Paula Poundstone, Amy Poehler, B.J. Novak, and David Sedaris — -and hope to be able to cash in at my next physical along with reports of eating more superfoods and exercising less erratically.
What I have come to truly appreciate with these authors is a masterful command over their narratives. They are remarkable storytellers. The subject is of the least importance — -where Nora had me mesmerized by a meatloaf named in her honor, David captured with his tale of addressing a lisp, Tina regaled with her behind-the-scenes perspective of impersonating Sarah Palin, and Sloane did not disappoint with her tales of a Paris that seemed to disinvite her and a cookie she fashioned after a weary boss. Instead, it is the ability of these writers to make us care, pin our completely unrelated lives to theirs, and then join them in finding irony and humor in reflection. They can keenly ‘read the audience’, us, to time their story plots and deliver a mental chuckle.
I love it most when a humorist audiobook is read by the author. Listening to the personal narration seems to make the universe a little smaller. Suddenly, they are sitting shotgun in the front passenger seat, or are making grocery runs, or are joining on a local hike. It’s fun and funny.
And while the presence of their witty monologuing is not quite enough to justify taking the carpool lane, it is enough at least to bring on the subconsciously relaxation of muscles and wave of ease — -and manifestation of the thought — -”oh, that is funny.”
This post has been updated from a prior version written a few years ago.