Monday, January 12, 2009


Last night I went to see The Comedy Store Players. Their improv nights are a London institution and always great fun. All good, then, in the proverbial hood. Except for one, terrible, accursed thing that haunts my dreams and fuels my nightmares.

My laugh is silent. No sound comes out. My mouth turns up at the corners, I wrinkle up near the eyes, my upper body moves rythmically and involuntarily...with a total absence of sound. Nada. At no level of hilarity will my vocal apparatus arrange air molecules into meaningful waves. Perhaps, at best, I emit a sort of rapid breathing sound. Imagine a mildly hyperventilating phone pest. Now imagine him amidst a crowd of laughing people. You won't hear the pervy bastard no matter how enthusiastically he whispers what he'd like to do to you.

I concede this seems a fairly trivial problem, even by my standards. But live comedians rely on laughter as feedback. Comics don't need you to fill out a survey after the show or conduct phone polls while you're trying to eat dinner. They know immediately if they're doing well. To them, the sound of a wave of a laughter is the sound of success. I'm not part of this. I may as well not be there! It's like watching on telly with HD and surround-sound but that empty feeling that maybe you should have got off your arse and gone to some gigs! I, ever dog-paddling in an endless sea of neurosis, worry that I'm not showing my appreciation. This irks me. There are other ways of showing this appreciation: I can buy a comedian's CD, recommend them to my friends, or lurk outside their house until they come home. But none of these offers the satisfying immediacy of a big, belly-holding, audible laugh.

I've tried various ways of dealing with this. I've tried exaggerated movement; it's beverage spilling and awkward. I've tried showing extreme pleasure on my face; it's asking to be picked on and/or pointed out to security as a potential madman. I've even tried whooping and shouting, but even at the most exuberant standup gig this risks ejection the third time you do it for anything other than a nun-raping joke.

So to fake laughter. I'm not mute. I can emit sounds other than the ones the Japanese have electronic contraptions to cover up. But fake laughing is fraught with dangerous embarrassment. There are fine lines between many things, but not many finer than the one between a convincing fake laugh and an outright declaration of pantomime villainry. Every HAHAHA is just a BWHA away from worrying about the Evil Lair property market. Even if such accidental cliche is avoided, what alternatives? Men should not titter. Nor giggle. Civilised people do not guffaw, or do they? Chuckling is perhaps acceptable, if suitably controlled, but when does a chuckle become a chortle? Is sniggering ever acceptable? Let alone the suitability and reproduction of this cachinnation cornucopia, which of them should one choose as one's signature laugh? Nature chooses these at random for the unsilent majority, providing a pleasing laughter chorus with just the odd outlier that allows easy identification of particular laugh tracks. We muted merrymakers bear the extra responsbility of choosing where in this laugh orchestra we should fit for best effect; anything else would be gross irresponsibility. Thunderous bass amusement? A clear, trumpeting tenor? Subtle, lilting alto? Ear-splitting soprano cackle? I get so worried I forget what I wanted to laugh at in the first place.

So I've given up. Comedians, know that I do appreciate you. I love comedy. But short of wearing a distracting hat with BLOG.NEONWOMBAT.COM/2009/01/CURSE-MY-SILENT-LAUGH.HTML written on it, no comedian I've seen is likely to stumble across this treatise. If you do, know that I thought you were brilliant, especially that bit about dogs. This, of course, doesn't apply if you were shit. That silence was deliberate.


Bristol Restaurant Reviews said...

You know what. I don't actually think I've ever seen you laugh properly. Wow. You freak.

Anonymous said...

You used to mock ME in school for sitting there with my shoulders twitching, and no sound for laughter. The good thing is that in school, laughter is a bad thing.. and I didn't usually get into trouble - and could happily sit there silently chuckling away at Mr Dawes, or spitballs.