The Pursuit of Laughter

When Nigel was 4-5 years old and not yet functionally verbal, he wanted so badly to play with the kids he would see at our local playground, but of course, he did not know how. I, preoccupied with toddler Aidan, would often have to intervene when Nigel would go up to a boy about his age and get in his face and start laughing. Nigel observed that when children played together, they would laugh, but he seemed to think that the laughter came first, that laughter would result in playing, and more laughter. Unfortunately, his tactic only resulted in the other kids getting either sad or angry – because they thought that Nigel was making fun of them. I would rush over and say, “He’s not making fun of you. He’s laughing because he wants to play with you,” but the negative impression had already been made, and they would leave. Nigel couldn’t ask me what he had done wrong. If I tried to explain it to him, he wouldn’t have understood. The only thing he understood was laughter. Laughter meant playing. Laughter meant fun.

These days, Nigel understands much better how to approach his peers. He understands that in order to laugh with people, you have to start doing a fun activity first. Or – you can watch a funny movie together. And Nigel has discovered that this is the easiest way to achieve the laughter connection that he has craved all of his life.

I don’t remember how old he was the first time I watched a Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau movie with him. All I remember is how much he loved the fact that everyone watching was laughing together, which I’m sure gave him a sense of security and completeness. Later, not only did he have a new source for his echolalia, he had a new response from his audience. He discovered that if he randomly dropped a line from one of those movies that he wouldn’t be told “Let’s not say things from movies.” No, he realized, the magic of saying something from a funny movie is that people will laugh.

Over the years, he has branched out with his funny movies – got into The Three Stooges of course, and then the iconic Monty Python. He enjoyed some Saturday Night Live episodes, especially those featuring Chris Farley. It seems that slapstick appeals to him most, to his kinesthetic sense of processing. But the old Inspector Clouseau movies featured both slapstick and verbal comedy, so he could experience the best of both worlds with those. He could walk into a room, and in Clouseau’s nasally voice ask, “The wax?” and then slip on his feet and say “AAAAHH!” as he fell to the ground, and everyone would laugh. When saying goodbye to someone, he could salute and say, “Until we meet again and the case is sol-ved,” causing more laughter. He could express his frustration with doing chores by imitating Clouseau’s boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, and say, “I’ve had enough!” and has also been known to say, “Somewhere, over the rainbow” in a crazy voice while on the verge of a meltdown, just like Dreyfus did in the insane asylum. He has definitely used movie echolalia in a variety of situations.

And in doing so, Nigel has finally mastered a way to meet his need for communal laughter. It’s been many years since he laughed in someone’s face to get them to laugh with him. What’s really great is that he’s discovered he can make people laugh just as much when he says his own funny lines. One day last week, he tripped over something, bumped into me, and caused me to knock over a glass of water. With each bungle he said a quick, “Sorry,” and, with the last one, looked at me to check my response. I couldn’t help but smile. It was all too funny – the tripping, the bumping, the sorrys, the spill – just like a scene out of a movie. Then, smirking, he said, “I’m getting more Clouseau-ish by the minute!” and we both collapsed on the floor in laughter.

16 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Laughter

  1. Kate

    That is such a powerful post.
    I can relate to it so much.
    In college I was always told “You’re funny!”
    I didn’t want to be funny as much as I wanted to have friends, but it seemed that the only way I could ever connect with someone or figure out if they liked me or hated me was to make a joke and see if they laughed. If someone laughed, I knew they felt okay towards me and there was no ill will. Perhaps laughter is good because it is one of the most obvious non verbal signs of happiness and pleasure. So for as long as I can remember I have realized the importance of trying to make people laugh. Like I said – I have no way of telling what they’re feeling otherwise, and it’s damn frustrating.

    So in some ways it stems from an insecurity of mine, but in other ways it’s become a great coping mechanism. It just comes naturally that I try to think of funy ways to say things now, and that improves the way I look at things, and the way others look at me, and the general quality of conversations.

    A lot of people don’t get my humor, though, and that has been very frustrating. I think an awful lot of things in this world are funny, and I really like sharing that humor with people. Life is about laughing, really.

    Not until I met my current roommate did I find someone who “gets” my humor and way of making a joke out of small everyday things. She has the most wonderful laugh in the world and I love to hear it. It is nice to be able to laugh with her.

    The feeling of laughing communally is a wonderful protective feeling – especially in groups. It has been a long time since I was in a group of people laughing, and I do miss it. In college I used to sit with a real funny guy at lunch with a couple friends and we laughed our heads off every time he was with us. I still remember that as some of the happiest times I have ever experienced – because of that feeling of communal laughter – I wished it would never, ever stop.

    Unfortunately I lost touch with that guy. Wish I could find more like him.

    People just don’t laugh enough in this world, IMO.

    Movies isa agreat idea. I can’t do movies anymore, but man, if I could ….. I forgot how much fun that shared experience can be……I wish I could. But then again even when I could watch movies they used to overwhelm me so much – I think I connected to the emotions of the characters too much – the music, the movement, the whatever – I always felt emotionally drained at the end of them. I enjoyed getting out of myself and being entertained, but after a while, it was too much.

    That’s not why I don’t watch them now though – it makes me physically sick to watch moving images on a screen. And I have no idea why. I can’t watch TV or movies. I get dizzy and I can’t even describe it. So, whatever, it’s not like there’s anything good on TV, right ? But movies would be nice.

    Anyway I am wordy tonight. I’ll sign off now. But yeah Laughter heals anything. It is so important, in every situation in our lives. People who take themselves too seriously and can’t laugh, will have much more stress and problems than people who can just step back and see what an absurd situation they’re in and laugh.

    I just hate laughing alone though. I hate when I try to make a joke and the other person stands there stone faced. The world should have less of thsoe people. And it’s not like I’m making obscure jokes either.

    Anyway. Night!

  2. Jess

    Nigel will be fine…especially with that sense of humor. Just don’t let him near the bad movies, ha ha.

    It was terrifying. In fact, I still don’t know if the steering column is okay. I think it is, because the car is fine, but I was so scared.

  3. mama edge

    Ah, the common denominator of movies. I’ve always been so grateful that Rocky has adopted movies as his perseverative topic. He almost always can strike up a conversation with new acquaintances. (I had a friend whose son was obsessed by vacuum cleaners! Didn’t exactly have the same social draw.)

    Someday, we ought to get our boys together. Something tells me it would be the start of a beautiful friendship.

  4. jess wilson

    oh i love this .. for a long time kendall would come up to us, point a little finger in our face and say, ‘laugh’. we had the same kind of ‘conversations’ about how we have to make people laugh rather than demanding that they do so. now she’s just a goofball!

  5. Alicia

    Ah, he has quite a sophisticated and ‘classic’ humor palate – peter sellers, monty python…. these treasures are lost on the youth of today :)- lol! this is just the cutest post! i love it! laughter IS the best spice of love, life and health. keep up the giggles!

  6. Michelle S

    This reminds me of when we take Daniel to the movies. He can’t keep up with the dialog watching a movie the first time through (which is why he rewinds and rewatches all the time) but he loves the movies and sits with everyone and when people in the theater laugh he lets out the hardy laugh that is fake and hilarious. He wants to laugh with everyone too!

  7. Cathy

    that’s so great! Ethan is the same way, only with him it’s spongebob–he loves to go over the story lines. I bet he’d love Clouseau movies!

  8. Cheryl

    I know some may disagree with me, but I believe no one can ever laugh too much, and it’s always better when shared with a friend!

    I love this post, and these quotes that kind of sum it up…

    “Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship.”

    W. Lee Grant

    “Laughter can really dissolve the distance between two or more people because our hearts all speak the same tongue, which is love: Irrespective of the language or the culture, a sincere laugh is unmistakably understood.”

    Dr. Dennis Merritt Jones

  9. pixiemama

    Oh, Tanya –
    Your description of the laughter on the playground is heartbreaking. I can only imagine how difficult that was for both of you.

    It’s always amazing to look back and see how much the kids have changed, isn’t it?

  10. Carol

    That is so great – Nigel definitely has quite a developed charming sense of humor. I don’t know where I’d be myself if it weren’t for my goofy sense of humor (Although I’ve always envied those with a dry/subtle sense of humor–mine is more like Gene Wilder’s movies!).

    Justin has always had a peculiar, elfin-type of humor. We enjoy it, although I’m not sure others can appreciate it!

    I have a feeling that Nigel would do really well in the drama club at high school (?).

  11. rhemashope

    This reminded me of how Nigel got everyone laughing at the recent school meeting. They say a merry heart doeth good like a medicine. I love this post.

  12. Angel

    I wish that my daughter would pick up some of the ‘movie humour’. She has a TERRIBLE time trying to interact with other children / teens – ever since kindergarten.

    We are new to the area – she is 15 and has Asperger’s. Does anyone know of support group or peer groups for this? Or something similar? I am so glad for you that your son is doing well with using humour. It will get him far.

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