Architect Richard Porch asks where are society’s temples of laughter?
“That day is wasted on which one has not laughed”
Nicholas Chamfort (1741-1794).
Laughter and the concomitant sense of well-being that it invariably generates, is an important dimension and barely considered aspect of living in a town or city. Working on the assumption that happy people are good citizens we should be promoting the ability to make people laugh as part of its cultural infrastructure. In exactly the same way we argue for more parks or housing we should be pressing for more venues that generate laughter. Freud thought laughter was merely a relief mechanism used when danger was averted. Nietzsche thought it was a reaction to the sense of existential loneliness bought on by the human condition. Jesus; what a pair of miserable gits.
Being in good humour makes one more positive, outgoing and above all else… sociable. If you’ve ever watched the crowd spilling out of a club after having been entertained by some stand-up comedy act, you just know they are happier for the experience. They will be repeating lines and gags they’ve just heard and generally reliving the comedic experience. Their lives will be temporarily enhanced and they will be better people for it. And all done largely without the need for alcoholic or pharmaceutical stimuli. If you can accept that notion – that people can be made happy – then you can also entertain what I am going to suggest next.
We’ve all felt low-spirited or had a bad case of the Monday blues and wondered how we were going to (a) cope or (b) just get through the day. A commonplace feature of all our lives I’m sure. Such a state often tends to be ameliorated – if indeed it can be – by alcohol, comfort eating or drugs (i.e. nicotine). Easily available coping mechanisms upon which entire industries have been founded and made billions for those with the capital to meet a perceived need or craving. I gather some folk even pray, taking refuge in some form of organised religion and good luck to them too. Looking at the list of ways people cope one can also see that there is a spatial consequence to the matter. People who use alcohol need bars and pubs, eaters need fast-food outlets, take-aways’ and restaurants. Even smokers need canopies, awnings and covered areas where they can poison each other in the dry before re-joining friends to breathe stale cigarette smoke over them. Individuals that prey will make use of the nearest church or chapel and so on. But nowhere is there a place where people can be made happy / made to laugh except as a by-product of an entertainment experience i.e. at the theatre or a club. What a shame. Why don’t we have shop units where people can go to get a ‘fix’ of laughter or merriment? Somewhere they can go that will (preferably) make them laugh out loud, giggle or just snigger uncontrollably for a short while. Unless of course they suffer from ‘Aphonogelia’ the neurological condition whereby the individual is unable to laugh out loud. Treatment is available but sadly it doesn’t involve telling them funnier and funnier jokes.
My idea calls for the creation of a nation-wide network of ‘LOL’ franchises which would take the form of converted shop units or (at a pinch) kiosks manned by one or two operatives obviously of a humorous bent. Either that or ‘resting’ comedians who are between gigs. Inside there would be a mixture of hardware of both a high-tech and a low-tech nature. The high-tech stuff might take the form of a bank of booths (like the ones the old record shops had when vinyl records were around) containing vending machine-like devices that would tell you a joke once you had pushed (say) a £1-coin in. In the main body of the shop a background soundtrack would play comedy records continuously and be comprised of Goon records or Derek and Clive albums. My own favourite would be the Goons singing “Unchained Melody”, you can catch this masterpiece on YouTube and once heard it is never forgotten. No one I know has ever listened to it and not (at the very least) sniggered violently as a result. On a more low-tech level and in order to generate some semblance of revenue then there could be racks of greeting cards of a suitably humorous, salacious or downright rude variety for sale.
If all this sounds a bit improbable I have to tell you that a kind of working prototype already exists and operates to great effect. I am a user of it and it gives me a ‘humour boost’ every time I drop in and avail myself of something to make me titter. It does not have the banks of vending machines dispensing jokes nor the comedy soundtrack but it has everything else. The number of times I’ve trudged across central Cardiff before beginning the stressful business of shopping and wanted a psychological ‘lift’ are legion.
The place I currently use to get what might be termed a ‘laughter high’ is in reality nothing more than a card shop at the end of one of the city’s arcades.
Now this card shop does not set out to be a ‘comedy store’ and has (I may be wrong about this) no higher agenda than to sell saucy greeting cards, wrapping paper and sundry gewgaws. That I frequent the place for the beneficial side-effect I get from buying cheeky cards there probably tells you more about me than anything else. But never mind that now; it does work. I go in there and linger amongst the racks of cards picking one up, reading it, putting it back and then moving on to another. I find that at first I just smirk and as my mood improves the smirk becomes a titter which in turn becomes a guffaw and before you know I leave the shop laughing. My mood is better, my face is creased by laughter lines and I am a better person for the experience.
I know what you’re thinking – so why not just encourage more card shops? I think there is scope for a more focused approach and one less dependent on the sheer luck involved in people finding a card that makes them laugh. If the shops set out make one ‘Laugh Out Loud’ then let’s (ironically) put it on a serious footing and have joke-telling machines, humour from around the world (can imagine what German one-liners must be like) and visits by comedians. As an enticement perhaps they ought to have staff standing outside the shop that would tell you a joke for a quid. Another idea would be to have billboards or hoardings in the blank windows of vacant shops with a joke painted on them. Bear with me on this, I’m largely ‘spit-balling’ here as the Americans would picturesquely have it.
Nevertheless, I’m convinced that encouraging laughter (by almost any means) in a town or city is as important as commissioning good public art, decent public realm (seating, bus shelters, etc.) and landscaping plus any number of other intangibles that contribute to making our urban lives more enjoyable.
*Just for the record: the card shop I’m talking about is called ‘Scribblers‘ and they did not suggest this article idea.