Assurance in Laughter

by Nic Olson

The laughter of humans enrages me.

At least certain humans. The forced laughter, which I myself feign too often, is a pitiable thing. Emotionless, needy, facetious; not to mention it rings in the ear like the smash of glass on floor. So I find myself, four weeks into unemployment (and counting), sitting outside in the prairie-mimicking wind, trying to hold down the pages of my borrowed hardcover book, spine digging into the brick, tailbone making its groove in the fibreglass balcony, just to avoid fake laughter.

I would rather a person pretended in any other action of emotion: crying, climaxing, tooth-grinding, yawning. Even a smile, under the same circumstances, lacks the obnoxious nature of laughter. One can laugh falsely to benefit someone putting themselves on the line with a sour joke, or to make themselves more comfortable in an awkward situation, or for attracting attention to themselves for their own benefit; the latter should be avoided more than the former, although all forms are cancerous.

I have long held the belief that people only laugh when there is someone to hear it. Tree in the forest logic, I guess. Or, ‘I need to be acknowledged while enjoying my sitcom’ syndrome. Or something awkward and shallow. Subconsciously, no doubt, but when watching a movie alone, with others in the vicinity, audible laughter is often an attempt at grabbing attention. Laughter infiltrated by insecurity. I, on occasion, have laughed audibly while sitting alone in my bedroom, but this has occurred only in response to scenes such as this, and is muffled by my realization that only the scared laugh out loud while alone.

There is no such thing as too much laughter, and I believe that all, even funeral home employees, would agree, and I am not yet a bitter and old enough man to be stealing the laughter from the scores of good-hearted people in the world. But when I hit the age of at least thirty, old and grey, expect a man ready to slay the joy and laughter of the masses. Can’t wait.

I may be mistaken but it seems to me that a man may be judged by his laugh, and that if at the first encounter you like the laugh of a person completely unknown to you, you may say with assurance that he is good.

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Memoirs from the House of the Dead, Chapter 3, p45