Midway through his book, The Laughing Cure, Dr. Brian King writes, “Laughter isn’t a cure for anything, but it sure can help a lot.”
This was an unwelcome statement to read after diligently wading through the first half of King’s book. The preceding chapters were filled with personal stories, a little laughter theory, and general public knowledge about the benefits of laughter, but so far had lacked what I anticipated: some sort of scientific information to back up the title of his book — that laughter can cure.
Why did I pick up a book on laughter being a cure if I was going to be told mid-way through that there is still no hard evidence it cures anything? It must be coming…, I thought.
Well, it wasn’t, and the title is misleading. A concise summary of the contents readers can expect to find in this book: Smile. Laugh often. Have a “yes and…” attitude. That is about it, minus the author’s personal stories, which seem to be shared more for his own amusement than to actually entertain the reader. Truthfully, I do not know which audience or genre The Laughing Cure caters to. It’s too conversational to be psychological, too psychological to be comedic, and it’s too general to be solid self-help book. That leaves me with an autobiographical-like piece that may suit an audience just seeking to “shoot the breeze” with a casual text.
King shares his objective quite clearly a third of the way into his book: “When I first set out to write this book, I had two goals. The first was to provide you, the reading audience, with some valuable useful information. The second was to do so while being as humorous and entertaining as possible. From my perspective, both goals are equally important. The information is important, but I am not sure how well it might be applied. However, if I make you laugh at all while reading this book then I consider it a job well done. By making you laugh I’ve slightly increase your health, and maybe just maybe added a little time to your life. You are welcome.”
I can say upfront, as much as I wanted them to be, I do not think either of these goals was achieved. Many of King’s humorous stories were “had to be there” moments (one time he made an audience member fall out of his seat from laughter). Some were cliché (i.e., cops and donuts jokes, really?). Others were just bizarrely condescending, which was strange because his overall tone is not condescending. By King’s assertion, I must be a sensitive, Midwestern person if I cannot find the humor in some of his jokes.
The only time he discusses theory is when he brings up the fascinating Benign Violation Theory (BVT), which was developed by Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren. Comedians and improvisationalists would be most familiar with it, but not the general public. “According to BVT,” King writes, “Humor occurs when the following three conditions are satisfied. First, we have an idea of how things should be and we make a prediction about what is going to occur. Second, what actually occurs is inconsistent with our ideas or prediction; in other words, it violates our original appraisal or expectations and does so in a nonthreatening way, and so is a benign violation of our expected experiences. Third, we are in a position, cognitively speaking, to recognize the difference. BVT says that for the experience to be humorous, the violation must be something that could potentially be negative in another context.”
Another concept mentioned in this book to aid in an optimistic lifestyle is the aforementioned “yes and…” attitude well-known to improvisers. King explains, “Once a player says something or establishes a component of the scene, we accept that it is established and build on it.” There are many books out there written about “yes and…” even if they don’t market it from an improv/comedic standpoint. There is a reason this kind of mentality is so successful. I believe this is half of the key to The Laughing Cure and should have been introduced much earlier. It’s much easier to take on life’s challenges when you repeat, “Yes, and…” as your mantra. For instance, “Yes, I will take on this extra workload, and I will request appropriate recognition for doing these extra tasks,” or “Yes, my tire is flat and I need to get to work, so I will do everything in my power to get it patched while accepting that some pieces of this puzzle may be outside of my control.”
But even the “yes, and…” mentality is negated at various points in the book, which makes it confusing at best. “Laughter is not a cure for anything, except maybe a temporary case of the blahs,” King writes. “Laughter is not going to eliminate our pain, improve our health, remove our mental hang-ups, cure our cancer, or lance that wart. The best we can hope for is that laughter makes life better.”
As you can see, that is sort of the opposite of the opening quote I shared at the beginning of the review. If laughter does hardly anything to cure our ailments, then why write a book titled The Laughing Cure? At its best, this book is sadly a piece of false advertising. At its worst, it falls short of the comedy relief the author intended. Instead of reading King’s book, I’d recommend you find some of his stand-up videos online. You’ll laugh more and you’ll get the results he was looking for in a fraction of the time.
The Laughing Cure
Skyhorse Publishing, May 2016
Hardcover, 258 pages