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A Laugh a Day Keeps the COVID Away

It seems like there’s nothing to laugh about anymore. But maybe we should start.

By Peter Telep

UCF Forum columnist

It’s easy during this global pandemic to become depressed. I’ve watched my daughter reduced to tears because she couldn’t attend her college graduation ceremony at UCF. I’ve heard from friends struggling to teach their kids at home, while other family members and friends lose their jobs.

Even worse, I’ve watched news stories about critically ill patients who are denied final moments with their families. News stories pound home the doom and gloom 24 hours per day. Restaurants, gyms, salons and retail stores have been reopening and causing a whole new set of problems.

It seems like there’s nothing to laugh about anymore. But maybe we should start laughing. Like immediately. Because humor can help strengthen our resolve and help us get through this crisis. Really.

I remember being about 10 and watching the old M*A*S*H TV show with my father. I asked, “Dad, all these people are dying and the doctors keep making jokes.” He looked at me and answered, “That’s how they get through it.”

Wow. That resonated with me. My father was a New York City police officer, and I’d overheard him speak with a dark sense of humor about the arrests he made. It’s how he got through them.

So while we’re waiting for a vaccine and even a cure, we need to write our own prescriptions for laughter.

Even the most casual of Google searches yields a ton of research on the physical and emotional benefits of humor. Laughing stimulates organs, relieves stress responses, and improves your immune system. (Take that, COVID-19!) Laughing soothes tension through stimulating circulation and helps in muscle relaxation. Having a good laugh can even relieve pain, increase personal satisfaction and, of course, improve your mood.

In a difficult situation, laughing helps you connect with others. This is what my father was trying to tell me.

My father also said you don’t have to be a good-looking guy to pick up women; you just have to be funny. What he wanted to say was, “Look, Peter, you’re just not that good looking, so you better work on those one-liners, otherwise you’re in for a world of rejection.”

While quarantined at home, many of us have rediscovered our crafts and hobbies and the agony of a 2,000 piece puzzle missing the final piece. But have you put laughter on your to-do list? Why not? The website wikiHow has a 12-step guide to making someone laugh (including yourself). Tell a joke, use puns, be witty or sarcastic, use one-liners and comebacks, and be self-deprecating. Do impressions, use slapstick comedy, parody something, and the list goes on. Perhaps your humble narrator has used some of these techniques in the very column you’re reading….

What’s more, in both my university teaching career and as an indoor cycling instructor, humor has been a primary tool to help my students forget about the agony of learning or the torture of exercise. In academia, especially in face-to-face classes, I use accents and hyperbole to keep students awake. In a bad British accent, I might raise my voice and ask, “For ten thousand dollars and an A in the course, who knows what the critical path is in game design?” As the hands go up, I might add, “Are you willing to state your answer in the voice of Yoda from Star Wars? Only the best impressions will receive the prizes. All others will immediately fail the course.”

In cycle class, I tell them: “Tonight we’re going to burn one billion calories.” I’ve said this so many times that the class finishes the sentence for me. During the ride I might ask, “What’s wrong, poor baby? Did your hair get messed up? Are you uncomfortable? Are you sweating? Then it’s working!”

I know. None of this is easy. Some days you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Go for the laugh. Every time. Laugh your head off. Laugh your way to the grocery store beneath your mask. Do some LOLing as my college-aged daughters might say. Watch stand-up comedians on your streaming service.

You’re building up your immune system. You’re learning how to get through it. That’s right! We’ll show this nasty virus who gets the last laugh.

Peter Telep is a senior instructor in UCF’s Department of English. He can be reached at Peter.Telep@ucf.edu.

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