When was the last time you laughed so hard that it hurt? Not just a momentary gasp for air, or a slight tearing of your eyes, but a full-blown gut-buster that left your ribs sore for days after? I tend to find those moments at the top of the "Pyramid of Comedy", after a solid base has been laid, and then as additional layers of silliness are added, the pain becomes more real and persistent. I would love to say that most of these experiences hinge on witty bon mot along the Noel Coward lines, but I confess that more often than not I tend to veer directly to bodily functions. Sometimes all that laughter elicits still more bodily functions, and then it gets just a little funnier.
Then there's this three-year-old girl in Hyde Park, New York. Her uncontrollable laughter came to an end today when doctors removed a tumor from her brain that was causing the problem. She was suffering from hypothalamic hamartoma, a condition leading to "gelastic seizures" that produce uncontrollable laughter, followed by crying, kicking and screaming. Around here we call it "a night of TV with the Cavens." Ironically, her parents said they knew that she was going to be okay when "she smiled for us. So that's when we knew everything was going to be OK."
That brings me to my favorite old saw about how it's easier to smile than it is to frown. Snopes.com insists that this "fact" remains undetermined, citing a great many claims to just how many muscles it takes to do either one. However, it does provide us with at least one funny bit from a December 29 article in the Denver Post: "It takes four muscles to smile, 20 to frown and roughly 317 to appear amused when a Celine Dion imitator, who happens to be a man, sings a song about, er, flatulence." Maybe scientists ought to check out the connection between laughter and flatulence, which incidentally was the original title for that book by Milan Kundera. Translating from Czech can be so difficult.