Now, these movies were not exactly your high-brow, art-house type of movie. Strictly Hollywood, and not even the cream of that rather curdled crop. No doubt they had wide distribution and popularity, but they were hardly Cannes candidates or Oscar nominees, or even blockbusters in any way. I was horrified to find myself even watching them.
However, I have remained grateful that she made me sit down and watch them, because now they are some of my favourite movies too.
The movies I’m talking about included Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, So I Married an Axe Murderer, The Princess Bride, The Three Amigos, Throw Momma From the Train, movies like that. And now I’m grateful for being introduced to this motley crew because they just make me laugh.
In Austin Powers there’s a scene where our hero, escaping the clutches of Dr Evil, throws a door open and rushes into a room, only to be confronted with a mob of nasty Fembots (the ones with pistol barrels for nipples … I did say this was low-brow cinema). Initially alarmed, our hero thinks quickly, strips down to his underpants and does a dance to the sultry strains of I Touch Myself by the Divinyls. Eventually his raw animal magnetism overwhelms the Fembots and their heads explode. It cracks me up every single time I see it; proper tears in eyes, out of control belly heaves. Corny, crass, yep, but what a hoot.
On an overseas flight some years ago, in the days when the screen was up on the wall some distance from your seat and you listened through headphones, I watched a Mr Bean episode in which he goes to the dentist and ends up anaesthetising the dentist’s leg and having to do his own filling. That was the end of me. Other passengers, some of whom were watching the show themselves, turned around to look at me, I must have been laughing so hard, but I was helpless.
Further back, I remember laughing at Neddy Seagoon, Eccles and the rest of the Goons on the radio at midday every Saturday. And reading jokes in the Reader’s Digest’s Laughter is the Best Medicine section that would seem terribly tame now. Cartoons, plays, songs: the medium doesn’t matter. We can all remember things that used to make us laugh when we were young, and I hope we can all identify what makes us laugh as we get older and our tastes change.
Research demonstrates that laughter releases feel-good endorphins. It enhances oxygen uptake, relieves pain, balances blood pressure, and makes your digestion work at its optimum. It really is a natural tension release valve.
Maybe, best of all, laugh in company. Watching funny movies together is a good start, but what about sharing a joke or a funny story at the dinner table … you will greatly enhance your digestion rather than wrecking it by watching the news. Maybe try a laughing club, where people gather to do nothing but laugh; not at or about anything, they just laugh. We may find this idea a bit silly, but apparently it works because the body can’t tell the difference between natural and induced laughter.
The Gawler Foundation offers a list of funny movies and TV shows for people to watch to help with their management of life-threatening illness, because research has found that laughing increases our immune system surveillance and efficiency, as well as encouraging a positive outlook.
Laughter also promotes relaxation in general; the beneficial effects of laughing for just a few minutes can persist for some hours. You might improve your general attitude to life and, at the very least, sleep better. Laughter can also strengthen social bonds and relationships; sharing a catchphrase or remembered scene from a movie you both enjoyed can help get through the occasional tough times.
So if silly, slapstick humour makes you laugh so hard you have to rush to the toilet, don’t be ashamed; it could be saving your life.