Bob Dylan On Laughter

Bob Dylan2Regular visitors to “From Insults to Respect” know that from time to time I like to select one of Bob Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour” shows to help enrich our understanding of an important topic. Bob’s shows have so far helped us to take an insightful look at why people might seek to insult us by calling us certain types of names, and at how crying, happiness, luck, and being rich or poor is related to respect.

laughterToday, we turn to Bob’s show that explores the theme of “laughter,” a topic that is related to insults and respect in a number of ways. For instance, some people throw insults at us in a playful way in the hopes of provoking laughter. If we learn to take it well, laugh along, and show we don’t take ourselves too seriously, this potentially can enhance our reputation. NAME 7Then there are situations during which someone throws out an insult in the hopes of humiliating us, and it leads to derisive laughs from those who are listening. In such situations, if we can learn to keep our heads up high while making allowances for the level of maturity of the insulter, this too can potentially enhance our reputation.

There are a host of other connections to laughter, insults, and respect as well. So, without further ado, let’s see what Bob has to contribute to this not always humorous subject.

Bob On the Theme of “Laughter”

After a few opening lines, Bob tells us:

Ernie“To start things off, the rockabilly performer with a mile high wide country streak. Here’s Ernie Chaffin, “Laughin’ and Jokin’.”

Hardly a funny tune, the lyrics have led many a hearty fellow to shed tears in his beer. Here’s a few of its lines:

Well, I’m laughin’ and jokin’
Tryin’ to fool a heart that’s broken
Tryin’ to tell myself that I don’t love you no more

Well I’m jokin’ and clownin’
Gotta fool a heart that’s drownin’
Though I feel like dyin’
There’s no use to cryin’ no more

Got to hide somehow the way I feel
I gotta save my pride, though I hurt inside
‘Cause you went back on the deal

Laughing and cryingThe song deepens our understanding of both laughter and sadness because it reveals how some people think they might lose some respect if they appear, even to themselves, to be sad over the loss of a love. Better, they think, to appear to be laughing and joking about the whole mess. And yet, the song became a big hit in large part because in actuality most of us can deeply relate to someone who experiences at such times genuine sadness. Meanwhile, some may actually see through your pretense of taking the breakup so lightly. If they do, might this enhance or diminish the respect they have for you?

After the song, Bob tells us, with the sounds of an opera in the background, that,

Caruso“A lot of people laugh and joke no matter how they feel inside. The tradition of the sad clown goes back to at least 1892 when the opera “Pagliacci” was first performed. The opera is about the saddest of clowns. Enrico Caruso’s recordings of the arias of “Pagliacci” were the first records to sell over one million copies.”

I guess this makes it pretty clear that it’s not just rockabilly fans who can relate to the connection between laughter and sadness.

ClydeNext up, Bob plays us a little number by Clyde McPhatter, called “Everyone’s Laughing” that has a related theme. Let’s take a quick look at some of the lyrics:

Everyone’s laughing at me.
Though everyone’s laughing, I hold my head up high,
Fair weather friends, I just as soon forget.
When we broke up, I wasn’t to blame,
But everyone’s laughing at me just the same.

At this point the song eases into the most soulful saxophone rift this neck of the Milky Way. Listening to it, I found myself coming to an understanding that to “hold your head up high” in these types of situations doesn’t mean we have no feelings inside about what is occurring. To me, it’s a sign of maturity to be able to perceive rich soulful emotions deep within even while holding one’s head up high. To my way of thinking, there is missing in the lyrics of the song a mature understanding of why those who are laughing are doing this.

Hard TimesThe singer of the song just labels the laughers, “fair weather friends.” Perhaps it would show more insight if he realized that perhaps the laughers were laughing because they knew deep inside that this type of breakup either has happened to them, or may very well at some point in their lives happen to them. Thus, they laughed because they are relieved that they are not the only ones that have to go through such a heartbreaking experience. Some sympathy for the laughers would be a mark, for me, of a higher level of maturity than the simple name calling that appears in the song’s lyrics.

A little later in the show, Bob tells us,

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

“You know, doing a show about laughter isn’t all fun or funny. A lot of times people laugh just to keep from crying. At other times, the tears come unexpected on the heels of a laugh. It’s like what Leonardo Da Vinci once said: ‘Between the expression of laughter and weeping there is no difference in the motion of the features of either the eyes, the mouth, or the cheeks.'”

brain-2In an earlier post (“Insults Among Friends: Why We Do It“) I discussed this biological connection. In brief, I described the theory that we have deep down in the emotional center of our brains, a sensitivity to any perception that we might have done something that might prove to be harmful. This perception is registered as a threat. It occurs so quickly that it arrives before some more thoughtful processing has occurred.

As seconds begin to pass, our reasoning has time to do its part and we may come to realize things actually are fine. This is experienced as a relief, which is expressed as laughter.

laughter 4However, as we think upon this a little more, it may suddenly occur to us that we do have some reasons to feel threatened. At this point our emotional center, having already been sensitized from the earlier threat perception, leads to our laughter quickly turning to sadness.

When it comes to applying this theory to hearing jokes and finding them funny, for a fraction of a second we fear that we’re not getting the punch line. Then it begins to dawn on us, as our reasoning begins to have time to do some processing, that we have now got the joke. At this point, we feel relieved, and this is expressed as laughter.

sadHowever, something about the joke might bring up a memory of something sad. Since the threat region of our brain has already become sensitized from the fear of not getting the joke, we may quickly fall into sadness.

Okay, let’s move on. As Bob’s show starts to wind down, he starts to feel a little guilty.

“Here I promise you a show about laughter and it’s been one tear jerker after another. Why don’t we raise the roof a little and see if we can cheer everyone up.”

With this, Bob plays us a song from the Oklahoma Playboys called, “Laughing at Life.”

OklahomaDon’t mind the rain drops
Wait till the rain stops
Smile through your tears, laughing at life
No road is lonely, if you will only
Lose all your blues laughing at life

Live for tomorrow, be happy today
Laugh all your sorrows away
Start now and cheer up
The skies will clear up
Lose all your blues laughing at life

HessThe song is in a lively tempo, and is pretty cheery. Moments afterwards, however, Bob waxes philosophical with a quote from the Nobel Prize winning writer, Herman Hesse–“Seriousness is an accident of time. It consists in putting too high a value on time. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.”

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler

Then Bob turns very serious by playing us the lovely, plaintive duet by Mark Knopfler and Van Morrison, “The Last Laugh.”

Don’t you love the sound
Of the last laugh, my friend
Don’t you love the sound
Of the last laugh, at the end

Games you thought you’d learned
You neither lost nor won
The dreams have crashed and burned
You still keep on, keepin’ on….

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

They had you cryin’
And you came up smilin’
They had you crawlin’
And you came up flyin’
They had you cryin’
And you came up smilin’
And the last laugh, baby is yours

And don’t you love the sound
The last laugh goin’ down?
Well, don’t you love the sound
Of the last laugh, goin’ down?

This is a fascinating song because the lyrics might lead you to think it has a delightful, upbeat celebration feel to it, but actually it is sung in the most mournful manner. It led me to feel Mark and Van were singing about the very last laugh that someone they cared about was having just before leaving this laughable and sorrowful world of ours.

As Bob’s show begins to wind down, he tells us,

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

“Ricky Gervais is a funny guy. Sometimes I ask him questions and sometimes he lets me tape him. Listen to what he had to say. ‘I think my hero in comedy would be, if I could have two, would be Laurel and Hardy. It began and ended with them. Everything was done. laurel-and-hardyThey have that warmth, they have that dynamic, that relationship; you love them, you want to hug them. I think comedians should never be better than the audience. I hate a comedian that comes out and he’s slick and he’s cool, and he’s got these one liners. It won’t resonate, it won’t mean anything to me. I want a comedian that gets their hands dirty. You know, I like someone to laugh at them. I love everything about them. They were just lovable geniuses.”

It looks like Ricky and I have something in common. I too am a great admirer of Laurel and Hardy. I think that for me, because I liked them so much, when they started to get into trouble, I felt it acutely in my emotional threat center. Then, when I realized that they were just play acting, I would feel relieved, and end up laughing much harder than if the same thing happened to someone I cared less about.

Well, there you have it, a little meditation on the nature of laughing. I hope you enjoyed it. Please join us back here at “From Insults to Respect” soon. Until then, may you find wisdom in all of your humorous moments.

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.






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About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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