That laugh that humanizes us

Let us once again cite François Rabelais, the brilliant satirical writer of the French Renaissance who became a doctor and practiced as such, but before that he was a Franciscan friar who went over to the Benedictines and finally hung up his habits to continue at ease with a study life, writing, travel and some excesses. In 1532, at 36, he released with some success the first book in his saga on pantagruel, which would be condemned the following year by the Sorbonne, calling it obscene and heretical. Rabelais, Unstoppable, published in 1535 Gargantua, father of Pantagruel. Already far from monastic habits, in 1546, it was the turn of third book of the saga, dedicated to Margarita de Navarra, the king’s sister, and again it was censored, even prohibited, a circumstance that led him to seek refuge in Rome, where he wrote the fourth book in 1548. Back in Paris, in 1549, FR devoted himself to Fifth Book of the cycle, whose 16 chapters were published in 1562, 9 years after the death of this multi-talented man, admirer of Erasmus, defender of tolerance and peace.

Considered his work an extraordinary humorous fresco of the society of his time, at times incurring fully in parody, Rabelais knew how to sharply attack hypocrisy, stupidity, religious dogmatism, the misconduct of the princes of the Church, always with surprising ability for verbal invention. And here comes the well-known quote from him, that is, his warning to the reader put into verse as a prologue to gargantua: “It is better to write with laughter than with tears/ because laughter is what is characteristic of man.” If one reads his saga, even if only in part, it becomes clear that Rabelais refers to the laughter provoked by the comedy that is achieved by accentuating the ridiculous, absurd, unusual, outrageous, pathetic aspects of reality, underlining the relativity of reality. beliefs, desacralizing. Exuberant, erudite, enigmatic, Chateaubriand installed him among the genius-mothers of humanity, while Victor Hugo called FR a “vortex of the spirit for his enormous laugh”.

infallible remedy

In other words, Rabelais was not referring in his ad to the social smile or the joy aroused by good news, a reunion or some situation close to happiness. While the laughs or guffaws caused by humor engage body and spirit, they lighten hard moments, they jokingly highlight the B side of things, they are equalizing and particularly gratifying when they are shared in the theater, in the cinema. It is not surprising that in the current difficult times, a large public pays dearly on Corrientes street to see commercial formulas that promise comedy, or that a humorist like Roberto Moldavsky exhausts performances with the breadth of his satirical vision that does not exclude self-mockery or references to Jewish humor.

Whatever it is, laughter is healthy: it relieves stress, strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, fights insomnia, oxygenates the heart, distracts from physical pain… Apparently, you should laugh for 10 to 15 minutes every day. , give yourself that kind of revitalizing massage, especially if it is a good laugh. Of course, the courtesy smile also has its advantages: it helps to settle conflicts, to soften anger, it makes relationship life more pleasant.

learning and tuning

But it turns out that, in the first instance, human laughter is a reflex act of simple and pure satisfaction: the first-time mother who breastfeeds her baby knows this well and one day, suddenly, at the end of a session, she joyously discovers a slight and fleeting A little smile on the curve of her creature’s mouth, she tells the pediatrician and there she finds out that it is missing for that little gesture to be something more than a reflex. When the two-month barrier passes, what is called a social smile does appear, which responds to cuddly words, gestures, and the musical sound of a rattle. So yes, baby is laughing from ear to ear, with her whole body waving her arms and legs. And as the months go by, in the first year he can begin to develop a sense of humor, to find the humor in a joke, to understand if there is a contradiction, to have fun with overacted stories and antics while enriching his language and perceiving the nonsense from a song by María Elena Walsh… It is advisable to encourage this trend, play along, because a sense of humor is a learned skill that contributes to the development of intelligence.

Although laughter is a gesture, a way of expressing itself in human beings (although not an exclusive attribute, as Aristotle thought, since monkeys and rats, for example, respond to being tickled, and some species of primates laugh happily ), the sense of humor had to do with cultural evolution, with the emergence of the arts and with that twist that joking represents, making a joke that another can decode and that, in addition, makes them laugh. That sense of humor that brought to the literature of different genres has produced masterpieces signed by Cervantes, Molière, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Chesterton, Voltaire, Macedonio Fernández, Alfred Jarry…

Humors and humorisms, plurality and catharsis

Intelligent laughter, then, is typical of homo sapiens (homo, from Latin: man; from when the male was the measure of all things and nobody thought of talking about mulier sapiens) that comes from and perhaps culminates the evolution of primates originating in Africa that spread throughout the planet, going through, among other stages, that of bipedal hominids, less and less hairy and with larger brains. This homo sapiens -this mulier sapiens- is distinguished from its ancestors by the complexity of its social relationships, the articulated language, the creation of tools, the mastery of fire, the use of clothing, the domestication of animals and plants. And for the aptitude of the cognitive system for abstraction, spirituality, the realization of artistic tasks. So we are arriving at the sense of humor, at the laughter provoked by comedy, ridiculousness, mockery, exaggeration, absurdity… The cathartic laugh that can have different colors and flavors until it became black in the last century as in Beckett, bitter more than three centuries ago with Jonathan Swift and his tremendous proposals to reduce hunger and overpopulation in Ireland. The celebrated Mark Twain already said it: “The secret source of humor is not joy but sadness. There is no humor in Paradise.”

Precisely, the name of this sense -the sixth?, the seventh?- derives from the humors that circulate through the human body, according to the theory of Hippocrates that later philosophers and physicists assumed, and that there would be four -black bile, bile yellow, phlegm and blood- and would be linked to the four elements giving rise to the four temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric. Which in turn inspired the profile of funny literary and theatrical characters due to the accentuation of their respective features.

The power and the glory

Although humor has long been considered a minor genre in literature when it comes to awards, in the cinema of the big festivals -more prestigious, on the other hand, on the scene, the comic strip-, having the gift of making people laugh when interpreting comedies in the theater it is something highly valued by actors and actresses who recognize that mastering the laughter of the audience is a higher power than making them shed tears in the highest melodrama. Regardless of the tonality that is cultivated -biting, caricature, irony, paradoxical- comedians love to burst out laughing, to see people burst out laughing in the audience, even if they are being told the most terrible things. truths regarding the human condition, the social situation, the functioning of institutions. Because the truth is that humor lowers defenses and the greatest transgressions can be allowed. Although it is not true that comedy, stand-up, or magazine sketches have carte blanche to laugh at absolutely everything, anywhere or at any time. Certain jokes about the Holocaust may only be made by a Jewish person, and even then; only a woman who has been abused -if she has enough guts and has distanced herself- could use humor to refer to that traumatic situation; and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine someone who has been tortured ironically about such an experience.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that dictatorial governments of all times do not tolerate being caricatured or satirizing their behavior. Likewise, it must be said that humorous cartoons or the ridicule of certain rulers have contributed to its fall, in this and other countries.


That laugh that humanizes us