Laughing in a group

At a workshop today. Photo by Evan Crowe.

I love making content for people on their computers and phones. And I spend a lot of time alone in the dark with a laptop, reading and writing and maintaining loose, electronic ties with a large community of people, many of whom I’ve never met.

I like giving props or debating people in 140-character bursts and I like reading comment sections online (a sickness, I admit) and overall I place a lot of value and hope in decentralized groups of citizens logging on and talking it out. But sometimes I don’t make enough time for the other stuff.

Here’s my theory: I think laughing together in a group does things that no other human activity (or technology) can quite duplicate. And every so often, we need to go to that well to replenish the online portion of our lives.

Laughing in a group creates consensus. It triggers sensations of belonging, of fellow-feeling, of community. And we humans need that, biologically, to function. A heartbeat ago in evolutionary terms, we spent our time (though most ancient languages have no such word) following animals around with our friends and family. We hadn’t yet invented agriculture, but my bet is we were already experts at laughing. How else did we survive?

I was reminded of this at the Reimagine CBC event in Vancouver this week. If you weren’t there, picture 1200 people packing out both levels of the Vogue theatre to celebrate the potential of our public broadcaster. It was surreal, partly because if you based your opinion purely on online comment sections, you would never believe that so many people gave a damn about the CBC.

For me, the highlight of the night was a monologue by Ivan Coyote, a storyteller who I’ve seen many times getting coffee around the corner from my house, but had never experienced live.

All she did was describe the place of CBC radio in the soundscape of her childhood in Whitehorse, Yukon in the late 70s. But she did it in a way that was poignant and galvanizing and above all, funny. It’s hard not to nod when you’re laughing along with 1200 other people. And Coyote primed the pump for a night of speakers and song that left me feeling inspired and reassured and not alone.

We had a similar, smaller-scale experience at the DOXA festival last night, screening our completed documentary “Renaissance Man” for a couple hundred friends, family members, supporters, collaborators, and film fans. Having created the film on a computer for other people on computers, it was unexpectedly marvellous to see our work on a huge screen with big speakers.

And at points in the film, points I’d long forgotten were funny to begin with, we heard something in the dark that gave me goosebumps — a big group of people laughing.

That’s a power I’m interested in exploring further. Live events, collective experience, group laughter. I think these things are going to become increasingly important in warding off despair and fatigue and isolation over the next few years.


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