He Who Laughs, Lasts

Markham Breen is crazy with laughter

NT: Well, how could you? What--and I'm sure I'm going to be sorry I asked--is a laughter leader?

Breen: Someone who can teach and facilitate laughing without jokes. So that people can get together once or twice a week and gain the physiological benefits of laughter without having to have new material--new jokes to tell.

NT: What are the tools of your trade? Rubber chickens? Whoopee cushions?

Make 'em laugh: Markham Breen isn't joking about mental health.
Emily Piraino
Make 'em laugh: Markham Breen isn't joking about mental health.

Breen: No. You can get some of those things to sort of lighten the mood, but you don't have to have them. You bring your own personality, and the laughter, the humor comes from that.

NT: But just because I can fake a laugh doesn't mean I'm happier.

Breen: That's correct. But fake laughter still gives the physiological benefits of laughter.

NT: So if I just sit here, laughing, my spleen will stop hurting?

Breen: Well, I'm not going to claim that laughter therapy will heal spleens. But it is great for your body, for relieving stress. Do it for 15 or 20 minutes, and you'll definitely benefit.

NT: What's the Laughter Club? I read where members "participate in a routine of chuckles and chortles." This sounds slightly terrifying.

Breen: But it isn't. The Laughter Club is a group of people who get together and do this laughing process with some regularity. Anyone can join. I wish I could point you to a Laughter Club that is up and running in the valley, but there isn't one right now. I'm trying to convince the Scottsdale YMCA to do one, but I haven't had any luck so far.

NT: You mentioned before something called The World Laughter Tour. Is that like Pearl Jam, only with psychotherapists who make funny faces and farting noises?

Breen: Not exactly, no. It's mostly a psychologist out of Ohio named Steve Wilson training people how to use laughter therapy. Clowns have taken this training; social workers--you don't have to be a mental health worker. Different people do it for different reasons. The students are actually taught different laughs. It's like learning deep breathing exercises in yoga.

NT: I guess the cool thing is you can do laughter therapy at work, on your coffee break. Although I wouldn't want to be caught at the water cooler, snickering to myself.

Breen: It really helps to have peer support. But there are companies that actually do this in the morning before the shift begins. The City of Phoenix had an employee recognition event, and they had me in and we did an hour of laughter therapy.

NT: City employees, laughing? I'd like to have seen that.

Breen: Exactly! Who needs it more?

NT: Stop, you're killing me! So I guess where laughter therapy is concerned, you're laughing all the way to the bank.

Breen: You know, I'm really just getting started, and I haven't seen a lot of money, to be honest. But I can definitely train someone to be a laughter leader; it's not rocket science. It's really useful in our workplaces, our senior centers. In terms of quality of life, a little laughter is good for everyone.

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com

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