Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cultural Exploration 54: The Big Laugh

There’s a scene in “Annie Hall” where Albie goes to visit his friend Max, who produces a sitcom in Los Angeles. In the scene, Max is supervising an audio technician who is adding a laugh track to the sitcom. “Now, Charlie,” he says. “Give me a big laugh here... And a medium-size chuckle here.” The scene demonstrates America’s nuanced spectrum of socially acceptable laughing. If something is a little funny, there’s a quiet laugh. If something is hilarious, laughter is more uproarious. In my experience in Samoa though, laughter is rarely quiet or nuanced.

It doesn’t take much to get a classroom full of kids to laugh—a witty remark, a wardrobe malfunction, a clumsy misstep—and when my kids laugh, they laugh hard. When some of my fellow volunteers get together, we often trade stories of good and bad moments we’ve had at school, and many of these stories involve students laughing for one reason or another. When recounting these stories, volunteers sometimes use a laugh similar to that of the miserly Muppets characters Statler and Waldorf; that is, a huge belly laugh with a “BWAAA!” sound and an accompanying rolling back of the head. It captures the zero-to-sixty nature of students’ laughter.

During a free period in the middle of the day, I’ll sometimes come back to my house, and I can often hear the sounds of classrooms full of students bellowing with unbridled laughter. The sound is loud and it carries.

The Big Laugh certainly isn’t limited to students. While there might be less screaming and whooping, the laughing that goes on during staff meetings is often just as big and hearty. The laughing doesn’t seem limited by geography; we noticed the big laugh during training on the south side of Upolu, and volunteers from around the country have attested to The Big Lausgh at their sites. I remember sitting outside Tanu Beach Fales on Savai’i waiting for a bus and overhearing the family church services going on in the open fale nearby. About once a minute there was a great big, “BAHAHAHA!”

It’s conceivable that things here are simply funnier; the slapstick more over-the-top, the irony more brutal, the comedic timing more crisp. Perhaps. But in my experience, the same tired “O fea lou teine?” jokes never fail to garner The Big Laugh.

As far as I can tell, The Big Laugh seems like a great thing: most medical research on laughing seems to point to the bigger and more frequent the laugh, the better. So more power to you, Samoa. My only qualm is this: with The Big Laugh, I feel like I have a stacked audience. I crack one small joke in my science class, and immediately my kids are in stitches. It makes me think I’m funnier than I am. But I guess I can live with that.

Tomorrow’s Cultural Exploration: TBD

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Mike 83 and other trainees en route to the beach last Saturday.

Danny 83 and Samoan boy blowing bubbles in the ocean.

Jenny 83, Chris 81, Rachael 83, and OtherMike 83

Dan 81 opening a can with a large knife in the Peace Corps office. Nothing new for AJ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

is 81 etc ... the year you were born :)