- Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard
Victorian George Vasey argues laughing is a sickness, like a coughing fit. In The Philosophy of Laughing and Smiling, he warns: “These absurd and stupid excitements are not only … vulgar, they are positively mischievous, producing effects which are … injurious, and sometimes fatal.” In 1660, Scottish aristocrat Thomas Urquhart, first translator of Rabelais, dies laughing when he hears Charles II has taken the throne. Laughter in the dark. In 2003, Damnoen Saen-um, a Thai ice-cream salesman, dies laughing in his sleep, his wife unable to wake him. A good belly laugh commands the attention of spirits. For Herodotus, there are three categories of laughter: those who are innocent of wrongdoing, but ignorant of their own vulnerability; those who are mad; those who are overconfident. My mother is all three. Wanted by the FBI, her specialty is charming people. Chinese tickle torture is used in the court of the Han dynasty; the perfect punishment for the nobility, since it leaves no mark. Variation on a theme: in ancient Rome, a person’s feet are dipped in salt, and a hungry goat licks it off. A person could die laughing. [End Page 607]
deborah flanagan’s chapbook, Or, Gone, was the winner of Tupelo Press’s Snowbound Series Chapbook Award, and she was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, and FIELD. She lives in New York City.