Published May 04, 2009How often do you consciously think about the act of laughing? Laughter is so prevalent and yet so little studied that perhaps it's taken for granted. After family tragedy leaves him without laughter for weeks on end, journalist and director Albert Nerenberg sees his baby laugh and goes on a quest to rediscover his laughter.
He learns that all babies, even those that are blind and deaf, begin laughing at around two to four months of age, and visits a host of cardiologists, anthropologists, therapists and even a "laughter doctor." The origins of laughter are traced — likely derived from the panting sounds animals make when engaging in playful fighting — and Nerenberg examines the popular belief that laughter is contagious, which is more than a myth, it turns out, but the documentary is at its best when exploring topics off the beaten path. Did you know that professional laughers for TV sitcoms have their own lingo ("the gurgle," "the boffo," "I can't believe it," etc.) or that a laughter epidemic apparently hit Tanzania in 1962?
Though it pulls at the heartstrings when explaining the use of laughter as a coping and bonding mechanism, Laughology is more a work of slick infotainment than an emotionally engaging film. Nerenberg's story of his quest for laughter is underdeveloped and unconvincing, and as a first-person documentary filmmaker he never quite figures out how to develop a distinctive and engaging persona, like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have done.
Still, the 65-minute Laughology is light, accessible and snappily edited, and has the makings of a good cable TV special.