The power of a good laugh is well documented. Having a chuckle relaxes us, boosts our endorphins and even provides long term health benefits like lowered stress hormones. But what about those on the other side, the ones making us laugh?
“People ask me about stand-up and it makes me laugh because they say, ‘I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘that would terrify me’ but honestly, it’s the most relaxing part of my day,” Tommy says.
It seems hard to believe, given that getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people with the aim of making them laugh is, for many of us, what nightmares are made of. But for Tommy, it’s his happy place.
“It’s when everything else just stops and it’s quiet and I can just be in the moment”.
What Tommy is describing isn’t unlike the Flow State, developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly which is described as ‘a very positive condition (where) people feel happy, strong, concentrated and motivated’ or “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” You might hear athletes refer to it as being ‘in the zone’ or musicians describing how they just ‘get lost’ in the music. Comedy and performance are no different and, whilst it’s not the most obvious route to better health, they’ve been proven to offer measurable impacts on happiness and mental wellbeing. It turns out, having a laugh is an unexpected way to live a little better.
“I just love it, I’ve always loved it,” says Tommy.
“I’ve never had something in my life like stand-up. I’ve loved a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never found them as easy as I find comedy. I loved to play basketball growing up, but I was unco and short and it didn’t come to me easy despite throwing all my passion at it and stand-up was something that just clicked instantly.”
More than any other performance art, stand-up comedy relies on building a connection with the audience. This is something Tommy knows all too well.
“I think that’s the difference between comedy and a mad man ranting; the audience,” he laughs.
Jokes aside, Tommy believes that the very nature of stand-up comedy is as good for his audience as it is for him. He points out “Stand-up is great because it’s one of the last remaining bastions where there are no phones allowed. For the performer but for the audience as well, it’s just time where you’re forced to be present in the room. I find it very meditative.”
It’s not only being present that is good for our health, having a laugh is also proven to relieve stress and boost our mental health. Add to that that laughing with other boosts our sense of connection and reduces feelings of loneliness and it’s easy to see why stand-up comedy has such feel-good credentials.
“I don’t know why it took me a long time to realise this” says Tommy “but one of the great things about a stand-up show is you’re never going to fix anyone’s life but you can sure as hell make them forget about it for an hour and that’s pretty great.”
Perhaps the reason that stand-up comedy makes us laugh is because it’s so relatable.
“I think a lot of comedy is about shortcomings and failures and that’s not only funny but it’s a nice reminder for the audience that they’re not the only ones who have messed up,” says Tommy.
“It’s a reminder that we’ve all got our stuff going on and it’s nice to be reminded of that whilst also having a laugh.”
Speaking of failure, what about those nights when things don’t go to plan? Whilst the thought of hecklers and audiences that don’t get the joke would fill most of us with dread, Tommy says that’s actually where the magic happens.
“I’ve probably had enough bad gigs that I’ve perfected the art of the bad gig by now” he laughs.
“You’ve just got to accept it as part of the process, much like life you have bad days and you can’t drill down into them too much because tomorrow there’s going to be a new audience and you’ve learnt something from the day before and it’s fine, maybe even better.”
This resilient approach has led Tommy to not only accept that things won’t always go his way but even find the humour in it.
“Here’s the thing, lots of people ask me about bad gigs and say, ‘oh god that must be crushing’ but I find it really funny” he says.
“If I’m trying to make people laugh and they’re not laughing, that’s such a pathetic situation that it’s funny,” he says.
“I don’t know if it’s a choice or a survival tactic but…it helps!”
As survival tactics go it’s a pretty good one. Social scientist Brene Brown is a vocal advocate for practicing courage and vulnerability.
In her book Rising Strong she states, “the process of struggling and navigating hurt has as much to offer us as the process of being brave and showing up.” This notion of accepting failure and learning from it is as applicable in everyday life as it is to performing stand-up comedy.
“I think it comes back to acceptance and being able to accept when you’re having a bad day and not being too hard on yourself,” says Tommy.
“I think people are so bad at being nice to themselves. And they need to realise that there’s a lot of stuff out of our control at the moment and if you’re having a bad day that is totally ok.”