The best medicine

A Russian doctor has opened a clinic specialising in laughter therapy. His theory is that regular chortling is an effective treatment for a multitude of maladies ranging from high blood pressure to cancer. I can verify from personal experience that it works for constipation. 

Although my current jungle diet makes my shit flow like a mudslide, I wasn’t able to follow it back in my circus days. I once got a concrete feeling in my colon after eating too many cream crackers, so I went to the bog and tried to empty my bowels by reading The Henry Root Letters. Believe me, there is nothing on Earth that feels like laughing out a turd – a mixture of agony, hilarity and relief in one big dump. My hooting and hollering caused people outside to wonder whether sadomasochist practices were going on. Fortunately they were too scared to intervene, which would have definitely resulted in an ugly incident. 

Of course this doesn’t mean the clinic is bound to be a success, because there’s a big difference between gorillas and Russians. Laughter is a habit we have acquired from a carefree jungle lifestyle involving dancing, swinging and the spanking of baboons. The Russians, by contrast, have had very few opportunities for mirth in their grim and tragic history, bedevilled with notorious despots such as Ivan the Terrible and Igor the Horrible. I seriously doubt whether many of them even enjoy laughing. 

When Solzenitsyn came to the West, the first thing he noticed was people smiling in the streets, which he found irksome. 

“Their gossip, nonsense and vain talk belie an emptiness of the soul,” he pompously declared. 

Silly old fart. Little did he realise, in his profound ignorance, that gossip, nonsense and vain talk have underpinned the greatest achievements of Western civilisation, including parliamentary democracy, the moon landings and talk radio. That’s what happens to a writer who shoots to fame as a chronicler of misery and oppression – he loses the ability to see past his nose. 

Maybe the new Russia is different, though. Communism has been dead for 20 years and Boris Yeltsin could certainly act like a buffoon, albeit not a particularly funny one. Vladimir Putin still has the old KGB poker face, but the younger generation have invented some clever practical jokes, such as the mail-order bride who steals money from desperate fat men. 

A very promising attempt at humour was recently made in St Petersburg by some up-and-coming artists, who drew a giant phallus on one of the city’s bridges. They called their creation “A Penis in KGB Captivity” to draw attention to heavy-handed police tactics during an international conference. There was talk of short-listing the graffiti for an art prize, but the authorities ordered the fire brigade to obliterate it with their hoses. They wouldn’t even let it stand proudly for the duration of the conference. 

My question for the Russians is this: If you can’t laugh at a big willy, what can you laugh at? 

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