Feature Archive

The Laughing Cure

Why a hearty guffaw may really be the best medicine.

WebMD Feature

May 8, 2000 -- As a veteran television executive involved in sitcoms like Roseanne and Home Improvement, Sherry Hilber watched weekly as studio audiences writhed with laughter. "I'd see them leave at the end of the show and think, 'Maybe for the rest of the night something is happening inside their bodies.' "

Intrigued, Hilber boned up on the limited literature about humor's effects on physical health. She found a mixed bag of upbeat anecdotes, tantalizing small studies, and contradictory results.

Seeking to use her comedy knowledge for a larger cause, Hilber established Rx Laughter (http://www.rxlaughter.org), a nonprofit project dedicated both to helping the ill via humor and to supporting more scientific research on the topic. Thanks to her fund-raising efforts, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are set to begin exploring whether funny videos can promote healing.

Sidestepping the Banana Peel

The UCLA/Rx Laughter researchers hope to sidestep some of the banana peels that have tripped up previous researchers.

For instance, if comedy helps, is it laughing aloud or internal amusement that matters most? No one knows. The UCLA/Rx Laughter researchers will start by screening videos Hilber assembled for 100 elementary school children to determine what they find reliably funny. Initially, they'll count how often each kid laughs and also ask whether they thought the video was funny, looking for correlation. (The researchers chose to focus on kids partly because they readily respond to humor and laugh more easily.)