Man About Town

Wanton laughter, the best medicine (besides vodka)

A laughter yoga class shows you don't need a one-liner or a drink to get the giggles.

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Rietta Oppenheim, left, 86, and Trudy Saltzman, 75, excel at the Laughter Yoga class in Laguna Woods. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Sadly, I'm here to report that even vodka has its limitations. To lap it up much before 7 a.m. still carries a certain Victorian stigma, and the better octanes seem beyond my pocketbook.

I consider it both a health food and a holy water, and it bothers me to see vodka used recreationally, as it so often is these days. It is also overpriced, raising my innate sense of injustice and causing me to rant at two of my favorite targets: farmers and politicians (both dirty).

Now what do I do with my life?

Someone emailed recently to suggest I indulge in a day of random acts of kindness, much needed and appreciated in these parts. In L.A., you hold a door for someone and they name a street after you.

So this lovely older lady comes up to me at the gas station the next day, asks for directions, then wonders, "Is it much of a walk?" because she is hoofing it and has spent the morning on public transit. Feeling extra kind, I not only drive her to the medical office, I take her blood test for her.

Turns out I'm pregnant.

Then, just before Easter, I buy breakfast for some friends: Dave "Big Wave" Michelson, Councilman Curtis and Big Wave's wife, "Little Wave." What I did was arrive at their favorite restaurant before they did, left a pile of cash, and asked the owner to treat my friends to breakfast.

I'm sure the owner immediately ran out and bought vodka for herself. Just knowing that fills my heart with purpose.

Laughter is my new obsession, now that the vodka thing hasn't worked out and beer just bloats me to the point where I have trouble overeating. Comedian Louis C.K. said it best: "Meal isn't over when I'm full. Meal's over when I hate myself." Like that.

On the other hand, there is never any shame in laughter, no gluttonous equivalent. It does not lead to hangovers, lawsuits, arrests or divorce, except in extreme cases, when insane women are involved (and aren't they always?).

Laughter has even expanded to the world of yoga — by one count, 6,000 clubs worldwide.

Down in Orange County (I love when they color code things for me), Cheryl Russell has held weekly classes on laughter yoga for four years.

"Water demands no reason to flow. A child demands no reason to be happy. Why do we need a reason to laugh?" notes Russell, who uses the simple act of laughing to promote physical and spiritual health.

Skeptical? Me too. I'm an easy laugh, but not too easy, and generally I require more than just the cascading glissando of other people's giggles. I prefer the waa-waa-waa reaction of a deeply dirty joke.

To her credit, Russell has one of those infectious guffaws you overhear at crowded restaurants that will cause you to tell the waiter, "I'll have what she's having."

Thing is, in laughter yoga there is no joke, which requires a sort of leap of faith that you can laugh without a punch line or other verbal nudge.

Sure, Russell has all sorts of tricks in her class, which begins with stretching and then segues quickly into spontaneous lightning bolts of laughter.

Thirty of us stand in a circle as she urges us to start the invisible "laughter lawn mower," with which you pretend to mow for laughs.

Then Russell suggests we "pat ourselves silly," prompting more outbursts as we stand around (legally) rubbing ourselves.

"Just feel the warmth and energy," Russell tells us, "the jaw, the chin, all relaxing."

I find myself wondering what my buddy Preminger would make of all this, after a long career spent crafting that elusive gift, the hilarious one-liner.

And my Irish uncles, who used funny insults like prison shivs, would distrust this immensely. A deep skepticism would sweep over them, and they'd start stabbing at each other, eventually brawling.

To them, laughing for no apparent reason would seem to cheapen the act and threaten an era of laughter inflation. A laughter overindulgence, if you will.

Guess if you're going to have too much of anything, why not that, right?

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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