comedy, My favorites

Performance, Therapy, Science

I began performing because it was an opportunity to be sure that people were listening, and I kept performing because it was therapeutic to hear and see reactions to me. It was why I enjoyed comedy – it was why I was only able to do things that made an audience laugh or cry. They were the only performances that were really therapeutic because without a guttural reaction to watch as a response to me I couldn’t be sure that people were listening.

A girl transferred out of the democratic cooperative k-12 school that I volunteer in, and we held an appreciation circle.

1st. Whatever intention I had of rebelling against my parents’ vegan, swedish, kibbutz, health-food, anti-war, gender bending hippie upbringing has obviously been quelled.

2nd. About 3/4 of the way around the circle a boy began crying.

Height: 6’2″
Height with hair: A Little Too Much
Weight: 235lbs
Muscle Weight: Not Enough
Glasses Size: Smaller Would Have Been Better
Humor: Above Average
Sadness: Even More Above Average
Ability To Write Poetry: Good. He’s 16 Years Old, So, Don’t Stick With It For Too Much Longer, But, Y’know, Stick With It For Now
Ability To Care: Great
Coolness At A Regular School (Out of 100): 32
Coolness At The Commune/Child Labor/Educational Environment That I Volunteer At (Out of 100): 79

The amount he cared about this girl that was leaving was touching. Obviously. Also. We all understood that the genuineness of his tears was embarrassing. How we reacted to that embarrassment was different. A group of kids laughed. A group of kids defended. A group of kids ignored. A group of kids gave sympathetic looks. I cried.

It just looked like so much fun.

I think that’s why laughing and crying are so appealing to me. We think of laughing and crying as being extensions of smiling and frowning, but I see more in common with yawning. Real laughing and crying is an uncontrollable reaction – something that happens because you had to despite your best efforts not to. This lack of control is appealing. It is something we as humans are rarely faced with. Its rarity is the cause for our obsession with fate, our fixation on addiction, and our creepy interest in psychopaths. More interestingly though, the acts are contagious.

Seeing someone yawn makes you yawn.

Being around laughter makes laughter more socially and emotionally appropriate.

Watching someone cry always makes me cry.

3rd. The superior temporal sulcus (an area of the brain) is strongly activated when you yawn (proof). This part of the brain is connected to understanding the emotions of others and how those may differ from our own (proof). Kids under the age of four and people with autism don’t “catch” yawns (proof). The sounds of others laughing or crying activate the STS as well (proof).

This all implies that when we perceive laughter, crying, or yawning, a similar thing is happening in our brain, and also that that thing that is happening is making us subconsciously want to do laugh, cry, or yawn as well.

3rd(ii)) When a restaurant that I had worked at for a year and met most of my friends at and met my girlfriend at and had been the start of my life in New York City closed I cried. But only when I looked at my friend Claire and saw that she was crying too.

This also implies that there is some subconscious understanding of emotional dissonance ingrained within us as humans – that there is a part of our brain working without our knowledge aimed at finding those moments where emotions overtake our fellow humans and they are simply reacting to their surroundings. And when we are faced with this understanding that others’ emotional reactions are completely separate from our own we seek to correct this – we join them. We yawn because they yawn, we laugh because they laugh, we cry because they cry. We emote because they emote.

I perform because it is therapeutic to watch an audience’s superior temporal sulcus get activated because it will activate my own. I worry they will find a drug that does this chemically and I’ll no longer have to perform.

PS. They have found that the smells from Vanilla and Rotten Eggs activate the STS a little. Makes sense. The only two smells that can make you viscerally frown or smile come from STS activation.

PS(ii). This does imply that if they do find a drug that activates this part of the brain it could cure autism, right?

PS(iii). People with a larger STS have more facebook friends (proof). I think that’s important.


One thought on “Performance, Therapy, Science

  1. Nice article, Nisse. This is pretty much the same reason I cook and bake, and make pretty cocktails – for the rush I get from the emotion it evokes from others.

    About autism… My 14-year-old nephew is high-middle autistic. When we are in the kitchen together, he comes alive; telling me to get my fingers out of the skillet because it’s hot; grabbing my arm and pulling me over to help him roll and decorate cookies; and the honest comments. “That’s gross.” “Yuck.” “More broccoli!” “Yum! Let’s eat that now! Mom I want to eat now!” Otherwise, I barely hear a peep from him. But you’re right – he doesn’t yawn when I do. It never occurred to me until reading this.

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