In this story from June 1948, comedian Joe E. Brown, best remembered today as millionaire Osgood Fielding III in the classic 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, discusses the healing power of laughter.
Laughter in my business. Everyone pretty much knows that laughter is good medicine. It is a recognized therapy—a definite Rx, a real specific for disease. Experts state that the first test of sanity is whether the patient has humor and can laugh at himself.
So laughter is healing.
And laughter is holy.
I could not be interested in any man’s religion if his knowledge of God did not bring some more joy, did not brighten his life and did not make him want to carry his joy into every dark corner of the world. I have no understanding of a long-faced Christian. If God is anything, He must be joy. And a clean heart must be a happy heart.
I am not a religious man in the sense that most people speak of religion. I believe in God because everything around us proclaims Him. I respect His Universal Laws which are wondrous indeed. I live the Golden Rule to my fullest capabilities. As the years have passed, I have worked out a philosophy for myself which convinces me that God is universal and that I may incorporate into my daily life and thoughts as much of Him as I wish.
Because of the love I have for my own kids, to whom I’ve always been heart-close, I arranged during the past war, to go to the combat areas and entertain the boys. No sooner had I done so when I was stricken with renewal of my old sciatica which withered my leg and shortened it.
Now I’m no stranger to pain. My arm was once chewed by a circus lion. My back has been broken twice. And my sciatica had kept me in agony for nearly 4 years. So I wasn’t going to let it stop me on that Armed Forces trip. They assigned 2 men to watch over me when they realized I wouldn’t cancel, and the Army and Navy supplied special planes and rendered every service possible.
The first plane out from the west coast ran into trouble and had to return to San Francisco. The cold was acute and greatly aggravated the sciatica, but we started out again as soon as it was possible.
The first 3 weeks of my journey I had to be carried in an ambulance. And I almost thought of quitting rather than be so much trouble to people.
But one of the boys came up to me as I was almost ready to leave an encampment and said: “Joe—I’m praying for you. A lot of the fellows are.”
I couldn’t answer him—except to pat his back. But I began to think. If the men were praying for me in the midst of their own dangers, I’d better get busy and pitch in and pray too.
Well you never saw a churchgoing man to equal Joe E. Brown after that. And somewhere in one of the numerous churches I visited in the next few weeks, I was healed!
I know I was healed by prayer. I have over a thousand letters from boys in the South Seas who tell me they were praying for my recovery. No wonder I completely recovered.
Then one night, I found myself without thinking, going into a dance! And when I got off the stage, I said excitedly: “I can’t dance! I couldn’t have been dancing! I haven’t been able to dance with this leg for years.”
But I had danced. And I’ve danced ever since.
So if I went out to bring laughter to boys at war, I came back healed—and renewed in my faith. And that’s the way with God—the more you give and do, the more you have and are. It’s the universal and blessed law.
Plutarch said: “The measure of a man’s life is the well spending of it and not the length.” That is a comfort in thinking of my son who was killed in war. I am able to believe he lived a complete life even though he was only 25, and I believe too, that his influence will continue to uplift many, because his faith and the sincerity of his religion were imparted to all who came in contact with him.
He is an inspiration to me in courage, and in standing for what he believed was right. In my way, I, too, have tried to do this.
My weapon is laughter, and it’s a powerful one. I beseech you to use its secret power in your life—to cultivate it and pass it on.
As long as men like each other and can laugh together, life flows along like a song, with no thought of his or mine. But the moment they begin to think of each other’s possessions, they begin to compare and one wants for himself what the other fellow has. Then the laughter stops and the fighting begins. It is so even among children.
Who would dare to say that greed, covetousness, and avarice does not creep in when laughter dies out, when people and nations cease to rejoice in the good fortunes of another?
It is easy to sympathize with people in pain or trouble. But it is holy and divine to rejoice with another in good luck and rich blessings—to celebrate—to take pleasure in another’s advancement and successes...
That’s unselfish—selfless and holy.
And the sound of laughter and merriment is God’s most precious music.
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