Prove Us Wrong Number 5
The Van Gogh-Goghs love to lord their knowledge over the little people. And when it came to stuff like laughin', we thought we were especially wise and knowledgeable, what with the generation of laughter being our primary reason for existing and all. But there was an achilles heel in the armor of our ivory tower, and when a David came along slinging a chunk of kryptonite at our Goliath's glass house, well sir, down it all came, mixing metaphors all to hell and proving us wrong.
An insincere laugh is just as good as a sincere laugh.
Date: Fri, 06 Aug 1999 10:23 AM
While an insincere laugh can be a good thing, it is overall a bad thing.
Obviously an insincere laugh is good if you are a talkshow host. How else
can you explain the daytime dominance of Regis Filman (or whatever the f*ck
his name is)? An exaggerated insincere laugh can also be a plus in a
situation where you want to "put down" an unfunny joke.
But there are so many ways that a sincere laugh is better. How else can you
explain the shear hatred that so many people have for Regis Filman? Or how
else can you truly show your
I'm sorry. I'm stopping now. I fully intended to write a funny email, but it
turned out quite the opposite. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Hey, anytime a potential prove-us-wronger goes and shoots their own argument in the foot, it's no inconvenience for us!
But, as for the one tiny point you do bring up, I can think of oodles of reasons why people hate Regis Philbin other than his insincere laughter: his not-just-a-member-but-also-the-president-looking hair, those annoying ads he's in, his fawning manner, his bizarrely manic energy, his proximity to Kathie Lee, and the list just goes on.
Thanks for writing!
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999 2:06 PM
I believe it was diarist Samual Pepes who first stated "laughter is the
best medicine" (though it may have been Reader's Digest). This has
often appeared in print, and is therefore true.
Insincerity does not normally feel good, at least to the person who is
being insincere. It can lead to feelings of inadequate, dishonest, and/or cheap, causing depression, anxiety, and, eventually, suicide. Medicine, good medicine, is supposed to make one feel better, not worse.
Laughter = Medicine
Medicine = Juju
Insincere Laughter = Bad Juju
Insincere laughter also has a different, less pleasant tone, though I'm
sure the Van Gogh-Goghs are unfamiliar with this. All of the laughter
you guys hear is sincere. Really.
Let me stop this train of thought before the luggage even gets loaded. "This has often appeared in print, and is therefore true." is the kind of naive, uncritical thinking that lets Hitlers, Stalins and Madonnas just march in and take over. Is that what you want? A world where everyone who opposes "Der Fuehrer" gets hauled off to camps where "Borderline" plays incessantly? I will believe "Laughter is the Best Medicine" when I read in the New England Journal of Medicine and not Reader's Digest. And personally, I think the best medicine is penicillin. Maybe morphine.
So if laughter isn't medicine at all, your whole argument falls apart. Besides, I'm sure there's plenty of insincere people who sleep like logs at night, not in the least bothered by whatever emotions they are called upon to fake. And I should know, I live in Los Angeles. So, bad metaphor, bad logic, and bad spelling of Samuel Pepys. You lose, we win, thanks for writing.
And actually we hear plenty of insincere laughter, mostly from our own mouths when people say " You're in a comedy group? Hey, I got a joke you can use!"
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 3:08 AM
Statement: "An insincere laugh is just as good as a sincere laugh."
Why you're wrong:
An insincere laugh is a cheap laugh, fraught with negative repercussions,
both for the person telling the joke, AND for the person doing the
insincere laughing. The person on the RECEIVING end of the insincere laugh
does no actual learning during the charade, and in fact, is being operantly
conditioned to come up with more and more things that are genuinely and
irrefutably unfunny. If one person gets enough insincere laughs, then that
person is going to inherit a comic tradition that could grow like a
malignant tumor on the basal skin cells of the collective unconscious.
Also, if enough INSINCERE LAUGHERS gather in one place, then the hoi polloi
will follow - and then the definition of "funny" will be warped until
"funny" means something utterly different, leaving genuinely funny people with nothing to say, and professional yucksters like yourselves with a
dwindling fan base.
Insincere laughing, though, is most detrimental to the laugher himself,
since he is being forced to conjure up emotions he doesn't really have. A
lifetime of lies, deception and "humor fraud" is sure to follow, followed
by marriage trust problems, orgasm faking, and eventually, grand mal
Really, boys, is it worth it?
Ye Gads!! You are an alarmist of the first order! What a frightening and dismal picture you paint. Shudder! Give me the camps with "Borderline" blaring 24-7.
Okay, last point first: I don't see insincere laughter as necessarily detrimental. It can be a powerful social lubricant (like booze) that allows us to get through our day with less staring and awkward silences. An insincere laugh can ease you out of an uncomfortable social situation, improve the self esteem of the joke teller and improve the laugher's self esteem for he has, out of pity, kindly bestowed a (insincere) laugh on a less fortunate person.
And despite your implausibly extreme circumstances, it's certainly no more detrimental than sincere laughter. Some of that may get you into trouble with friends and loved ones, especially if you're laughing at and not laughing with, and it's one of those "I never told anyone this before, but..." statements. Better to respond with insincere solemnity, which is a whole 'nother ball o' wax entirely.
Okay, now to address the rest. Basically, we have four possibilities in our hypothetical joke teller/laugher dialogue:
- Funny joke/sincere laugh
- Funny joke/insincere laugh
- Unfunny joke/sincere laugh
- Unfunny joke/insincere laugh
Possibility 1 is obviously, and undisputedly, the best of all possible worlds.
Possibility 2 is bit of a logical absurdity, unless the laugher just hates the joke teller and wants them to think the joke wasn't funny. However this requires a 'nother 'nother ball o' wax, the insincere-sounding insincere laugh, a meta-laugh too complicated to even get into right now.
Possibility 3 means the laugher is humor-impaired, a condition I hereby submit as all-too-common and the much more likely culprit in the encouragement of unfunny people.
Possibility 4 is what we are mainly concerned about here. However, using your parameters, a joke teller in Possibility 1 and Possibility 4 end up in the same place, following two different roads. For the joke teller, all the insincere laughs were just as good as sincere laughs because he ended up just as successful as a Possibility 1 joke teller. But, as you say, for the world at large, it's bad. So now we must ask ourselves, just as good for who? The joke teller or the world? Here it would seem we reach an impasse, the victor being whoever did not scream himself hoarse first. Or we would reach an impasse, if we did not stand back and see that your example breaks down because of the ridiculously enormous amount of insincere laughter required in the first place! Only a dictator/comedian on the order of Hitler could cudgel the sheer amount of insincere laughter required from a fearful populace, much less change the definition of "funny."
Thus, I dismiss your virulent, paranoid fantasies about insincere laughter. Perhaps we have been laughed at insincerely a little too often, hmmm?
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 10:24 PM
A sincere laugh means you like the person and think they're funny; an
insincere laugh means you think they suck, but just wanna seem like a nice
From someone who has no life...
Yes? And your argument is...? Honestly people, think these things out, will ya? I like a little challenge. But let me see what I can do here. Doesn't wanting not to hurt someone's feelings and feel like a nice guy, isn't that as important as responding honestly? Well, based on the "it's the thought that counts" hypothesis, we find it does! And "it's the thought that counts" has often appeared in print, so it is therefore true.
So, our resolution stands. And I didn't even have to mention Hitler!
Date: Thur, Aug 26, 1999 10:33 AM
First let me state that I have only today even heard of you. Tragic loss in my life to this point that seems.
I have spent the better part of the last hour perusing your pages. I came across the Prove Us Wrong! section, and simply had to respond.
First, I have to agree that cheese is the best part of anything that cheese is part of. I know that isn't the topic for present discussion, but I wanted to insure you that you were right.
Now then, on to the insincere laugh topic. I will present two points. One in which you are right, and the other in which your status as fools will be proven.
Point the first (VGG's are proven correct.):
Simply put, when you proffer an insincere laugh to make someone else feel that they have told a good joke or indeed done something that they may feel deserved a laugh in the first place, it is just as good. What difference does the teller know? They are indifferent to the fact that I essentially lied with this laugh. In this the two are no better than each other.
Point the second (VGG's are proven incorrect.):
If the aforementioned joke teller is greeted with insincere laughs he may be tempted to tell the same insufferable joke again, and painfully to you the listener, it may be done in earshot. At least had you not laughed at all the chances of risking such a terrible fate are reduced.
I bid you gentlemen good day.
Dammit! Where were you when the drama of the cheese question was unfolding! Oh well, no use crying over spilt, curdled, enzyme-treated milk now.
Point one: Yes, we are right. Thanks.
Point two: No, we are right. You are indulging in idle speculation of insincerely-laughed-at joke-teller behavior. A joke that gathers no laughter, sincere or insincere, may actually be repeated more as the joke teller seeks validation for the joke. Whereas, any laughter may provide the joke teller with sufficient ego-satisfaction to delay a retelling. And besides, a sincerely-laughed-at joke may also be repeated within earshot, becoming painfully less and less funny with each hearing.
I bid you good day, too.
Date: Thur, 26 Aug 1999 10:38 AM
Dear Sirs and Wierdos,
Although in some instances, an insincere laugh is certainly more desirable
than thunderous silence, the less-than-sincere laugh is in NO way comparable
to the sincere rolling on the floor laugh.
Take, for instance, the public speaker, nervous and untrained. He is
delivering a speech to a mostly uninterested audience. Would this speaker
agree with you that the weak, obviously insincere ripple of polite laughter
offered at the delivery of his punchline is equally as 'good' as a hearty
Take the canned laughter of sitcoms...
Does that honestly inspire laughter in living room audiences everywhere?
Sincere laughter is as contagious as yawning. Insincere laughing? ...As
contagious as writing essays.
Point(s) made, thank you very much.
I do believe that, perhaps, the infinitely wise are as wrong as a turd in a
punch bowl, as they say.
Muchas Gracias and "SO THERE"
Ye Gads! Again! We were so wrapped up in comparing sincere and insincere laughter of equal size that we forgot the very nature of insincere laughter prevents it from attaining the intensity of sincere laughter. While sincere and insincere laughter may be indistinguishable on a one-on-one basis, given two crowds of equal size, one laughing insincerely, one sincerely, only the sincere laughter can approach the rip-roaring belly laugh with any believeabilty! And since louder, heartier laughter is obviously more desireable, you have proven us completely and totally wrong!
However, I'll bet the TV studio executives have tons of studies showing that laughter on sitcoms makes you think things are funnier than if there was no laughter. Otherwise, why would they bother? And besides, so-called "canned laughter" has long been replaced by live studio audiences, bolstering your point! TV audiences are sophisticated enough to spot an insincere laugh track, and don't respond as well as they do to a sincere live audience! Damn, you're clever! Hey, did you ever notice that weird, recurring high-pitched, ascending laugh in old episodes of M*A*S*H?
So there, indeed.
At least you spelled "weirdo" wrong, so we can comfort ourselves with that.
And did you have to mention turds? Honestly.
Date: Tue, Sept 04, 1999 2:02 PM
I am afraid to inform you that you have not found a universal truth
with the statement "An insincere laugh is just as good as a sincere laugh".
If you are a comedian, this is definately true. However, most people are
not comedians, and therefore I can think of several examples where an
insincere laugh is definately not as good as a sincere laugh:
1) Mary and Johnny have been married for 20 years. Johnny tells stupid
jokes. Mary laughs (very insincerely) at every one of them, while she
sincerely laughs inside at the fact that she's cheating on Johnny with a 19
year old comic who sincerely makes her laugh. If Johnny could have made her
laugh sincerely, he might still be getting some from his wife, instead of
the 19 year old comic becoming king of his wife's mountain.
2) Laughter of any kind (sincere or insincere) is nearly catastrophic
when a man appears naked in a room. Since sincere laughter is bad in this
case, insincere laughter is even worse.
3) Laughter of any kind is usually frowned upon at a funeral (once again,
sincerely laughing at the deceased might get you in trouble and insincerely
laughing at the deceased might get you committed).
4) If your wife/girlfriend asks you if she's lost weight, this is not a
time for insincere laughter, and in fact, would be worse than genuine
5) Laughing at cops sincerely is bad. Faking that you're laughing at
them might get you put in prison or a mental facility.
6) Poorly concealed insincere laughter can be a source of insult to
While I myself am in search of universal truths, I am afraid this
doesn't seem to be one of them. I appreciate your endeavors and wish you
well on your quest. Feel free to tear my argument to pieces now.
Case one: What am I, Dear Abby? Look, Mary didn't have to marry this Johnny bum in the first place. Mary needs to either get a divorce or tell Johnny the truth about him not being funny, and stop blaming her insincere laughing. Sure, she was a co-enabler of Johnny's behavior, but so were a lot of other insincere laughers. A marriage based on insincere laughter would be just as bad as a marriage based on sincere laughter. It's not enough for him to make you laugh, gals, there's gotta be trust and passion and sexual compatibility and whole other balls o' wax.
Oh, and thanks for the new metaphor for doin' it: king of the mountain. I'm gonna try to work that into my next cocktail party.
In case two, insincere laughter would actually be better, not worse! If I was naked, I would much rather have people laugh at me insincerely than for real.
In case three, insincere and sincere laughter are equal, except for maybe the volume/heartiness issue addressed in the previous email. In which case, insincere laughter would again be better, if for no other reason that it would never reach the volume/heartiness of sincere laughter. And the less laughter at a funeral the better.
Case four, five and six: Ah who cares, that Lucy person already proved us wrong. I don't have any fight left anymore. Go do your little victory dance and get out of my sight.
Date: Mon, 26 Sept 1999 6:52 PM
Haven't you made a verdict on this yet? I want to read some funnies from
Alright! Alright already! These things don't write themselves you know! Do you know how long it takes just to get enough Internet wackos to write in? Months! No one reads this! They're all over at Furniture Porn, anyway.
Okay, okay, we're wrong, because in a crowd situation, insincere laughter could never be as rich, full-bodied and hearty (sounds like a beer, doesn't it?) as sincere laughter. And we thought, being semi-professional sketch comedy performers, we knew all about this "laughter" thing. Guess we got a lot of serious thinking to do. So go buy yourselves a candy bar and amscray, willya? How are we supposed to think with all you people surfing our site?
Thanks for playing. . .
Prove Us Wrong!