“Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!” Eric Idle, Monty Python
When Eric Idle first presented “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” to the other Monty Python cast members, Michael Palin wrote in his diary that “it was rather coolly received.” Terry Gilliam hated it, although he had to admit, it did touch on the British trait of laughing at perfectly un-laughable things.
Funnily enough, once Idle turned it into a “cheeky version,” it seemed to work fine. Add a crucifixion and they had the perfect ending to Life of Brian.
As the song grew in popularity, Idle admitted it was a parody of the song “Give a Little Whistle” from Disney’s Pinocchio. The main character is about to die, yet sings, making it deliberately ironic. Since Life of Brian was totally ironic, the song made perfect sense and became immensely popular.
It’s hard to “swear and curse” while you’re singing “da dum, da, da, da, da, da dum.”
It became the song to sing in adverse situations, like when the destroyer HMS Sheffield was struck by an Exocet missile during the Falklands War. The crew sang it while waiting to be rescued. It’s hard to “swear and curse” while you’re singing “da dum, da, da, da, da, da dum.”
Imagine being an Argentine on a submarine, trying to enjoy a direct hit, while your target is singing some goofy song. Eventually, you just want to give up your territory rather than wait for the next verse.
As Idle expressed in the lyrics “Forget about your sin — give the audience a grin.” In other words, why die tragically (figuratively or really) when you can “laugh, dance and sing.” Nobody’s saying we have to end up a bloody mess. Laugh and, like Kurt Vonnegut said, “There’s less to clean up afterwards.”
Humour does leave a lot less to clean up afterwards. Not everyone likes humour — or even gets it — but you rarely end up with blood and guts all over the place. You might get a few tears, but that’s a good thing. Crying and comedy are interrelated. Laughing till you cry is considered medicinal.
We forget this, of course, since our lives are terribly serious. Tragedies are everywhere. You can’t swing a cat without hitting some form of natural disaster or war in progress. Add a loopy president, a country launching missiles like fireworks, and terrorists calling every cat and cow “infidels,” and you’ve got a wacky world just waiting for three-part harmony.
If you think about it, we should sing and laugh through everything. Why we don’t is foolish. Every mental health expert will tell you it activates beta-endorphins. These are a form of morphine produced by our brains. Laugh and you get an immediate fix. Be serious and you don’t get any fix at all. Why spend money on drugs when your brain is the best dealer?
Considering this is an era of information exchange, we should be watching funny films every minute of the day.
In a 2015 study, psychologists, Alan Gray, Brian Parkinson and Robin Dunbar had participants watch two films: one funny and one neutral. People who watched the funny clip revealed 30% more personal information, meaning they were more at ease.
Those who watched the neutral clip remained wary and close-mouthed. Considering this is an era of information exchange, we should be watching funny films every minute of the day.
After Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, John Cleese made a series of brilliant corporate training films. Using humour, he engaged employees the way no typical training film did— or could. What people remembered was memorable because it was funny. “They were enjoying themselves,” Cleese remembered, claiming it didn’t diminish the message at all.
“We learn in so many ways,” he explained. “If humour gets the point across effectively, why address people like they’re in a penal colony?”
That’s the great thing about humour. Besides making us laugh, it helps us absorb information we’d otherwise find monotonous.
The speaker is monotonous because they believe that’s what they should do. It’s pretty dreary stuff.
Think of our ears, eyes and mouth as portals. When we’re sitting through a dull presentation, our eyes, ears and mouths are barely open (if at all). Laughter makes us less wary, less inclined to close ourselves up.
Yet each day, in our corporate or personal lives, we listen to the monotonous, believing that’s what we should do. The speaker is monotonous because they believe that’s what they should do. It’s pretty dreary stuff.
We throw around words like “robust,” the silliest word in existence. Every newscaster and speech writer has used it at one time or another. Is it any wonder we’re seeing a decline in television viewership?
As Groucho Marx once said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
In news stations around the world, the worst calamities are focused on, leaving humorous incidents “to the end.” Commentators are stoic, experts look like petrified trees. Viewership is down because we’re all thinking of slitting our wrists.
A woman went on social media with a post entitled “Why Won’t Men Take Me Seriously?” The answer should be obvious. If you’re already serious, why should you both slit your wrists?
Humour exists because, without it, we’d all slit our wrists.
Or the person who says, “I want someone who’ll make me laugh.” That’s like asking for your own personal comedian. Do you need a personal comedian? Can’t you just rent one instead of dating one?
Humour exists because, without it, we’d all slit our wrists, which is so much mess to clean up. Isn’t it easier to always look on the bright side of life?
As the lyrics go: “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle! And this will help things turn out for the best.”
Robert Cormack is a novelist, children’s book author and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.