Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished reading Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please, maybe it’s because my mother turns 50-something today or maybe it’s because I’ve spent the first half of this week dehydrated and delirious, with only hilarious Whatsapp chat from my female friends for companyEither way, it’s reminded me of how lucky I am to be surrounded by women who laugh.
I’m talking about the sort of woman who takes life seriously but recognises when it’s completely hilarious. I was fortunate enough to be brought up by a woman who was quick to find the funny side. Even in the midst of chemotherapy for her second bout of cancer, she could be found howling with laughter at Miranda boxsets (the nurses assumed it was the drugs, the Jackson 5 know that this is just standard procedure) My mother taught me to laugh when I fell headfirst into a puddle as a teenager during a school change over. I remember staring at the leaves and wet puddle-muck dripping from my over-straightened ‘choppy’ haircut and deciding that it was possibly the funniest thing that had ever happened to me, so much so, that I barely noticed the other 1,000 students knocking about on their way to lessons, pointing and laughing.
I grew up around women who were strong, vulnerable and full of wisdom, who told me to ignore the comments that I was ‘too loud’ ‘too much’ or that my laugh sounded like a ‘clanging bell’. When I look back at the women who have influenced me the most, they tend to be the women with the dirtiest, loudest, most ridiculous giggles you have ever heard. They are the women who let me sit on their kitchen step and eat gluten-free Battenburg cupcakes, whilst we watch Tina Fey interviews and I cry (self-indulgently) about how self-indulgent my life feels and how I’ll never get married (urgh. Boring.) Then we laugh about it. They are the women who are building boats in dockyards in Hamburg, who enlist me to de-rust them and we find bits of metal in our instant coffee and then 2 years later we sit on the same boat, now in Berlin, in glorious sunshine and we laugh. There is my wonderful cousin with whom I have shared many a bed and many a heartache, but who is always ready to gather laughter and take silly photos and let me buy pretentious pot-plants on Columbia Rd. There’s Sarah who facetimes me at 3am from New York because I’m hyperventilating with my over-expectancy and crying because my boyfriend won’t text me back and she will tell me about her ride on the subway and make impressions of her co-workers with such flawless comic timing, that I’m soon hiccuping with laughter and all of a sudden a light shines in the darkness. I could go on and on because there are so many. But what I think is so crucial to these bouts of laughter, is that they are not without depth. These are women who are choosing to laugh in the face of pain, anxiety, depression, loneliness, sickness etc. etc. These are the women I choose to spend my life with because they inspire me and they make me want to throw myself into the dirt and make something worthwhile.
I also like reading about and watching women who laugh. I like to see the giggles between the commas and how women can bring the humour out of each other. I love Bridesmaids and Gilmore Girls, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, I love Miranda and Sue Perkins and Absolutely Fabulous. They make me feel fabulous — HA. One of my favourite books is I was told there’d be cake by Sloane Crosley, the first chapter of which I have read to almost everyone who will listen. This includes my brothers and my brother’s girlfriend when we were stuck in the car on the eurotunnel drinking coffee and eating croissants and there was no way they could avoid it. The only problem is I read it really badly; I laugh before the punchline and then slur over it too quickly so that I have to go back and read it again. Most people humour me, sometimes there is just an awkward silence, like the time I read it as a monologue for a voice project and everyone got a bit confused. Anyway, I digress. Reading Amy Poehler’s book has made me realise how empowering it is for women to be around women who make them and let them laugh.
Without getting too ‘DOWN WITH SOCIETY’ women are often told that they’re not funny, that the sound of their laughter is ‘unattractive’ ‘too much’ and ‘off-putting’. We tend to clam up when the funny men come out to play and chuckle politely at misogyny and just sew our lips together and pout for the photograph. This is a gross generalisation. However, it wasn’t until I moved to all-girls Grammar School for sixth-form that I realised girls could be funny. Isn’t that RIDICULOUS!? I remember those two years as a blur of exam stress, anxiety about the future and lessons spent breathless, tummy-tight from laughing so hard. These were women using their brains, not their sexuality, to be funny. I loved it. Zoom by a few years and I’m in my final year house living with four of the best men you will ever meet: zany culture-vulture scientists. It was like the big-bang theory, only better. If only we’d got on and made that sitcom… ANYWAY. These men were so good at allowing women to be funny and laugh. They weren’t intimidated or ‘put-off’, they made me sharper, better and more confident in who I was. So many evenings spent laughing round the dinner table and chasing mice with saucepan lids and wooden spoons. What larks! I am now fortunate enough to be at a drama school with men who are equally as accommodating and brilliant. Men who love women who laugh are my favourite kind. My brothers and my father are wonderful, my male friends are wonderful, they have great laughs too and I love them for it.
Sometimes I think I laugh too much. My friends at drama school will tell you how easy it is to make me laugh or cry or both simultaneously. Sometimes I wonder whether that makes people doubt my sincerity because surely getting a laugh from someone who rarely laughs is a far greater achievement than me cackling away at just about everything. I like to think it’s because I’m always ready to be moved. Again, this is something I have learned from my mother who is, without a doubt, the best audience member known to man. Seriously, we should start hiring her out. She will laugh at the funny bits and cry at the sad bits. She is always ready to enjoy things. That’s why I love women who laugh and men who love women who laugh, because they’re always open to things being wonderful, possible and fun. And that, quite frankly, is exactly the sort of person I aspire to be.