Part of the Humourology series
Season 1, Episode 6
The Power of Laughter – Marisa Peer uses humour as a tool to weave the Tapestry of Life
Is laughter truly the best medicine? The hilarious and brilliant Marisa Peer joins Paul Boross to share her affinity for finding humour in her personal and professional life. Marisa is peerless when it come to coaching and she shares her experiences as a therapist to show that the best way to stop self-ridicule is to embrace the ridiculous.
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In this week’s episode of The Humourology Podcast Paul Boross is joined by Marisa Peer, a celebrated author, speaker, and therapist, to discuss the power of laughter on the mind. Marisa shares her love for the absurd and the power of reframing one’s mind through humour.
“A Bit of humour is a breakthrough and when they can see the funny side or see the humour in anything it just changes everything.”
Is laughter truly the best medicine? Come take your weekly dose with Marisa Peer and Paul Boross!
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The Humourology Podcast with Marisa Peer
– I’m lovable, I am enough, I’m worthy of love. Because being lovable has nothing to do with the size of your thighs or your bank account. It has nothing to do with how old you are, how much you weigh, it’s to do with, do you believe that you’re enough. When you know you’re enough, everyone else will know that you’re enough too.
– Welcome to the Humourology Podcast with me, Paul Boross, and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a comment wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast, is an author of five best-selling books. Who has spent nearly three decades coaching a client list that includes international superstars, CEOs, royalty, and Olympic athletes. She has an unparalleled career in which she has helped thousands of people to overcome profound personal issues. In 2015, she founded rapid transformational therapy, an exciting and award-winning method that is solution-oriented, fast and highly effective. Her warmth, humanity and humour are enhanced by her skills in hypnosis. They come to the fore on stage where she leaves audiences transfixed and transformed. Marisa Peer, welcome to the Humourology Podcast.
– Well, that’s quite an introduction, I hope I can live up to that, thank you for having me.
– Oh, well I know you can live up to it because I’m lucky enough to have worked with you on a couple of occasions and know that you do leave audiences transfixed and transformed. Your life has been dedicated to improving other people’s lives. How important is humour in that change process?
– Oh, I’d say it’s probably one of the most important things. I mean, I know as a parent that occasionally, I’d go to tell my little girl off and she’d make a face and I’d end up bursting in fits of laughter and then I couldn’t be crossed. And I know in my marriage, my husband’s ability to be funny. Whenever we have an argument, he’ll just come put on a character and then we immediately stop fighting. He’s very good like that. And I know with clients in my office very often, even in times of deep stress and trauma and tears, a bit of humour is a breakthrough. And when they can see the funny side or see the humour in anything, it just changes everything. So, I love humour. I think life without humour, I just couldn’t get there. I think being able to laugh even at yourself is so important.
– So you use it in a sense as a state change, do you?
– Want to give you an example, I often work with women who can’t find the right relationship and don’t understand the complexities of the mind. And one of the strangest things about the mind is that it wants to always go back to what’s familiar. Because years ago, what made us absolutely safe was familiar. I need to survive on the planet. If I stay in this tribe and never wander off, then I will survive. And all these years later, we’re very modern, but we have this primitive brain that says, I like what I’ve always known. So if that’s a difficult cold, absent parent, then unfortunately a difficult cold, absent right Oh, he’s the one for me because he reminds me of something and we are hardwired, unfortunately, to recreate what we know, put a happy ending on it. So I see many women who go well look, you know, my dad was never there and that’s the kind of man I like. My dad was an alcoholic, I’m attracted to alcoholics. My dad was a philanderer, and I only go for guys that cheat. And I’m like you know what darling, you have a great ass. You don’t need to date one, one perfect ass is enough for anyone in your lifetime. And they always remember that, my therapist said, I’ve got a great ass, I don’t need to marry one. And so if you make something funny, they remember. I often said to men who say, well, you know, my mum was difficult and cold and mean and bitchy and I’m dating someone like that. I go look, you’re not supposed to get into bed with your mom. You’re not supposed to have sex with mommy. You’re supposed to have sex with daddy. I mean, Hugh Hefner, obviously as a bit of an exception to the rule, but sometimes you tell them things funny, but designed to make them remember, Oh, your mommy. One of my clients invited me to do his wedding and said, “You know, I remember you said to me I’m dating my mother. And you said, every time you meet a woman, the first thing you say is, does she remind me of my mother?” The answer was, “Yes, get out, move, leave.” And he said, “And so I thought about that. And I met someone who wasn’t like my mother and I knew that she was the one.” So the humour is not supposed to make light of something terrible, it’s supposed to make them see. So I’ll give you another example. I was working with a woman who said, “My mother always told me she was far too intelligent to have children, and she was so much smarter than me.” Then I said, “Well, she had three more after you. That doesn’t sound like a smart one to me. Has she never heard of birth control? How intelligent you have to be to hate kids and have four? I mean, that’s not very smart. I don’t think she’s smart, I think you’re smart. And it just makes them laugh they go, “Oh yeah, I always thought my mother was super bright.” But hang on, hated kids had four – not that bright after all. You get to reframe a scene because what happens with clients is that they look at a current situation where the eyes of a five-year-old, my dad didn’t love me, I am not lovable. You go ’cause my dad was an idiot, and I’m not, and I’m more lovable than him. So the humour I think is great. People like it when you just make them laugh, but you’re not laughing at them you’re getting them to laugh at a situation and see that they’re not a victim after all.
– So it’s actually making it more ridiculous in their minds and anchoring that ridiculousness that brings them back to the reality that you want them to have?
– Yeah, it’s getting them to see. Look, when you were five, you had every reason to lie on the floor and stamp your feet and have a tantrum. You have no power, you have no voice, now you’re 35. You don’t have to do that anymore. So it’s getting them to look at the situation without the filter of a child and to see that they have more power than they could possibly imagine.
– So, do you think people lose the ability to laugh like a child as well during the course of their life?
– I think they do. And actually many years ago I wrote a book on how to slow down ageing. One of the things that’s most effective is giggling, laughing like a child because we have three types of ageing. We have our birth certificate age which is kind of meaningless. Let me have the age of our organs, so if you were 50, but you’re a long-distance runner, your heart and lungs might be 30, but your knees would be 60. And then you have the age you feel. And the age you feel is very linked to the age of your organs. When you get a little off and do young things, it sends a message to your mind that says I’m young. And if we look at people like Goldie Hawn, that very giggly girliness makes your mind think that you’re young. So there’s many, many benefits to laughing and actually with COVID and people keep saying, Oh you know, there’s no, line of defence or yeah there is, it’s called your immune system. And there are certain things that really boost your immune system, orgasms massively boost your immune system deep rhythmic breathing, but also laughing. You know, there’s a great man called Norman Vincent Peale, wrote a book called “Anatomy of an Illness”. And he said that when he saw the bill for his staying in hospital, he checked out and went to a motel across the road, and just listened to comedy videos one after another. And then the effect on his immunity was extraordinary. You probably even heard of Patch Adams, the doctor who did something similar. But, people don’t realise the power of laughter to diffuse an argument, to make a marriage better, to boost your immune system, to make life much more fun.
– Well I mean, I love your book “You Can Be Younger” because I think it’s full of gems like that. And that whole thing about “Laugh Yourself Younger”, which is a part of that book. I think is so relevant to it. And also, something that everyone can access. And it’s actually what you do is you actually bring these things to the fore so that people can remind, be reminded that, that’s one simple solution to make yourself younger.
– Yeah and you know, many years ago I developed an allergy. Well, I’d already had a mild allergy to horses, but my daughter started riding. And even when I picked her up from the stables, I would sneeze when she got in the car. So I decided to do, I had to inject myself every day with to build up an immunity. And I noticed that, if I injected myself and I was stressed or rushed, it would hurt, and I would bruise. But if I made myself laugh by listening to something completely ridiculous beforehand or during putting a needle in my stomach, which is never great, if I laughed, it didn’t hurt at all and it didn’t bruise. So that was such a great experiment, wow. Laughing also stops you feeling pain. It’s incredible when you’re laughing, you can’t feel pain. Which is why I’m lucky I’ve got such a funny husband because I had a time about five years ago and I again had to have these injections in the stomach every day for a month. And he would do them for me in character. One day he’d be one of the Kray twins, the next day he’d be an Irish plumber. And the next day be something, he was so funny. The thing about these injections, where they were not great, but they would sting for 20 minutes and he would make me laugh so much that I never felt it. And so, laughing is people don’t realise the tremendous benefits you get from laughing. And plus it’s very bonding and people would say, Oh, you know someone who is funny, I’m so lucky to have a very, very funny husband. I never get bored with him because he be any character he wants to be, but that’s very good. And it’s such a bonding thing to that laughing until you cry, laughing together is so, laughing until your eyes water. It’s just the best feeling ever.
– It is, and you were talking about orgasms having that effect but imagine having an orgasm while you’re laughing, that’s got to be a double whammy, hasn’t it really? Absolutely, it’s funny when you were talking about that you were injecting and laughing while you were doing the injections. It suddenly reminded the me that when my son was eight, he caught his finger in a door and had to be taken to the emergency room, to the hospital to A and E. And we went in there and they said, “Well, he needs a general anaesthetic ’cause they had to pull off the fingernail and do all that.” And I said, “No, he doesn’t because then he’ll be here all day, and it’s his bank holiday, and he’s got things to do.” But as a psychologist, I just said, “No we can deal with that.” And they said, “Well, you’re taking all the responsibility.” And all I did was make him laugh and actually change the locus of his attention. And they ripped the nail off without any anaesthetic. And he, they could not believe that he was just laughing through it. So your point is very, very well made the power of laughter. Talking of which, what makes you laugh?
– I think ridiculous things make me laugh. I mean, of course my husband makes me laugh more than anyone, I find children very funny. I love a little funny faces they make and the fact that they say everything wrong. And I remember my daughter years ago, George Michael was in our house. When he left she said, “Mommy, do you like him?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “You do know he’s a lesbian, don’t you?” Yes and she said, “He’s a homosexual they can only have sex in their home.” And I love that ’cause children are so literal that she’d read homosexual and thought that someone who has sex in their home, that would make perfect sense to her. And so I love the ridiculousness. My, I mean, who are my favourite comedians? Probably Billy Connolly, because he could see the ridiculous, in everything. I like Chris Rock. I like everything that’s funny, but I don’t have anything especially, there’s nothing I would find not funny, but I do like that kind of, I love the English sense of humour, their ability to laugh at themselves and take the mickey out of themselves. I think it’s great.
– Do you think, that whole idea, that groups in the UK take the mickey out of themselves keeps everybody much more on an even keel and doesn’t allow people to get in inverted commas ‘above their station’.
– I don’t know, I love Micky Flanagan. I think he’s great. And I love the fact that he’s used comedy to elevate himself, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s about keeping yourself in your station. I just think it’s that as a race where we can be quite self deprecating. And I like that.
– No, I meant it in a different way. I meant it in the thing, that in groups that people all take the mickey out of each other so that they stay in groups and they don’t sort of.
– Well, laughter is very bonding, of course that’s the whole point of laughter. It makes you bond and you think you don’t like someone and then they make a joke. You’re in a tense situation and somebody makes a joke. You’re in a difficult situation and someone makes you laugh. And, I do think laughing is very, very bonding.
– So tell me a funny story about something that’s happened to you. Is there anything that comes to mind?
– I remember when I first became a speaker, and I’d have to go on stage and I would always try to tell the audience a joke, and many, many years ago, I was giving a lecture to UCLA, to a bunch of doctors, and I was a bit nervous actually thought wow, these people are like doctors and who am I, I’ve just from England to talk to them? And this was when this my book had come out where I slow down ageing. And so I told them a silly joke. Cause, when you stand, when you want to be young but you could take all your clothes or central in the mirror and go, Oh, I have the body of a 25 year old, I have the breasts at 20 where I have the skin of a 25. One of my clients was doing that standing in front of the mirror naked, touching her waist and going to have the body of a 25 and her husband came what on earth are you doing? Well my Marisa said, I have to look in the mirror naked and go, I’ve got the breasts of a 25 or you just what about your fat ass? She said Oh no, She told me never to talk about you. Last year, my husband and I was doing a cruise up the Nile and we were going to some very special site. And of course, everybody is very pious no walking along. And the guys are going now you see this is this bit of famous artwork and John was pretending to be an eyesore again Oh, look at that just a bit of mortar. That’s, Paddy that did that he’s a terrible workman and and he got really and he was doing it I can’t even do the accent. And they’re going, no, no, this is a monument. He’s going, Oh no, it’s just terrible work typical of him never does a job properly. And the more they got, they were trying to convince him that this was an ancient Egyptian piece of masonry than was cracked the more he was talking about a bit of mortar would put that right. And you could stand that up again. And it was just so funny ’cause that’s what he does wherever we are he’ll make a funny face, do something funny. And again, it was very inappropriate because it was a very serious tour, but it was too serious. And I loved the fact that he made it funny.
– Do you think everyone’s funny?
– No, I’ve met some people who are not funny. They’re far too serious that they can’t take a joke. And I think everyone could be funny, but some people, I mean, of course I’ve seen people try to be funny at my husband’s venues where people have come on and they have open mic and you talk to somebody, darling, you’re very talented, but humour’s not your gig do something else. I think some people are not funny. It’s like saying, can everyone dance? No, some people just don’t have that, but they have other gifts. And there’s nothing worse than someone who isn’t funny trying to be funny. I took a long flight one day and one of the cabin crew thought he was funny and he constantly went to the address and he started telling jokes they’re going, “Hey, I’ve got a face the radio,” and it was so embarrassing cause he wasn’t. I want to see him darling, please stop now I mean, we we’re trying to sleep and he just was not funny. And he was trying so hard to be funny, which made him the less funny. So no, I think when you’re not funny and you try too hard because people who are funny don’t really try and the funniest people don’t even know they’re funny, which makes them even funnier.
– Yeah and do you think there’s a lack of self, self awareness in people like that who go no, I’m hilarious because everybody, I think thinks that they are hilarious, don’t they you know, everybody when they do a dating profile puts good sense of humour on it.
– I love people, I used to have a great friend, she was like a second mother to me, terribly posh and she’d say, darling, I’m wearing all the colours of the rectum today. And that’s the trouble with other people. They’re so self-defecating and she would get all these words wrong my husband is very self-defecating you know, and that made her so funny. And the funny thing is she was about 75 and she said, “You know, I’ve started to sign all my emails, WTF because I asked my nephew what that means. He said, “It means Well, That’s Fantastic.” I love that. She really had no idea that one day she said darling I don’t like your boyfriend, you know, I think you should just blow him, frankly. That’s my advice you and my daughter, I would just blow him, I hope you do. And of course you meant get rid of him, replace him. But I love the fact that she had no idea what she was saying and that, and she was terribly funny, but she had no idea how funny she was. But I think all the colours of the rectum was a classic.
– That’s it’s Mrs. Malaprop, isn’t it?
– Yeah. It’s, they were wonderful and everything. What would the world be like without humour?
– I think it would be terrible. You know occasionally, I’ve been in a House of Commons before and you look at that and think, gosh, you know, you really need a bit of humour in there. I remember going to the House of Commons with Tony Robbins once he said, “Do I feel like I’ve woken up the dead.” And so there are times, you know, one of my favourite favourite films ever was Scent of a Woman when Al Pacino is giving that talk in the school and the headmaster was so pious and he was so funny and I loved that. So I think the world without humour would be like, a very serious court hearing and you want someone to stand up and be funny.
– Do you find yourself funny?
– Do I, wouldn’t no but people always tell me I’m funny my class so you’re very funny and you tell great jokes and I don’t know if I do, but I suppose I’m a bit funny I think it’s good to be a little bit funny. I think even as a therapist, I would sometimes tell people to joke, to make them relax, or point out something that would make them relax. And I know when I’m teaching my classes, they love it when you tell them something faintly amusing. Because even in therapy, there’s always something funny that you can talk about. Even in therapy, you know, recently, this is how funny it is. I was doing one of my schools and they were training one of the girls goes, “Marisa can you come and help me? I’ve got a woman I’m working with who wants to get pregnant and I’m finding out why?” And she said, she’s never had sex with her husband. I’m like, what?! No, they’ve never had sex. So I went back and I said, what do you mean? I don’t know if my husband’s ever done it, and I said, but how can you not know? She said, “Well, I don’t know.” And so we were trying so hard to keep a straight face we were like wasn’t there like a wet patch or something, I mean, wasn’t there a clue. And my whole staff were trying so hard not to laugh at this woman who said she truly didn’t know if her husband had sex. And someone said, “Well, is he Japanese?” And I’m like, no, no, you can’t say that, that’s now racist. But I mean, she was very, very overweight but nevertheless, and so that was the humour that, but then in there, there was obviously something going on. And then we did unpick it all and sort it all out. But it was, you know, sometimes people just say the oddest things in therapy, again, they’ll say, you know, I want to have a baby and I’m going to have a baby, but you know, I don’t have time to have sex I’m going to go for IVF What do you mean you don’t have time? Oh, I haven’t got time. I’m like, but you’re going to drive to Harley Street, go in a cab, that’s an hour, have a consultation that’s an hour, pay. I mean, it takes five minutes to have sex. The average guy takes four and a half minutes and it doesn’t make sense you haven’t got four and a half minutes to have sex but you’ve got all at that time to have IVF and I’ve met a lot of women who say, yeah, we don’t have time to sex we’re so busy. So having IVF I’m like, look, it takes four minutes others will come and say, you know? I don’t have time for sex and I’ve got so much going on. I’ve got the kids and the work and the dog and I said, well, how long do you spend putting on facials? Oh, 20 minutes. I put on the cream and I’ll let you know what, it takes four minutes to have sex, and it’s the best thing you can do for your skin. An orgasm will give you way better skin than tapping in creams, you’ve got 16 layers of skin. It doesn’t even work. So sometimes you have to even then have some humour, you know, have you got four minutes? Yes and maybe we’ll say, I’m waiting for motivation like no, that you can’t wait to be motivated to have sex. Cause guess what? When you have sex, you become motivated I’m not really in the mood, but Oh, well I’ve got four minutes and you think actually I’m quite in the mood now. Motivation begins when you take action. It doesn’t turn up like hey here I am… motivation I turned up to get you to go to the gym or have sex with your partner. You have to do it to get motivated. So you again, but you could only say that with humour. You can’t say to her in your office, listen, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just have sex? You have to talk about the average guy takes four minutes. I think you’ve got four minutes, and think about the benefits. It slows down ageing, it makes natural killer cells that fight illness. It fights depression, you’re more likely to get pregnant naturally, it gives you glowing skin, it’s a very bonding. It changes the chemistry in your brain. There’s a lot of good reasons for doing something that takes four minutes.
– It was four minutes you say?
– I could do it twice. Yeah, you could.
– But then you have to have humour. You know, sometimes I say to my husband, Hey, let’s have sex. He goes, “I’m busy.” I’m like, come on, you’ve got four and a half minutes. Cause he knows about the four and a half minutes. And he laughs. But you know, you can’t say those things seriously. You have to add an element of humour to help people realise that they’re avoiding something that they don’t have to avoid.
– No, I’m interested to follow that thread a little bit more. I love your quote, that all our emotional problems come from believing that we’re not enough. And I know you do the programme that “I Am Enough”. What part of that is about believing that you are enough for someone on a humorous level as well?
– Well you know, that my gran used to have a great saying. “Every pan has its lid,” and I was only going to see my, one of my cousins get married and she was very fat and quite plain, and she married the skinniest guy. And my grandma’s saying, “Well, there you go, she’s found her lid.” And I think that’s very true that there’s someone for everybody. And when you know that you’re enough, then that’s terribly important in a relationship. We have this weird belief I’m there and I’m incomplete, but I’m going to find someone to complete me. I’m going to find the perfect person, then I’m going to be worth it. If I feel unworthy I’ve had someone gorgeous and amazing and intelligent by, being connected to them, it makes me enough to, and that simply doesn’t work. Because if you give someone the power to make you feel enough, then the day they leave, you go back to feeling not enough and you have to decide you’re enough first you have to decide I’m worthy, I’m lovable. I am enough, I am worthy of love. Because being lovable has nothing to do with the size of your thighs or your bank account. It has nothing to do with how old you are, how much you weigh it’s to do with. Do you believe that you’re enough? when you know you’re enough, Everyone else will know that you’re enough too. And of course when you go into a relationship saying, I’m not good enough, that’s such a turnoff. Especially for men who are in their dreams, hunters, and they want to pursue a prize. And so you always have to go into relationship with, look, you’re luck I’m lucky to have you and you are lucky to have me. And the minute someone says, well, you know, you’re not, I remember years ago meeting an ex-boyfriend, I was in LA and I was doing a show and he called and went, “Hey I just saw you on TV, come and have a coffee.” So I went to his house and he was saying, this is my ex-wife, she’s a B model. I’m like, Oh, I didn’t know. You graded people like eggs, I mean, what do you mean a B model? So she’s not an A model. And I thought, no wonder she’s your ex-wife. If that says my wife is a B model, not an A model, or it’ll say my kid is a D student, not an A student straight away you’re diminishing that person, which is a terrible thing to do. You should say isn’t she beautiful my ex wife? She’s an amazing person. And I remember many, many, many years ago I was getting married. And my then boss said to me, “How on earth have you managed to get that guy to marry you?” Which I thought was interesting. And I said, well, you know, it’s called love, you know? I could have said, yeah, I know I have to stick Velcro on the headboard just to keep him in bed with me. I could have, I know. I mean, I, I don’t know how lucky am I? But I realised that she was so insecure and I had the choice to be really offended or laugh, or just say, it’s called love. But many years later I was with someone and someone said to me, “Your boyfriend is so unattractive. What do you do with him?” clearly it wasn’t the same person. And again, I thought I have a choice. Shall I be offended? But I said you know, that just shows what an amazing person he is ’cause I love him, I find him compelling. And if you think is unattractive and I love him the way I love him, then that shows how amazing is it, doesn’t it? And she said, “Yeah, I guess it does.” So when someone says something deeply hurtful, you always have a choice to react by hurting them well, listen, you know, it’s better than your boyfriend. Your boyfriend looks like Quasimodo. You can always go down that route of attack or we can take the route of being so hurt and go how could you say that? Well, you can just think, what are you actually saying? and don’t let it in. Don’t let hurt in and I think we use humour a lot to not let in hurt. And I think sometimes that’s a mistake you know, when someone wounds us, we laugh. When someone says something hurtful, we laugh and I think it’s much better to just say to people, Oh, are you trying to hurt my feelings cause they usually go, oh no, I was just, just being funny. And I see so many people who are bullied at school or mocked at school and the same thing at work. And they never quite get it that the person doing all the mocking feels really bad about themselves, and they’re reflecting it out. And so that’s the only downside of humour that many people, instead of stopping them in their tracks and saying you’re being really hurtful or you’re being really unkind or I didn’t understand why you’re doing that, make a joke. And then they go away and they think about it and wish they’d come back and said it. And then they have all these fantasy arguments in their head and they build up inside them. And that’s another huge thing people say to me occasionally, no, I haven’t cried for 30 years. Really? Where is all that pain and they went, “Well, is it in me?” I go, well, it’s not in me. So I guess it must be in you. Where do you think it is? They go, “Oh, is that the headaches I’ve had for 30 years?” I’m like, well, you haven’t cried for 30 years. You’ve had headaches for 30 years. I think it probably is where the pain is residing. You haven’t expressed pain or anger for 25 years and you’ve had crippling stomach aches for 20, but they go, I’ve got this angry rash, I’ve got this screaming headache. I’ve got this thumping migraine and they’re saying, I’ve got this pain that isn’t coming out and it’s expressing itself in a different way. And my favourite expression is the feeling that cannot find its expression and tears will cause other organs to weep, which is very profound. But I think a lot of people use humour to not express themselves, they laugh. They make a joke about their pain and that’s a terrible shame because then they keep it in and feelings are like gas, they’re always better out than in. They cause a lot more pain when you keep them in. And then there’s slight discomfort just like gas of letting them out.
– So you’re, you’re saying, and I agree with you that humour can be a double-edged sword. If you’re doing the humour about yourself, the humour of complete self-deprecation that can be destructive as well.
– I think if someone is hurting you and you laugh, if someone is bullying you at work and you laugh with them, if someone is bullying you at school and you laugh, you’re saying it’s okay and it’s really not okay. And then you have to empower say no, this is not okay. You know, many years ago, a client came to me and she was telling me this story about how her uncle had abused her, her father had died and her uncle took on the role of being a mentor to her but all the time he was abusing her. And of course she would act out get very angry and destructive, and her mother thought, Oh, it’s the grief of her father. So she’d say you need to spend more time with your uncle, ’cause he was like the father figure. And that was a total but then she says, yes. And you know when, he’s at our house on a Sunday telling jokes, I always laugh and I said, what do you mean? He still comes to your house? She goes, “Oh yes. I said, but that’s not okay. He abused you, for years, she goes, “Well, I don’t want to upset my mama” and that’s what you do. But its not upsetting your mom. You’re upset – if I was your mom, I would want to know, I’d want to protect you. That’s a mother’s job. And so she said, “No, he comes to lunch every Sunday, he sits right next to me. He still kind of squeezes his leg next to mine. He still tells these jokes.” I’m like, well, this, this is good. What are you going to do is next week when he comes to lunch You’re going to write a letter, we’ll write it today. And it’s going to say, if you ever come to my house again, I’m going to tell everyone what you did in front of them and slip it in his pocket. He’s right next to you, sitting right next to you with his leg pressed onto yours, put it in his project. “Well, what about my mom?” I said, no. What about you? He can work out how to tell your mom he can no longer come to the house when you’re there but that doesn’t matter. It only matters that you have the power to not be fine. When you smile at his jokes and do that thin little laugh, you’re saying everything you did to me is okay. It’s not okay. It is really not okay to be abused. To have lunch with an abuser and to laugh at his jokes – it’s not okay. And you have to grow up now and say enough, you will never come to my house ever again when I’m there, I really don’t care how you explain that away, but you’re not coming to my house when I’m there ever again. And she said amazingly, “Never came to the house again.” And she didn’t have to worry about how he told his wife, her mothers sister, that he wasn’t coming that wasn’t her problem. Her problem was that, she was pretending it was okay. And it wasn’t okay. And you can’t be empowered and free when you’re pretending things are okay by laughing when someone hurts you.
– I think you’re completely right. And it, and it’s actually in this series, it’s amazing that actually people are normally talking about the positive side of laughter, but there of course is a negative side if you’re actually harming yourself or not addressing things as a result of it. So I think it’s actually a really interesting point and actually very fundamental to good laughter as opposed to sort of something that is stopping you from making that leap.
– Yeah I mean, I you imagined 50 years ago, if the Black and White Minstrels came on and you weren’t white, you were supposed to laugh at that. And it’s like, that’s really not funny and it’s terribly inappropriate. So I think humour is wonderful, but I can see how it’s being used really badly too. But then I can also, I mean, my favourite film was it was the Mel Brooks. It’s not “Blazing Saddles” what was the other one? “The Producers”.
– “The Producers”. He said I’m only Jew that’s made money out of Hitler. I like that, that he could make fun of something very, but he was doing it with people not to them. And that’s the difference you can humour use with people but when you using it to exclude someone to laugh at a different race, to laugh at a different sexual orientation then that’s really, really wrong.
– No, I agree. So do you think people laugh enough at their place of work?
– No, I think we should. I think we should all have you know, I remember, when I was a kid, every Thursday night, everyone would watch “Monty Python” and we would laugh and there were certain things that you put on television to make you laugh. And I think we should all do that, you know? I have certain things I listened to or jokes I remember or things that I find so funny. And I remember years ago I was at home. I was watching “Crimewatch” when I finished watching it. I thought this isn’t no, this has made me focus on burglaries and rapes and terrible. So I had to put on something funny. I think about an episode of “The Simpsons”. It made me laugh so much and I went to bed and it changed my state. And I think all of us should have appointments to laugh. We should have something funny we watch at least three times a week. We should have a funny half hour. We should tell each other jokes. I think you almost need to make an appointment to laugh. I mean, one of the reasons X-Factor was so great ’cause people love Simon Cowell. Well you know, when you saw him and the whole panel laughing at somebody and Sharon Osbourne would be crying into her handkerchief and Simon will be stuffing tissues and his mouth to stop himself laughing. You actually laugh with them. And some of the contestants were very, very funny without knowing it. And that kind of TV show is called an appointment because the whole family would watch it together. And I love the, I often rewind. I have to watch that bit again and again and again. But I think we should all factor something that makes you deeply laugh into our week, even into our day, because it’s still good for your immune system. It’s so good for you.
– I love the fact that, you know, because I think, I love people to take things away from this podcast. And one of the things that I really encourage everyone to take away is your idea of having an appointment to laugh, put it in your diary. It’s fantastic.
– It’s all very well to go, I go to yoga every Thursday at six and I go to Pilates every Monday at 10, but you should actually make, you should put something in your diary that makes you laugh all the time.
– So what goes on the back of that? if I asked you to make a business case for humour, what would you include in it?
– Well my business case would be that when you laugh, you make natural killer cells that fight cancer, you massively massively put a dent in depression, and you start to reduce ageing and you bond with people more and you feel better about yourself. So first of all, I’d point out all the huge benefits you get from laughing. And if I was presenting to a company I’d go, “Hey, how much money do you lose in sick time? How many members of staff are off?” And business loses a huge amount of money to that. And then I would point out, you know, if you would just do this, if you would just have a 10 minute break every day, people will laugh. If you would have comedy playing in the break room or something like that, then you would make a massive dent so I’d always, people always wanted to know the monetary benefits. So if you’ve got staff members, you value, how many of your CEOs or head of departments are off sick? And you could keep them by making them laugh. When I used to go to school on a Friday morning, everyone used to do “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and the “Monty Python” on the Thursday night and it was funny.
– Yeah, so there’s your return on investment? Your ROI is that people will stay longer. There’ll be less sick. So it’s automatic for me. I think you make a very, very good point.
– And I know that for while prison system in the UK, they were teaching some of the prisoners to do stand-up comedy because it was diffusing the tension in the jail. And there are people who’ve gone to jail and learnt to be funny. A bit like people who say, “I was the fat kid at school, but I learned to be funny” and in being funny, people bonded with me instead of attacking me and the jails that use this, said it was a really good way of diffusing tension.
– Well, no, I’ve, I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve been in jail and actually humour is something that they can actually use when they get outside to get a job. And if you think–
– Did you remember that great movie “Silver Streak” with Richard Pryor and you know where they both went to jail? And he was talking about that. How that was very funny, I loved that. I also loved “Elf” every year, I would watch “Elf” and “Bad Santa”. That was my Christmas ritual because it would make me laugh so much. And in fact, I think often we need the funny Christmas movie because while by six o’clock everyone’s had enough, but then you sit around and watch “Elf” and you can’t help, but laugh.
– It’s funny, my son was obsessed with that movie as well and could watch it over and over again. And it, and it’s great because you know the gag’s coming, but you, it’s essentially is just there to press the funny bone, isn’t it?
– Again, yeah, yeah. And often we’ll say, you know, we think of things those classic movies like “Life of Brian” how incredibly funny that was, still is.
– Oh, I mean, absolute genius and stands up today as well as it ever did. Have you ever… talking about “Life of Brian”… because a lot of people at the time said, you know, they’d ‘cross the line’. Have you ever told a joke or said something on stage or that, or maybe in a therapy session that you feel has crossed the line?
– I don’t think so I’m quite careful, I use humour, but I’m very careful to use humour that is innocuous if you like. Again, I would never laugh at my client, but I would use humour to make them see the funny side but there are times. And you couldn’t really tell him it’d be grossly, inappropriate to use it at all. There are times when you should never use it. You have to be quite subtle and very careful and quite confident. So I don’t think I’ve ever crossed the line with that I really hope I haven’t, but I don’t, I don’t in every therapy session start telling jokes because therapy is not about me, it’s about my client. But occasionally just to make them see something in a different way, I might inject a little humour, but it would always be quite subtle and it would just be for a moment or two. And that would be it. I wouldn’t go on and on and on.
– One of the books that I love of yours. In fact, I love them all, but “Ultimate Confidence”. Where does “Ultimate Confidence” sit with humour? And is that a huge part of it?
– Well you know, to have confidence, you’d have to have high self-esteem. If you haven’t got high self esteem and then everything else you have is, is somewhat worthless. So you need to have high self-esteem. I think when you have high self-esteem, you can laugh at yourself without feeling attacked. When you have high self-esteem, you can let something go. You can laugh at something. It just, it, I had a mother who was lovely, but a complete hypochondriac. And I just learned how to laugh at that, without meaning to be mean I remember some years ago I was going to my mother’s house with my daughter. My mother had a pharmacy in every room. My little girl was saying, “Grandma what are all these pills for?” My mom said, “Well, that one is for my bad leg, and that’s for my bad eye and that’s for my bad heart and that’s to my stomach.” And she said, “But grandma, how do they all know where to go?” And I thought that was such a great observation for a child. And even my mother had to laugh, because that was so funny. And then later on it was, “Mommy, grandma is nymphomaniac, isn’t she? we’re not nymphomaniacs.? Cause I always say to a darling grandma is a hypochondriac, cause she said, mommy, I need pills. I need a pill for lunch. Cause my mom, if you to dinner, there would get out antacids. On the way home, she’d give you travel sickness, pills. And if you were going somewhere like skiing, she’d send you altitude sickness pills. I’d say, I mean darling grandma is a hypochondriac, that’s her choice, but we’re not hypochondriacs. So my daughter said to her, mommy said, you’re a nymphomaniac and it’s your choice, but we’re not nymphomaniacs and it’s that ability to say no, no, no. I didn’t say nymphomaniac, I said hypochondriac. My mother wasn’t pleased with the correction either but the self-esteem is that when my mother heard that, I didn’t go, no, I never said that. I still say that I did tell Fay that you’re a hyporcondriac, because I don’t want her to believe she needs pills, My mother said, she’s hyperactive, we need to give a Ritalin. I’m like, no, she’s not hyperactive, she’s five! That’s called age appropriate behaviour. She’s meant to climb trees and jump up and down because she’s a kid. She couldn’t just sit at the table for three hours while you talk about your aches and pains. So I think the confidence is to be able to say, yeah, I did say that that was inappropriate. I did tell that joke. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have done it. Or when you’re called out to say yes, I did say that I was trying to make someone understand a situation. So the confidence and the humour go together in that, if you’re confident, you can tell a joke, but it’s not at someone else’s expense. You wouldn’t ever tell racist jokes or sexist jokes or the old jokes. But you’d still be able to be funny, but you wouldn’t do it to someone, you do it to a group so to speak. I mean, I always loved French and Saunders I thought they were so funny the way, because they laughed at themselves, Dawn French would laugh at her own body type. she wasn’t making… taking the mickey out of someone else. It was her. And so I never, you could never find her offensive as a comedian because she used our own position to make you laugh.
– Do you think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself at that level in order to have ultimate confidence?
– Absolutely I think if you can’t laugh at yourself, then that’s a shame. I think you must be able to laugh at yourself. It’s great to laugh at yourself. I think that’s really important.
– Have you ever gotten yourself out of trouble by using humour?
– Yeah, very much so when I first moved to Chicago, I remember I was driving along and clearly I was speeding and this policeman stopped me. And actually as I just been in the bank and I’d smashed a bottle of perfume all over these $100 bills. So I’d laid them all on my driving licence ’cause they were wet to dry out. And when this policeman stopped me, he said, do you know, you’re speeding?. I said, no, I didn’t know I was speeding. He said, well, look at the sign. I said, Oh, but you know, I’m from England and that square, I thought that was the speed limit, ’cause that’s what the speed – it wasn’t true. But I said, that’s what the speed limit And it gives me your licence. And he said, Hey lady, this is not downtown Chicago. Cause I just given him like $500 and I said, Oh no, if I was giving you money I wouldn’t give you five hundred, I’d give you $50. Who would give you $500?! I said smell it, it’s covered in channel number 5, I smashed my purfume and he actually laughed. And he gave me my licence back and you know, but it actually, it was true. I would never have given him all that money. I would have given him $50 if I was stupid enough to try and bribe him. But I wasn’t really trying to be funny, I was just saying, Oh no, that he found it very funny. I think he found the whole thing, the Englishness funny and the fact that, and then he couldn’t believe that, my licence expired in like 2037. I said, Oh yeah, in England you have a licence till you’re 100. And then it says an England, there’s no speed limit. It’s like the autobahns, there’s no speed limit at all. ..because I was on a roll then and thought that I could just tell him anything that believe me, I said, here we didn’t have a speed limit, we don’t have driving licence to never run out. And he was so impressed he went, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And then he handed me my licence back and then he let me off. Very lucky. And weirdly enough, about a moth later, he stopped me again. And he said, “Oh, you’re that funny girl?” And he said, “But don’t speed anymore in my precinct “cause the third time I’m going to have to give you a ticket.” So after that I was really much more careful.
– That’s a brilliant story. In business, ’cause I want to go back to business ’cause a lot of our listeners work in business and I know you work with CEOs all the time, and leadership and do leadership talks. In business is it survival of the fittest, or survival of the funniest?
– I guess in business it’s survival of the fittest. I don’t think, I think it’s great to be funny in business too. I think you should be funny in every area of life. I think funny in church, funny in hospital, funny in school. I think there isn’t a place where you can’t be funny. But I think in business, you can almost be too funny. And I think in the boardroom when you’re coming up with ideas, it’s probably a good idea to put a lid on that. When you’re presenting, if you’re always using humour, you just wouldn’t be taken seriously I think there’s a time and a place. But if you were presenting an idea, pitching an idea, then I think it’s a bit like, that what, that’s the whole thing in The Office with Ricky Gervais is that was all about that he was always trying to be funny, and no one else thought he was funny. So I think sometimes you have to reign that in and put on your professional hat and go to work and do your professional job. And yeah, you can find a place for being funny, but probably in the boardroom, I would say no.
– Well, we’ve come to that bit of the show, which we call quick-fire questions. And every time I say quick-fire questions, it’s like I’ve got a little jingle going. And one of our guests who was in Queen – is in Queen Spike – Spike Edney, wrote me a jingle. So there will be a jingle here now, because Spike wrote it live on air. So quick-fire questions, Marisa Peer, who is the funniest business person you’ve met?
– I’m going to say my husband, John Davy. ‘Cause he is screamingly funny all the time.
– That’s true and very loyal as well. What book makes you laugh?
– What book? that’s, just that’s so hard to answer. What book me laugh, I think comic books make me laugh. I used to love reading my daughter’s “Beano & Dandy” and “Desperate Dan” and “Tom and Jerry” They would always make me laugh. The cartoon books and cartoons would always make me laugh.
– You’ve mentioned a couple of films already. Any other films that make you laugh?
– I love “The Simpsons” and I love “American Dad”. I love “South Park” when it was first out, I thought Cartman that was the funniest thing, Cartman and his, when and the Poison Ivy.
– What word makes you laugh?
– Probably “fuck” actually because it’s such, and I love it and I live in America, I love it. What the fuck, I mean, that is such a good, what the fuck. People can think of what the fuck, what the fuck is going on? And it’s just so funny now that they just say the fuck. So my husband, occasionally when I go, “What the fuck is that,” or “Look at that.” And it’s just so funny, just the way it’s used I mean, that is my favourite word ’cause it’s a minimizer, it’s an insult, it’s a compliment, it’s whatever you want it to be, so, I love that word.
– It’s also a hard K, which you and John will understand that K’s are funny, the sound.
– I used to love Father Ted which he’ll always say, “Feck” all the time, just the way he said that would make you laugh.
– It was not just the word, it’s the pronunciation of the word.
– Yeah, no, it’s brilliant. Okay, on a slightly more serious note or completely more serious note, what is not funny?
– I think racism is not funny, I don’t like people who tell racist jokes. I think sexism is not funny. Although you know, I can laugh at some of those old sexist jokes, the kind of Dick Emery type of programme I thought he was very funny. I think racist, sexist, homophobic jokes, have really had their day.
– Would you rather be considered funny or clever?
– Oh, I’m probably clever actually. ‘Cause I think if you’re clever and smart, you can memorise some great jokes. But if you’re just funny, I think if you’re just funny all the time, Cause I work with a lot of comedians that are funny all the time, and they’re actually really unhappy. Robin Williams, I met him a few times. I met him at a particular event where he went on stage and took over from the warm-up act because he couldn’t be in the audience. And it wasn’t funny. And I could see in him somebody who just couldn’t be anything other than funny. I’ve had clients go to rehab and he’s asked to leave because they’re constantly telling jokes all the time. They go, “This is rehab, who do you…” One of my friends then said, “Who do you think you are? This is not funny, you’re in rehab now stop telling jokes.” Eventually they kicked him out because he was always telling jokes. So if you’re always funny in a serious situation, I think you’re hiding something. So if I had to choose, I’d choose clever. “Cause you can change by being clever if you’re clever, you could do a lot to change the world more than if you were funny. You could probably wipe out poverty if you were really clever.
– Final question, “Desert Island Gag”. You can only take one joke to a desert Island, What is it?
– What’s the benefit of taking Viagra and Valium simultaneously?
– I don’t know what’s the benefit of taking Viagra and Valium simultaneously.
– ‘Cause when you can’t get a fuck, you don’t give a fuck.
– And it included your favourite word.
– It did, and it was a bit inappropriate, but it’s easy to remember.
– It’s brilliant, you are hard to forget Marisa Peer. Thank you so much, you’ve been inspirational, and you’ve made us laugh, thank you so much.
– Thank you too, thanks for having me.
– The Humorology Podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth, created direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review, wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky Production.