Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester in the National Tour of TOOTSIE

Laugh For Your Health

By: Linnea Covington

Laughing isn’t just a sign of feeling good; laughing is actually good for you too.

“We’ve all heard some version of the expression, ‘Laughter is the best medicine,’ and intuitively we know this makes sense,” says Dr. Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist at UCHealth. “Laughing really is one of the best mind-body-social connectors we have. It is a physical expression of connection and shared experience.”

The Science Behind Laughter

Two actors sing, seated, in the foreground as three additional actors appear with string instruments in the background.Laughter, says Dr. Ross, has been demonstrated to help manage anxiety, pain, stress, and sadness. There are a number of studies helping us understand what’s happening physiologically and neurologically when we laugh. This includes hormonal, neurochemical and psychological components.

“Laughing helps stimulate endorphin release, promotes oxygenation throughout the body’s organs, relieves muscular tension, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure,” he says. “The core concepts of well-being really come down to consistently nailing the basics-eat well, sleep well, move your body, get fresh air, foster meaningful connections and laugh, a lot.”

Learn to Laugh

While laughing is a natural action, sometimes we need to find ways to learn to laugh better. The Community College of Denver actually has a whole course on comedy, taught by comedian Chuck Roy, a semi-finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” It’s called Students of Comedy, and members of the college can sign up for it.

At Bovine Metropolis Theater, Denver’s first dedicated improv theater, guests can attend shows and take a class on improv, no experience needed. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) also offers improv classes each season for a wide range ofActors dressed in Back to the Future Costumes participate in a DCPA improv class ages starting a kindergarten through adult, focusing on newbies and more experienced comedians.

Where to Laugh

Lucky for us, ways to laugh occur all over. Start by taking in a comedy. Upcoming shows at the DCPA include The Other Josh Cohen (now through May 1), a rock-and-roll comedy that takes place in New York City. There’s also the classic Tootsie (March 29 through April 10) about Michael Dorsey, a difficult but talented actor struggling to find work until a crazy act of desperation lands him the perfect role.

Don’t underestimate a good stand-up show either. Denver hosts a handful of local comedy clubs. Start with Comedy Works in downtown Denver, a popular spot that has been stirring up laughs and groans since 1981. Rise Comedy in LoDo features improvised Broadway musicals and teaches classes. Or The Denver Comedy Lounge, which does Saturday night stand up shows and hosts comedians from around the country.

Take It From an Expert

“Laughing makes people feel amazing,” says Colorado-based comedian Greg Studley, who runs the podcast Behind Bars: Cocked Tales and Wasted Nights and the YouTube channel Just Close It. “If I do a show and get a couple to start laughing, that works the abs, gets the blood flowing to those areas…”

Comedian Robin Williams stands outside the Comedy Store in the 1970sStudley has been in the laughter business since he performed his first open mic in 2009 in Los Angeles. Eventually that led to local gigs at The Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv, where the likes of the late Bob Saget, Jeff Ross, Daniel Tosh, Dane Cook and Aziz Ansari stopped in to do some sets. Eventually he relocated to Colorado, where he worked at Belly Up in Aspen.  He jokes, “My favorite thing about being a comedian is I’m able to make amazing cocktails and serve beer with efficiency. And, to be honest, none of my friends or relatives ever expect me to pick up the check.”

Overall, Dr. Ross prescribes laughing as many times a day as you can. “Too often we are plagued by the stresses, anxieties and difficulties in our lives to the point that our concerns take up the majority of our thoughts,” he says. “When we adopt a mindset to ‘hunt the good stuff,’ we actively work to see the positive unfold in front of us. This includes actively seeking humor, joy, moments to laugh and moments to savor.”

With that, laugh long and hard and as often as possible. It’s good for your own self and the people around you.