Dr. Mike Gropper on laughter during times of war


These days, there is so much to worry about. 

Most people I speak to are affected; some feel depressed, and others feel anxious. Our worries are about real issues – about the future of our country, our soldiers, the evacuees, and the hostages.

Certainly, exercise, hobbies, meditation, and yoga can help us cope with the situation. But another way we can help ourselves deal with stress is to laugh. Laughter can calm our worries and heal our emotional wounds.

Matan Peretz, one of Israel’s most popular comedians, was quoted in the New York Post (March 16, 2024) after serving in the army reserves during the war. It was very tough to think of returning to the stage and doing his stand-up comedy during this difficult time. “I didn’t want to perform, but people were begging for us to come back. They needed a distraction, to feel like things are kind of back to normal,” he said.

I think that sums it up quite well. Laughter is our way of forgetting, even so briefly, all the tragedies we are feeling as Israelis.

Why does laughter help with stress?

Theodor Reik, a disciple of Sigmund Freud who settled in New York in the 1920s, once remarked that life is often tragic and sad. By joking about it, we succeed in transcending the tragic character of an event and bringing it under our control. “By using humor, the lament often turns into laughter,” remarked Reik (Jewish Wit, New York, 1962). Laughter is a momentary way of taking back some control in your life. I can rid myself of some of the emotional pain through laughter.

Butch Bradley in action (credit: Comedy for Koby)

So when I heard that Comedy for Koby was going to be back in Israel, I thought that going to the show was exactly what the doctor ordered – a dose of laughter to escape from all the pain.

Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell discovered this secret weapon of laughter after their 13-year-old son, Koby, and his friend Yosef Ishran, were brutally murdered in 2001 by terrorists near their Tekoa home. This amazing couple took their pain and created Camp Koby to provide emotional support services to thousands of bereaved Israelis.

They later felt that part of the way to achieve healing was through laughter, so they teamed up with LA comedian Avi Liberman and created Comedy for Koby. Twice a year for the past 15 years, Avi brings talented American comedians to Israel to give the Israeli public some relief from the stressors we face.

The proceeds of the show go to the Koby Mandell Foundation, which over the years has developed a wide range of services for bereaved family members.

My wife and I joined some of our family members to catch the Jerusalem show last week, and it proved to be a wonderful evening. This was not our first Comedy for Koby show, but this one was sorely needed. We chuckled at the funny stories that Avi and his three talented comedians presented to the audience. These comedians volunteered their time to come to Israel to do their magic. They made us laugh and forget our troubles. We, along with the rest of the audience, appreciated the opportunity to take a break from our worries, even if only briefly.

According to scientific studies, laughter helps one overcome the negative feelings associated with worry and does something biologically to improve both physical and emotional health.

Consider the following:

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter alters neurotransmitter levels, including dopamine and serotonin. These changes can lead to improved mood and may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Sharing laughter with others fosters social bonds. The feeling of “we are in this together” is one of the positive outcomes of sharing laughter. “I am not alone” is a positive thought.
  • It has been proven that laughter and doing things that make us smile enhance our general well-being and promote health and resiliency during times of crisis.

Most people know firsthand that when they are told a funny joke, see a talented comedian, or watch a sitcom, they laugh and feel good. All the more, helping people laugh when they are facing difficult emotional times is a much-needed and powerful coping tool.

Remember, laughter is a powerful ally, even in times of war. Stay strong, and find moments of joy wherever you can! 

The writer is a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist treating adults and children, as well as couples. He sees clients in Ra’anana and at his Jerusalem clinic. drmikegropper@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/drmikegropper

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