THE LAUGHTER

A story by Heinrich Boll
When someone asks me what business I am in, I am seized with embarrassment: I blush and stammer, I who am otherwise known as a man of poise. I envy people who can say I am a mason. I envy barbers, bookkeepers and writers the simplicity of their avowal, for all these professions speak for themselves and need no lengthy explanation, while I am constrained to reply to such questions: I am laughter. An admission of this kind demands another, since I have to answer the second question: " Is that how you make a living?" truthfully with "Yes". I actually do make a living at my laughing, and a good one too, for my laughing is -commercially speaking - much in demand. I am a good laughter, experienced, no one else laughs as well as I do, no one else has such command of the fine points of my art. For a long time, in order to avoid tiresome explanations, I called myself an actor, but my talents in the field of mime and elocution are so meager that I felt the designation to be far from the truth: I love the truth, and the truth is that I am a laughter. I am neither a clown nor a comedian. I do not make people gay, I portray gaiety: I laugh like a Roman emperor, or like a sensitive schoolboy, I am as much at home in the laughter of the seventeenth century as in that of the nineteenth, and when occasions demands I laugh my way through all the centuries, all classes of society, all categories of age: it is simply a skill which I have acquired, like the skill of being able to repair shoes. In my breast I harbor the laughter of America, the laughter of Africa, white, red, yellow laughter- and for the right fee I let it peal out in accordance with the director's requirements. I have become indispensable: I laugh on records, I laugh on tape, and television directors treat me with respect. I laugh mournfully, moderately, hysterically, I laugh like a streetcar conductor or like a helper in the grocery business: laughter in the morning, laughter in the evening, nocturnal laughter and the laughter of twilight. In short: wherever and however laughter is required-I do it.

a pessimist. but neither must it come too late. the whole audience laugh with me. But as for me. and people consider me-perhaps rightly so. and the joke is saved. I am a very solemn person. . the brick-layer when he can forget the mortar. who are scared-and with good reason-that their audiences will miss their punch lines. and the baker prefers sausage to bread. boisterous laughter must not come too soon. especially as I have also-this is my specialty-mastered the art of infectious laughter. it must come just at the right spot: at the pre-arranged moment I burst out laughing. It has to be carefully timed: my hearty.It need hardly be pointed out that a profession of this kind is tiring. Recording Tuesday. I drag myself exhausted to the checkroom. and the carpenters usually have the doors at home which don't work or drawers which are hard to open." and a few hours later I am sitting in an overheated express train bemoaning my fate. happy that I can go off duty at last. this has also made me indispensable to third-and forth-rate comedians. my job being to laugh infectiously during the weaker parts of the program. so I spend most of the evenings in night clubs as a kind of discreet claque. put on my coat. boxers turn pale when their children have nose bleeds: I find all this quite natural. the bullfighters raise pigeons for a hobby. butchers like marzipan. for I never laugh off duty. Confectioners like sour pickles. I need scarcely say that when I am off duty or on vacation I have little inclination to laugh: the cowhand is glad when he can forget the cow. At home I usually find telegrams waiting for me:" Urgently require your laughter.

The Laughter may remind you of the touching Hindi movie "Mera Nam Joker" or that professional mourner ‘Shanichari’ in Kalpana Lajmi’s film ’Rudali”. from time to time permitting myself a gentle smile. I once presented this story as a monodrama before an audience and they loved it. and I often wonder whether I have ever laughed. So our marriage is quiet. because I have to open my mouth so often to laugh. POSTSCRIPT: This short masterpiece of Heinrich Böll . . weaves the tale of a laugher–a person whose laughter is required for recordings and live performances. but he remains to be a metaphor for the modern-day individual. the character fleshed out in the selection may not have used his job (that of a laugher) as an avenue to escape from the silent bond that ties him to his uneventful life. in low tones. serious and humorless in his private side. Indeed. I go through life with an impassive ex-pression. Perhaps I am. in profound solemnity. Perhaps. my frayed spirit. when it is not pursued at one’s own will and for one’s own need/ pleasure. for I detest the noise of nightclubs. My brothers and sisters have known me as a serious boy So I laugh in many different ways. instead of for self. even other people's laughter gets on my nerves. People who do not know think me that I am taciturn.e. I think not. It further underscores the idea that it never pays to pretend to be somebody else you’re not. a moving grandiloquent soliloquy. The story touches the paradox of anything that is done on demand for the gratification of another. I consider this as a little gem.During the first years of our married life. but my own laughter I have never heard. peaceful one because my wife has also forgotten how to laugh: now and then I catch her smiling. since it reminds me too much of my own profession. my wife would often say to me: "Do laugh" but since then she has come to realize that I cannot grant her this wish. Even art can be taxing when it becomes a profession and ceases to be an indulgence by choice . The character Laughter records canned laughter for soap comedy TV serials like "Lucy Show". i. The persona in The Laugher may be equated to anyone who chooses to put on a cheery countenance for the public to see but is really formal. In short it touchingly portrays the tragedy of being service to others at the expense of personal fulfillment and keeping up pretenses. This immediately brings to mind the two contrasting faces of theater–the sad and happy face. I am happy that I am free to relax my tense face muscles. I like this story for its great poignancy and irony of life. the German writer and Nobel prize winner of 1972. the noise that fills the recording studios. Life will always have its smiles and frowns–it’s a fact of life. and I smile too. We converse. like others do.

Ref: The Stories of Heinrich Boll (European Classics) [Paperback] Heinrich Boll (Author). Leila Vennewitz (Translator) .

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