Why “Laugh Doctor”
prescribes wit so often
By Ann Hauprich
Few people take the business of laughter as seriously as Dr. Joel Goodman of
Saratoga Springs. “Exercising your laugh muscles each day is at least as
important as exercising those in the rest of your body,” grins the “Laugh
Doctor” who has been doling out humor prescriptions for more than a quarter of a
Recognized worldwide for his innovative work with The HUMOR Project, Inc.,
Goodman insists laughter plays a vital role in the success of many marriages
and corporations and can transform even the most trying episodes into positive
— or at least tolerable — experiences.
“If there’s one point that’s become clear in the nearly 3 decades since I
founded The HUMOR Project, it’s that our planet would be a better place if
people would just lighten up and not take themselves and others so seriously —
and that includes husbands and wives, parents and children.”
“People are always saying: `Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.’ My
question is: `Why wait?’ Why not laugh now?” We’re not talking major tragedies
here — just simple every day annoyances like a pair of mismatched socks in the
underwear drawer, a traffic jam, an annoying co-worker or a tantrum tossing
toddler. It’s just too easy, says Goodman, to permit negativity to transform
every day molehills into volcanic mountains. “All I’m saying is if it’s one of
those times when you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, try laughing first.
Remember: seven days without laughter make one weak.”
Lord knows, Goodman and his wife Margie Ingram have had their share of “laugh
or cry” moments since they first became serious (or, as Goodman would say,
“became lighthearted”) about one another back in the 1970s.
an admiration for one another’s exceptional sense of humor proved to be a
strong force in the love magnet that pulled them together. The ability to seek
out the laugh lines rather the fault lines has strengthened the bond between
them since Adam, 19, and Alyssa, 15, joined the family tree.
“Parenting is not easy,” admits Goodman — quickly adding: “That may be the
understatement of the year. The late Samuel Butler once observed that `parents
are the last people on earth who ought to have children.’ (However) . . . even
though parenting and preserving the health of the family are serious
endeavors, they need not be solemn ones. In fact, adding some lightness and
humor can be a powerful atomic balm to maintain the family as nucleus of
It seems somehow fitting that Goodman chose New Year’s Eve 1948 in the sunny
state of Virginia to make his grand entrance into the world. The Goodmans
later moved to Maryland where a solid humor foundation was laid for Joel and
his two younger siblings, David and Susan.
“I learned the value of a humorous perspective early in my life,” recalls
Goodman. “My Mom, Paula, who has been my most important ongoing model of
humor, showed me the way.” Whereas harmless childish antics caused most moms
in the neighborhood to threaten to “crack the whip”, Goodman says his mother
often had to restrain herself from “cracking up” with laughter.
“Her ability to see the funny side of things helped me to develop a happier,
healthier perspective on life,” says Goodman. This outlook proved to be an
enormous asset as he made his through the University of Pennsylvania and the
University of Massachusetts’ Graduate School of Education. By the time he
earned the academic initials Ed. D. in 1975, there was no doubt that Joel
Goodman had made the grade as both an exceptional teacher and educational
Goodman’s career ultimately led him to Upstate New York, where he won
accolades for his upbeat workshops for teachers and school administrators. For
a while, he seemed destined to spend his life educating educators on such
topics as stress management and improving communication skills.
often injected humor into his seminars, the thought of dedicating an entire
session to humor itself seemed, well, laughable. It took a family health
crisis — and a joke cracking Texas taxi driver named Alvin — to help Goodman
realize that humor was no laughing matter.
“Alvin’s positive outlook as he
drove me to and from visits to the hospital room in Houston where my father
was facing life or death surgery really gave my spirits a lift.” (Ultimately,
papa Al Goodman enjoyed a complete recovery, and the entire family discovered
why “Laughter is the best medicine.”)
Weeks later, while working late to catch up on all the work he’d missed while
in Texas, the thing Joel Goodman refers to as The Alvin Lightbulb went on.
“The key question I couldn’t stop asking myself was: Are there practical ways
of bringing humor to life?
That was 1977, and at the time, Goodman had no plans whatsoever of turning his
humor hobby into a serious business. The HUMOR Project was to be but a brief
experiment run on a shoestring budget. Suffice it to say the shoestring was
longer and stronger than anyone imagined.
Before long, Goodman was laughing
his way to the bank as proprietor of a $1-million a year enterprise with a
staff and a 100-person speaker bureau. (Mind you, Goodman’s
generosity with his company’s earnings gives a whole new meaning to the term
“profit sharing.” To date, The HUMOR Project has provided grants to over 350
schools, hospitals and human service agencies. The goal: to help them develop
services and resources that tap into the positive power of humor.)
Described as “the first full-time humor educator in the world,” Goodman has
logged thousands of miles bringing smiles to the faces of more than two
people across the United States and in foreign countries as diverse as Japan,
Panama, Sweden, South Africa and the former Soviet Union.
In addition, The
HUMOR Project has “touched and tickled” the lives of tens of millions of
others through feature stories in thousands of publications as well as on
national and international television and radio shows. (“Laughter,” he quips,
“has no accent.”)
The author of eight books, Goodman personally oversees the editing of
“Laughing Matters”, a quarterly magazine devoted to finding constructive
applications for humor in daily life.
The so-called “Laugh Doctor” also helps his wife Margie organize and host the
annual International Humor & Creativity Conference each April which draws
participants from “every hop, skip, jump and walk of life” on six continents.
Past keynote speakers have included Steve Allen, Sid Caesar, Bob Newhart,
David Hyde Pierce, Jay Leno, Art Buchwalk, Al Roker, Victor Borge, and The Smothers Brothers. Syndicated
“Close to Home” cartoonist John McPherson, also a Saratoga resident, is a
frequent workshop leader.
Even though Goodman takes the business of humor seriously, he continues to
take himself lightly: “Danish comedian Victor Borge wasn’t really joking when
he said: `A smile is the shortest distance between two people.’ I see my
mission as helping people get more smileage out of their lives.”
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