Comedian Michael Shafar was being wheeled into an operating theatre when he saw what resembled a butcher’s kitchen.
Machete-like blades, gleaming scalpels and surgical scissors were lined up on a bench, ready for use in what would be an 11-hour operation.
But Shafar wasn’t scared.
“Maybe put that behind a curtain until I’m under,” he joked with the hospital staff.
Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2017, Shafar was given a 50/50 chance of survival – he had 100 tumours in his chest alone and the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
But the bad news wasn’t enough to make the Melbourne comedian lose his sense of humour.
In fact, Shafar said that making light of the situation helped him endure six months worth of chemotherapy and five operations, one of which left him in ICU for two days.
If you can laugh at something, it can’t be that dangerous to you,” he said.
“I don’t know how I would’ve handled the process if I wasn’t doing comedy about it. I think it would have been a lot harder.”
Last year Shafar chronicled his cancer diagnosis and treatment in a stand-up show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, saying it helped him process the hardships he was facing.
Plus, “it was the only thing I could talk about because it was the only life experience I was having at the time”, he said.
Now in remission, Shafar has a new show called Getting Better which will premiere at the festival between March 26 and April 19.
“My whole theory was if I’m going to die from this at least I’m going to die laughing at it rather than scared and depressed about it.”
Death isn’t funny but that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh
Laughter also helped Heather Joy Campbell get through the grieving process.
Losing two immediate family members in the past 12 months was no laughing matter, Ms Campbell said, but had she not forced herself to laugh she would have fallen “into an absolute heap”.
The journalist-turned-laughter yoga instructor goes into workplaces, retirement homes and other group environments to teach people to laugh when there is nothing to laugh at.
In times of loss, Ms Campbell has been able to stop herself from “falling into a very, very dark hole” by laughing when feelings of sadness start to overwhelm her.
“This is an exercise no different from doing a bicep curl. It’s not about something funny, it’s not because I’m particularly happy at this moment. I’m just doing an exercise.”
She may take her clients through deep breathing techniques and as they exhale, encourage them to start laughing. She might also ask them to shake hands with other people, and instead of saying hello, just laugh.
The brain can’t differentiate between real and fake laughter, Ms Campbell said, and allows feel-good hormones such as dopamine and endorphins to be released.
Not only that, but research shows laughter can strengthen your immune system, improve blood vessel function, allow you to sleep better, reduce pain thresholds, lower blood pressure and help people with Type 2 Diabetes lower their blood glucose levels.
A little baby will gurgle and that’s a laugh, and it feels good to do that,” Ms Campbell said.
“It’s only as we grow up that we tend to put laughter and fun or humour in the same sentence and think that we have to laugh only when times are good, things are funny and something’s humorous and often times we leave laughter to chance.”