Better laughing through chemistry 

As I write this, the Go Lounge downtown isn't closed, but I miss it. I'll miss it even more when it's actually gone. I've done a lot of things in there that I'm glad weren't captured on film.

It wasn't closed when I was sitting there on a Mondo Mod Monday (my favorite night) and saw they were serving Three Stooges Beer. No joke. It's a real beer with the Snap, Krackle and Pop of stupidity staring out at you from the label. "What's it taste like?" I asked. "It's beer," people said.

I was never a fan of the Stooges. My brother was. He used to sit there like something out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," riveted, and if memory serves he did a fairly respectable Curly impression, if that's possible. I didn't try the Stooges beer for myself so much as I did for him, so I could tell him it existed and how it tasted (like beer). This is not to say I wouldn't have downed something else -- they haven't invented a number high enough to tally the brain cells I've killed off with beer at the Go! But somehow I felt like I was killing off twice as many drinking beer that had the Stooges on the label. Go figure.

Full frontal assault

No, I've drank heavily in many bars. Never thought of not smoking in one either, until recently. Smokers are a hard-core lot. We stare down the barrel of death every day -- in fact, we sneer and light the end of it. We don't scare easily. But I think I have found the one thing that could put me off cigarettes for the rest of my longer, healthier life, and it is this: Smoking can lead to really, really getting off on the Three Stooges.

Wait. It gets worse. If you keep smoking, not only might you find yourself doing your Curly impression in a bar, but you might be watching a Woody Allen movie one day and say, out loud, "I don't get it." You might even give up watching a rerun of "Seinfeld" to channel surf in hopes of finding "Benny Hill."

This epiphany was prompted by ABC On-Line columnist Lee Dye, who recently wrote about a study by the University of Toronto and the Rotman Research Institute that pinpointed exactly where in the brain the sense of humor is located. Leave it to the Canadians, who consistently produce the funniest people in the world (Mike Myers, Scott Thompson, William Shatner, although he may not have meant to be funny) to be determined to find humor, literally.

Humor, they discovered, is in the right frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe controls higher brain function -- creativity, conscience, things like that. Prathiba Shammi, a scientist who spent three years on the project, concluded that the right side was the most obvious location for humor, since when that side is damaged, people change. They do things like "frequently laughing at inappropriate times."

To buck up her findings, Shammi got a group of test subjects together, half of them with some kind a brain damage from "stroke, tumor or injury." In tests asking the group to choose the appropriate ending or punch line to a joke or cartoon, most responded normally. But those with damage to the right frontal lobe always chose the slapstick ending. Despite being offered more sophisticated responses to chose from, they could not conceive of anything funnier than the most obvious gags. Subtlety was lost on them. Nuance sailed over their heads like fluffy clouds. They couldn't process information in a way that would have made them find a more intelligent end to the joke. In other words, you don't have to be brain damaged to like the Stooges, but it helps.

It's all in your head

Laughter, they say, is a coping skill and good for your overall health. It's more than that to me. It's the bulk of life. The world is mined with frustration and heartbreak. Knowing that I enjoy a fully functional brain, including a sense of humor, that helps me tread on those mines lightly, or even flit over them, makes me feel pretty grateful.

If I have a stroke, something that can be caused by smoking, I could lose that ability. I won't understand the subtle subtext of "Ren and Stimpy," why "Murder by Death" is one of the funniest movies ever made, or a single thing anyone in a Whit Stillman film ever says. I'll be sitting on the couch with saliva pooling around my lower lip, saying, "Look, ma! Moe hit Curly!" And I can't bear to think of myself that way. So I am seriously thinking about quitting. The day I can't process the finer points of Bugs Bunny is a day I don't want to live to see.

The Cigarette Warning-Label People might want to give this a little thought. "Smoking Causes Death" is sissy stuff. "Smoking Causes Shemp," on the other hand, would cause a lot of us to be afraid. Be very afraid.

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