“Laughter is the best medicine.”
Lawyers—especially those who are compelled to hire doctors as expert witnesses—know that there is rarely any unanimity of opinion in the medical field. Nonetheless, despite the predictable objections of the pharmaceutical companies that love them not wisely but too well, we can count on a healthy number of our caduceus-wielding colleagues to line up behind this perspective. Even cardiologists and laparoscopic surgeons are willing to endorse the eventual hearty chuckle or belly laugh, as long as enough postprocedural time has elapsed to keep their patients literally as well as figuratively in stitches.
Perhaps the most visible promoter of the cackling cure is Kentucky’s own Clifford Kuhn, M.D., who goes by the anything but sobering sobriquet “The Laugh Doctor.” Jibing in support of rather than at the expense of patients, Dr. Kuhn is described here as having “learned to appreciate the healing benefits of laughter” on the basis of “working intensively with cancer patients and their families.” A professional comedian in his own right, Dr. Kuhn often presented seminars with the late Jerry Lewis—the original Disorderly Orderly—on laughter’s manifold medical benefits.
Ironically, the lifestyles of those who produce laughter for a living are typically anything but a model for sustained wellness. Writing for Forbes, Lipi Roy, M.D, MPH asks “If Laughter is the Best Medicine, Why are So Many Comedians in Poor Health?” Among the interview-based answers provided are “isolation,” “long periods of traveling,” “poor diet,” “lack of sleep,” and a general tendency to “go a long time without seeing a medical professional.” Does this seem uncomfortably similar to life on the road for the multi-jurisdictional peripatetic pro hac vice litigator? Self-neglect in the service of day-to-day professional pursuits is no laughing matter.
If laughter is the best medicine, is it possibly the best defense as well? Not according to George Washington, one of a minority of our non-lawyer Presidents. He opined far earlier than either Jack Dempsey or Pat Summitt that it was actually a good offense that was often “the surest, if not the only” defense, at least “in some cases,” as preserved on the website for the National Archives. This does not mean, of course, that humor has no place in the courtroom, or that it cannot turn the tide in counsel’s favor when applied judiciously, as it were. If lawyers want to pursue that quaint, humanizing, icebreaking laugh, then they are best advised to do so on their own instead of leaving such antics to the witnesses. Counsel won’t be asked on cross-examination, for example, “just what’s so funny, doctor, about my client’s injuries?”