Can You Stop an On-Air Laughing Fit?

I got a job as a radio DJ after graduating from college. It didn’t take long before a colleague began torturing me by pressing his face against the studio window, sending me into fits of uncontrollable on-air laughter.

I tried everything to stop laughing. But once the peals of laughter started, I was a lost cause. My only option was to give up and play a commercial or some music.

Over the past month, at least three newscasters – two American, one British – have lost it on-the-air. It got me wondering: is there anything you can do to stop uncontrolled fits of laughter?

First, a few clips. The Today Show’s Matt Lauer had the most high-profile laughing fit, losing it last week after a guest said retailers will “shrink the size of the package.”

Second, James Naughtie – the aptly named host of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – slipped when referring to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this week.

And finally, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly lost it when speaking about preserving a life by freezing the body; she needed to throw to commercial to recover.

Here’s some science. According to Kara Rogers of the Encyclopedia Britannica blog:

“The key to laying down humor patterns in the brain is the element of surprise. Unexpected associations and surprise generate a laughter reflex in our brains, which in turn produces a cognitive reward by stimulating the release of substances like dopamine. The surprise factor of humor is exemplified in the punch line of a joke or in a sentence using irony, both of which catch people off guard, typically because they force together independently logical but discordant concepts.”

That explains all three of these instances, in which all three anchors said something that caught them genuinely off guard. So is there a good way to recover from laughing fits? Yes and no. The following tips may help:

  • Avoid eye contact
  • Bite your tongue, cheek, or lip
  • Pinch your wrist or thigh
  • Do math in your head, such as multiplication tables
  • Think about something that makes you sad

But those tips would have done nothing for me when I was collapsing in the radio booth. In my personal experience, trying to control laughter makes it worse, whereas letting the laugh out makes it easier to move on more quickly.

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