Can laughter be aggressive and hostile? Have you ever met someone who “over-laughs” at something that wasn’t particularly funny?

Is it possible that someone who laughs inappropriately is actually using their laughter as an obnoxious form of attention-getting or bitter tension release?

Is laughter a socially acceptable way of venting rage and shyness for those who are incapable of the direct expression of proper emotion?

What is the correct way to handle these laughers?

Do you confront them by saying, “That’s not funny.” Or do you stab deeper and say, “I understand you’re nervous, but laughing isn’t the right response.” Or do you just ignore the behavior and try to move away from the subject?

48 Comments

  1. Har har harrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! :mrgreen:
    I once dated a guy who laughed uncontrollably, loudly, obnoxiously and aggressively at everything. I could not take him anywhere because, everywhere we went, people would get annoyed with his over-laughter and give me dirty looks. I had never thought about it before, but I think you are right: some people use laughter to release tension and aggression.

  2. EMILY!
    How did you handle his laughter? Did you bring it up or would he only laugh in your face? Did anyone else confront him?
    It’s interesting — because the right laugh at the right moment can be incredibly charming and endearing.

  3. David,
    I handled his laughter the only way I knew how: I would just smile politely until he finished his guffaw and then continue with the conversation. I never outright confronted him about his over-the-top laughter because I assumed he would just tell me where I could stick it! He was quite a confrontational person. No one else ever confronted him either, or at least that I have heard.
    I am with you, a person’s laugh can endear them to you with an immediacy that not many other things will. Ooh, perhaps a trackback to “Why Men are Funnier Than Women” is appropriate here?

  4. I hate fake laughter. Can’t stand snickering. Love a good belly laugh and loathe the people in the crowd who think they’re funny and refuse to laugh at anyone else. You find that a lot among comedians.
    But NOTHING is better than having to stifle a laugh in church or in court…at a funeral. Inappropriate laughter is THE BEST!!! Hands down.
    Nice post.
    lauriekendrick.wordpress.com

  5. Emily —
    Wow! You’d just sit there until the laughter assault subsided? That seems like such an un-Emily like reaction!
    I have been guilty in the past of laughing at a joke before the punchline or funny comment is actually delivered because I can see where the person is going before that person gets there.
    Me: Bwa-ha! That’s funny!
    Them: I haven’t said anything yet.
    Me: I know, but I know where you’re going.
    Them: Oh, yeah? Where?
    Me: (Punchline!)
    Them: (Steaming…)
    It’s awkward. I have learned it is annoying on my part to pre-laugh so I have to withhold my laugh until the proper time.
    I added a couple of links to other articles. Thanks!

  6. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Laurie!
    You’re right laughter can be a fun release and a sign of approval. I think withholding genuine laughter as a form of control and punishment is cruel!
    There’s nothing worse, though, in a theatre, where you have two people “competitive laughing” to see who can laugh the first, loudest and the longest. I have probably been guilty of that a few times in my life as well… 😆
    Stifling a laugh is hard! I don’t think I’ve ever been successful. I love to laugh.

  7. David,
    Ha! You punchline stealer you! 😀
    Excellent links!
    Yes, I suppose sitting there and waiting for the laughter assault to end is quite an un-Emily like reaction. This guy was the only guy I’ve ever dated that was younger than me, and he was several years younger. I think I probably concluded I had to be the “mature” one and respectfully wait out his obnoxious and childish habit.

  8. Emily!
    So is it your testimony — and remember you’re still under oath from yesterday’s Google use interrogation — that you did not know this fellow was an “over-laugher” before you decided to date him?
    Or were you aware of this syndrome and thought you could cure him of it?

  9. Hi David,
    A joke made at an inappropriate time can sometimes cut pretty deep.
    A few years ago, I was at the bedside of a relative in the trama unit. Another relative, who was obviouly uncomfortable with being there, made an attempt at humor: “Guess they (referring to the patient) thought we needed some excitement this weekend.” (followed by nervous laughter)
    This person was not used to giving comfort and aid to people around them. I ended up ignoring the remark, but it was a long time before the damage was repaired. Much later, I confronted the individual, but never received an apology or any acknowledgment that they had done anything inappropriate. I concluded that some people feel uncomfortable around the sick and dying and don’t know how to respond except with nervous laughter.
    Donna

  10. That’s an excellent example, Donna! Instead of just being respectful and quiet, some feel the need to fill the silence and they do it with laughter or humor. Sometimes the effort is inapropriate.
    John McCain made a remark a while back that said something like “One benefit of Alzheimer’s disease is you can hide your own Easter Eggs.”
    http://www.salon.com/people/col/reit/1999/09/02/reitthurs/index.html
    We also can’t forget McCain’s recent unfunny “Bomb Iran” song sung to the tune of the Beach Boy’s “Barbara Ann” —

  11. Hi David,
    I have a system problem with people who do not laugh.
    And, there is a serious difference between a ‘plastic smile’ and a ‘genuine laugh’.
    I can fake a smile, I can’t fake a laugh.
    But at the same time, I understand – there is a right time for everything.
    People judge others by their first time appearance, I tend to form a first time opinion by the way someone laughs – how, why and where!

  12. I’ll have to keep an eye open to see if I can spot any aggressive laughers.
    I suspect people suffering from this affliction are close cousins to people who like to invade personal space in casual conversations or who repeat what they’ve said over and over because they can’t stand to be silent for any length of time.

  13. David,
    I honestly did not know this person was such a violent laugher until our first date, and that was a blind date. If I had known him before…I must admit, I probably would not have dated him just because of his laugh! Oh, such a shallow one I am!

  14. We only saw each other for about a week and that was more than I could take.
    Here’s a question for you: what is worse, the “close talker” or the “aggressive laugher?”

  15. Hahaha yeah…well it seemed like a year, too!
    Choosing between the close-talker and the agressive laugher is a close call for me. The agressive laugher usually embarasses you!

  16. Good post. Yes.
    I once did an hour’s laughing meditation. 45 minutes in which we ‘had’ to laugh, and it became the most demonic eery catharsis that I heard, screaming and crying, and wailing. Still makes me shudder. I coulnd’t force a laugh for the life of me, not once in 45 mintues.
    Then 15 minutes silence… You know what’s coming.. My friend and I cought each other’s eyes, and just completely cracked up.. Helplessly almost having a hernia, unable to breathe kind of laughter, and of course, the rest of the now serious room, glared at us.. Which made us laugh harder.. 😉
    I learned a lot about laughter that day. Most people don’t really know how to laugh, and you can tell how free a person is by listenting to their laugh.
    I also have a coworker that brays like a donkey at the most unfunny things, from nerves, I guess. It’s really, really annoying..

  17. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Chandira!
    Your laughing meditation sounds fascinating. It does take the entire body to do a proper laugh. 45 minutes of laughter would be exhausting!
    Most theatre people I know are trained early on to appreciatively applaud and genuinely laugh at will and on command — it’s part of the culture when you attend a live performance to provide proper interaction — so I have developed probably 100 types of laughs (30 of them textual!) and 7 sorts of applause!

  18. Evil laughter…MuHaHAhAHa….the evil laugh is usually someone chuckling over someone else’s misery, not a particularly nice form of laughter albeit, gratifying at times…

  19. I also have a problem with people who laugh too much and very loudly. I really do think that there are people who do it as a way to get attention. I’ve also observed that people who do this are usually very nosy as well, meaning that if you are having a conversation that doesn’t include that person, he or she will still interrupt and laugh if he or she hears something he or she thinks is funny. It gets really annoying and becomes disrespectful after a while, but that person doesn’t understand how other people feel about it, and will most likely get defensive if called on it. I experienced this type of behavior with a former coworker and by the end of my employment with the company, she had become a complete Pain in the Butt!

  20. Hi, in response to your post, I will say that I do think that people can control it to a certain extent though. I mean, yeah, laughing is usually a natural response to something funny, but like I said before, I really do think there are people who do it to be obnoxious, so therefore they will do it on purpose, so that they can get attention. It’s a “look at me” kind of laugh.
    And I do think that people should be able to call them on the behavior, just like how people feel fine to call people out for being quiet and not talking enough. As an introvert, I have met people who never once hesitated to tell me that I am “too quiet” and that I should smile more, even though introverts are less likely to show displays of emotion like that. If they point that out about me, then I should be able to tell someone that his or her laugh is too loud, with the expectation that he or she will take that as a signal to tone it down.

  21. Well, even though I have never been great at confrontation, I have read fora and message boards of how to handle people like this, since this trait seems to get on a lot of peoples nerves and they end up asking other people for advice on how to confront the person. So if I did encounter someone with an obnoxious laugh again, I’d probably stare at him or her until he or she stopped laughing. Then I’d politely tell that person that his or her laughter is kind of disruptive and it’s not only me that has taken issue with the level of noise and disruption that the laugh is causing. If you confront the person and let him or her know that you aren’t the only one who has taken issue with the behavior, hopefully that will cause the person to at least think a little bit about the behavior that he or she has displyed. Hopefuly, it would at least make the person a bit more aware of the behavior and how it is affecting other people.

  22. I think that makes sense. I would worry a bit about tone — it’s always the job of the “corrector/confronter” to find the right level for delivery — but there’s no reason the rest of us should be held captive by someone else’s uncomfortable guffawing.

  23. I agree about tone. I think that different situations call for different measures. In the case of my former coworker, she was to self-absorbed to actually take someone’s complaint seriously, no matter how I approached her, so we ended up having to go to management about it, and I told the manager that every time I had to deal with the coworker, I would simply write up a report on the coworker and turn it into management. Because her laughter was truly embarrassing and drew a lot of attention whenever she started, and I most certainly didn’t like attention being drawn to me because of this individual.
    But in some cases, where the person is more willing to sit down and listen to what others have to say, a direct but polite and well thought out complaint, will sometimes work to fix the problem behavior. And there is also compromise, because that loud, laugher may have an issue with a behavior that the complainer does on a regular basis, so both people can request a change about a specific behavior, and both people can walk away feeling like their complaints were taken seriously.

  24. Ok, this is my last post on this subject, I promise. I don’t know if you were referring to me as a bore. But, the reason why I had to resort to threatening to do a write up of the coworker was because she was very embarassing,downright humiliating because of her laugh, and I didn’t want to have to experience that on a regular basis. So in a workplace environment, I felt like writing her up was my only recourse and if I threatened to do that on a regular basis, she would have no choice but to change her behavior. But I definitely know how to have a laugh now and again. And I often times have my boyfriend in stitches because I’ll do things to make him laugh. But that’s different from someone who thinks that he or she is funny and is always laughing to the point of being humiliating and embarrassing to other people. Now, that’s not cool.

  25. No, you’re not the bore! The bore is having to write up a co-worker to get some relief in the workplace. That’s extra work that shouldn’t really be necessary, but when that’s the only option left, that’s the option to use. You have certainly only been enlightening and delightful in helping figure out this issue.