Jurriaan Kamp | August 2009 issue
As we put together this special issue, we talked at length about the cover. We considered a number of options, including babies gurgling with laughter and kids screaming with delight. But we ultimately decided against those images. Babies often beam, we thought, and kids regularly get the giggles—sometimes to the point of annoying the rest of us—but adults laugh too little. Somehow, Western culture has become saturated with John Calvin’s overly serious Protestantism.
Calvin probably had the best intentions, but his legacy still hangs like a haze over many Western countries. How many people do you see laughing while wandering the streets of New York, Amsterdam or London? In our daily lives, everything has to have a purpose and lead to concrete results. A bit of laugher is quickly considered a waste of time. Meanwhile, photos abound of radiant faces in the midst of abject misery in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Still, Eric Siry, our creative director, wasn’t looking for an African smile when he found the photo of the woman who now beams from the cover of Ode. He decided to search the photo agencies’ immense databases in the “news” category. Last year, Sarah Hussein Obama, the Kenyan woman on the cover, made the news laughing with good reason: Her grandson had just been elected President of the United States.
I’ve rarely laughed as hard as I did 30 years ago during a performance by Dutch stand-up comedian Toon Hermans. I was doubled over with laughter, in part from a scene about Santa Claus. (“What a pain in the ass,” Hermans whined, complaining that Santa had given him his brother’s old skates that were a size too small.) Hermans understood the art of using facial expressions and few words, which had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Next to me was a man from the Antilles who hadn’t been raised, like every Dutchman in the Netherlands has, with ice skates. But he, too, roared with laughter. Hermans’ comical banter created a bridge between our cultures and experiences. After all, no matter how local jokes can be, laughter is universal.
The articles in this special issue show how Calvin was wrong: laughter is by no means a waste of time. It’s healthy, relaxing and essential. We hope this issue will inspire you to laugh more often, especially at a time when so many are experiencing daily difficulties and challenges. May hearty laughter help lighten your load. After all, when it comes down to it, as Mark Twain said, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”