Chris Rush should be a household name; George Carlin calls him "one of the true comedy greats."
As a founding member and contributing editor of the National Lampoon, he helped set a high standard for American humor in the early 1970's.
Currently working on a one-man show for HBO, Cliff Kuhn, M.D. tracked this wonderful comedian down and got him to spill his comedy "guts."
Dr. Kuhn: You started with National Lampoon, correct?
Chris Rush: That’s the first time I made money with comedy. It was writing an
article for National Lampoon, but shortly after that my first album came out which was First Rush on Atlantic Records. Then came
There's No Bones in Ice Cream.
I have been making my living doing comedy ever since.
Dr. Kuhn: About how many years?
Chris Rush: Wow, 26 years.
Dr. Kuhn: My first question is who taught you how and when to laugh? Think back. Chris, where did you learn that?
Chris Rush: How and when to laugh? I was a prodigy. When I was just under one year old I use to get on the couch and sing fake Italian Opera, with dirty words, and make all the adults laugh. I knew how to work them so that it looked like they were going to throw up or pass out. I must have been a… maybe I was a comedian that got killed in World War II, I don’t know…but I was a prodigy.
Dr. Kuhn: Who made you laugh in your earlier days?
Chris Rush: The first comic that actually made me laugh I believe was George Carlin doing Sergeant of the Indians on television. Now I’m friends with him and love him, he has had a big influence on me.
You know, I always loved comedy, Shelly Berhman and Bob Newhart..way back. Remember I’m older, so I remember the roots of what you could call contemporary comedy. Even the comics, man…Myron Cohen…my father was into that and he had albums and I would listen to them and I loved all forms of laughter, all forms and modes and ways of making people laugh. I just love laughter.
Dr. Kuhn: Does laughter hold a deeper meaning for you?
Chris Rush: Laughter is a sacred thing. Did you know the American Indians used to have a guy called the Hyokee, who would come out, he had a bent bow and arrow and he would throw himself and try to swim in a rain puddle. He would make the tribe laugh before religious ceremonies.
Because laughter opens you to the luminousness of the spirit because it rivets you in the moment – which, besides laughter, really only happens during orgasms or heavy gunfire. If you can do that, instead, with laughter you are ready for spirituality because you are not burdened by the personality. And laughter is a sacred thing.
Dr. Kuhn: What tipped the balance for you to make you decide to make a career out of helping people laugh?
Chris Rush: Well, I used to be a molecular biologist, then I started eating chemicals in the lab because I decided, well, why the hell should the rats be so damn happy?
I was always naturally funny and I got “guts.”
I had everything you could want in the 60’s, and I still wasn’t happy. My old lady said, “Well, the only time I really see you being ecstatically happy is when you make people laugh.” So, I just walked into one of those village hootin-annies, you know, and that was it. Bingo, what a rush! Then many years later came the comedy explosion and I realized the whole society was going nuts the same way I did and it was wonderful…and still is a great rush for me.
Dr. Kuhn: Well, Chris, I think you already know that for a long time people have recognized that humor is very healthy.
Chris Rush: Oh yes! That Stanford University study was the first thing I ever read and I read that almost 18 years ago. When they induced people to cry by watching sad movies and then they induced them to cry from laughter, they collected the sad tears and they had traces of urine and salt, but when they collected the tears that were induced by laughter they had 53 bi-products of cell regeneration, broken cell walls, pre-radicals. In other words the body was purging itself of toxins in the most natural way. What more proof do you need? What do I do, get taller from a chuckle? Come on, that’s pretty good you know.
Dr. Kuhn: Well there is lots of proof over the last 20 years now that laughter reduces stress, boosts immunity, relieves pain, decreases anxiety, stabilizes mood, rests the brain, enhances communication, inspires creativity, maintains hope, bolsters moral, sustains resilience and prevents flatulence.
Chris Rush: It can also get you laid.
Dr. Kuhn: Here’s my question to you: In your experience around humor, and in humor, have you observed anything you can relate to us about humor doing that? Either for you personally or for somebody you know?
Chris Rush: One time a guy came over to me, he had food poisoning and he looked a funny color. I wouldn’t want to wear my new suit near him; he looked like any minute he was going to be a chicken soup lawn sprinkler.
He was sick and I made him laugh very heavy, down on one knee shaking his head. When he got up…no more nausea and he had a steak.
Dr. Kuhn: I see..
Chris Rush: Oh, yeah! I went, “How the hell can that work?” It acted as a stomach tranquilizer, anti-nauseating agent, and it boosted his appetite because the endorphins…apparently the endorphin and saratonen equation in his brain reached such a happy degree the rest of his cells just chimed right in and since he was hungry from throwing up all day he felt good and he ate. I saw that right in front of me.
Dr. Kuhn: That's a great first-hand example.
Chris Rush: Well, your
Fun Factor prescription
delves into that a lot better than I can.
I would like to tell you a story about laughter, don’t ask me the origin because unfortunately its from a famous Jewish man who writes about the holocaust and I don’t remember his name.
Dr. Kuhn: It’s not Ellie Wiesel is it?
Chris Rush: No, it wasn’t him…him I remember. This was someone of his ilk, all right.
It’s near the ending days of World War II, It’s a gray morning at a death camp, everything is gray, the buildings are gray, the prisoners are dressed in gray and young 19 year old German soldiers are the only guys left to guard the prisoners. They are loading a bunch of the Jewish prisoners on the truck to be gassed and sent to the crematorium.
They are on a gray cinder road in the rain heading towards the smoke stack, which they are soon to exit through. And, all of a sudden, one of the Jewish guys grabs the hand of a fellow prisoner, turns it over, looks at the palm, puts a finger on it, looks like he is reading it, and says, “I see many children, and invest in rubber, you are going to get rich.” Grabs another guy, “You are going to do very well in precious metals and you to should have fine children.”
Before you know it everyone starts laughing at the ludicrousness of these doomed people having their future told. The guards start laughing and everyone starts laughing. Finally the 19 year old guard says, “You know what? The hell with it, we’ll kill them tomorrow” and drove them back to the camp. They never got to kill them tomorrow because the 8th Army freed them that night. Saved their lives.
Dr. Kuhn: Pretty dramatic?
Chris Rush: Pretty dramatic, yeah. God is the impulse to laugh and we are his laughter and if you doubt that check out the recent political movement and you’ll know.
Dr. Kuhn: That leads me to another question. Some people have observed that America has lost her sense of humor in that Americans rush to take themselves, lately, way to seriously. Political correctness…all that stuff. Have you, Chris, made any observations that might lend some strength to that?
Chris Rush: Well, political correctness is a curse. Political correctness is a thin façade so that, like a hot house that makes flowers thrive in inclement weather, racism and bigotry can thrive under the thin veneer of political correctness -- which has now reached obscene, delusionary levels.
In other words, when you got a crap cupcake, you need a lot of icing to get it down. That’s what political correctness is. I hate political correctness.
I don’t think we take everything overly serious. We are in a war where people, you know, where people find a building and blow themselves up so there is a kind of, well…there’s a serious tone to high explosives and death.
Dr. Kuhn: Especially now.
Chris Rush: Right. Although, of course, in an overview everything is “Ha, Ha” - including death. Because I don’t believe in total death. I believe in physical death…that definitely happens. Look at all of the gold fish I’ve had and they all died, or they are really good at faking floating on the top like that with one eye open and they fooled me and escaped through the toilet system! Maybe that’s it; maybe they are faking it so they can get out through the sewer.
Dr. Kuhn: How about you, do you ever catch yourself taking yourself to seriously and when you do, what do you do about it?
Chris Rush: I center myself in the now.
Dr. Kuhn: We all occasionally get too "serious."
Chris Rush: You’re right…I catch myself once in a while and I try to listen to my breathing and rivet myself right in the now and realize that “me”...I’m a construct. My whole personality is a construct. At the base of everyone is the same thing, consciousness. And at the core of their consciousness, as a creative force that moves the universe, is the urge to laugh.
Dr. Kuhn: If you had to give up all of the skills and resources that produce humor in you and keep only one, what one skill, what one facility that you have would you keep above all of the others?
Chris Rush: The ability to see the absurdness in the human condition. God forbid that I should ever not have the ability to communicate it, because then I would just be a throbbing ameba that turns a really funny color.
Dr. Kuhn: Could you live without performing comedy?
Chris Rush: You know, I’ve got to communicate about the absurdity in the human condition and the reality that we think is real…compared to reality.
Some famous Greek guy, one of the big guys, said that humor is the distance, or the difference, between perceived reality and actual reality. That’s true. You have only to look at a really fat guy in spandex, or a man with a wig that is made of monkey hair…who thinks he’s cool…to laugh and see what the hell humor is. It’s that gap between the reality of realness and the reality of chosen, subjective, human foibles.
Dr. Kuhn: OK, Somebody comes to you and says, “I’ve got pain, I’ve got serious illness in the family, I’ve lost somebody I care about, I’ve lost my sense of humor. How do I get it back?” What would you advise them to do?
Chris Rush: Surrender. Surrender to the grief. Surrender to the unhappiness. And when you surrender, surrender not just to the circumstances, but also to the miserable feelings it’s causing inside -- loneliness, grief and despair.
Surrender to it and you achieve peace. In that peace, make a choice -- choose to be happy.
Moments after that you will find something funny either in your circumstance or in your relative circumstance. God does that; He says, “Oh good, you did the right thing, you surrendered to the flow of life, you have reached the island of peace, you’ve made the choice of happiness. Now I’m going to show you on television a baboon’s butt, which is a bright purple.” God did that. He could have made that butt any color in the world, but naaaaah. He says, “We are going bright purple for the butt. I want a butt that makes a lion laugh.”
Dr. Kuhn: OK, last question, Chris. What could I do as an advocate for healing and humor, as a physician, that would help you be more successful with what you do in helping people laugh?
Chris Rush: Support live comedy.
The most intense form of laughter, you know when you make that little pig noise, “oink, oink,” and snot flies across the room and lands in your best friend’s beard. That snot flinging, pig snorting laughter is best induced through live comedy. Support it every way.
Support comedy clubs, talk about cd’s (holding up his cd’s, First Rush and Beaming In) …these are really funny, guys. Sitcoms are ok, but compared to really good laughter they’re like really good paper flowers or plastic pizza.
Go for live comedy. Live comedy has been around since humans have been around. Since the first cave man did an imitation of a porcupine…or whatever the hell he did. “Look at Muqua, he stuck quills in his nose and is doing the porcupine. Ha, Ha, Ha!” -- and they all feel good. Considering the last quake and lava flow, that was a pretty good thing for them to laugh. Only four of them are left and it was getting chilly.
Dr. Kuhn: Have I overlooked anything that I should have asked you or is there anything that you would want to tell me as someone interested in understanding the combination of humor and health?
Chris Rush: Both humor and health are anchored in time. Time is an illusion, ask physicist.
The only reason you think time exists is because you have an arch of life. You start as a baby, you mature, you get older, and then you pass on. In other words you are a fingernail growing, turd maker…physically.
Spiritually, you’re an infinite entity with ultimate potential and no limit, what so ever. When you can anchor yourself in the moment with no past and no future, right in that moment…like I said, two things that I know that do it are orgasms and machine gun fire. The only thing that’s better than both of them? Laughter!
Heavy pig snorting, rock your head back and forth, wet yourself laughter anchors you in the moment. Which opens you up to healing…no more history of illness, no more fear of getting worse.
Anchor yourself in the moment and you heal and you laugh. Maybe the two are combined, the healing and laughter, because of that anchoring in the moment. Because the moment is the only thing that’s real.
Dr. Kuhn: Chris Rush, thank you very much.
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