EDITORIAL: Share laughter, live longer

The York Dispatch editorial board
American playwright Neil Simon answers questions during a 1994 interview. Simon, a master of comedy whose laugh-filled hits such as “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park” and his “Brighton Beach” trilogy dominated Broadway for decades, died Sunday. He was 91.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that so many humorists and comedians seem to live well into their 90s. And maybe it’s something more.

The death of comic playwright Neil Simon last weekend at age 91 is just the latest example of someone who rode a long career — and a longer life — on a cascade of laughter.

Indeed, Simon’s name was synonymous with American comedy for decades, attached as it was to plays and movies including “The Odd Couple,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “The Goodbye Girl” and the “Brighton Beach” trilogy.

Among the longtime entertainers honoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer last week were former colleagues Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, still going strong at ages 92 and 96 respectively.

They have, of late, joined with Dick Van Dyke (92) and Norman Lear (96) as something of a nonagenarian fab four, extolling the virtues of maintaining vitality into a tenth decade. As one writer noted, the foursome’s appearance in the 2017 HBO documentary “If You’re Not in the Obits, Eat Breakfast” begs the question, is 90 the new 40?

This marriage of laughter and longevity is nothing new. Think of some of the most renowned comedians who have exited the stage (both figuratively and literally) over the past generation: George Burns (performed into his mid 90s and died at age 100); Bob Hope (also lived to see his 100th birthday); Milton Berle (died at age 93); Phyllis Diller (95); Don Rickles (90); Sid Ceasar (91); Rose Marie (94); Bob Elliott (92); Professor Irwin Corey (102).

The connection isn’t just anecdotal. Researches have long argued that humor and happiness can reduce pain, help fight disease, and even lower mortality rates — particularly for women, according to one study.

More:Gentle humor was the lifeblood of playwright Neil Simon

For professional humorists, the secret may well be that entertainment has no real retirement age. If you can continue to produce — be it on the page or on the stage — you can continue to work. And if you can continue to work, you can continue to wring life out of … well, life. Staying sharp, vital and current; these are immensely beneficial, if not in actuality required, for productive work in almost any discipline — more so for those who would ply their trade in public.

And when the satisfaction of consequential labor well executed is achieved in the milieu of comedy, staying young at heart can be easily understood.

We’re not all born comedians or facile performers. We cannot look back, like Mr. Simon, on a career of hit Broadway plays, Academy Award-caliber movies, public acclaim and industry accolades.

So what.

We can all remain active, engaged and eager to laugh. We can throw ourselves into our exertions — be they workaday responsibilities, family obligations, chores, hobbies or volunteer efforts — with glee and gratitude.

We can look to share gifts that cost nothing — joy, laughter, camaraderie — with those with whom we spend our days. After all, as another Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Annie Dillard (a relatively youthful 73), once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Filling those days, those lives, with purposeful work, positive interactions and, yes, plentiful laughter may not guarantee we will celebrate sunrise on the centennial of our birth, but it will enrich whatever time we are granted.

That’s more than enough. Live to laugh. And vice versa.