To most people the town of Gabrovo, Bulgaria does not exactly induce intimations of hilarity. But the jovial Gabrovians would say that’s because you have not been there. Gabrovo? Bulgaria? When? From May 18 to May 25, 1965 opens the Third International Festival of Comedy and Satirical Films during the Seventh International Biennial of Humor and Satire in the Arts whose motto is: “The ‘World lasts because it laughs.”
Garbrovo, an average size Bulgarian city, has long had a regional reputation for the mirth of its inhabitants. There is a lengthy folklore about practical jokes and cultured insolence, otherwise known as wit, of Gabrovians that long preceded the arrival of the puritanical “what’s so funny?” communists. With the subsequent diminution of free speech, Gabrovia became more noticeable as a cornucopia of irreverent humor directed at bungling bureaucrats and their rigid rules.
There must have been some capacity for chuckling among the Bulgarian authorities because, on April 1, 1972, with the help of United Nations’ cultural funds, the International House of Humor and Satire was established in Gabrovo. A brochure on the House says that “world culture has omitted to treasure humor and satire for the future generations in a ‘Louvre of Laughter’ to give honor to the creators whose humorous and satirical works enrich the world and represent moral and ethical landmarks for the onward movement of mankind.”
World response was gratifying. About 11,000 authors and institutes from 131 countries have provided 59,000 donations of artistic and museum value. The House is filled with graphic arts, painting, sculpture, literature, theatre, films, clown art, folk art, ethnography, music., photography and applied arts. With a myriad of competitions, festivals, exhibitions and cultural exchanges, the House is a pulsating hub of humor as a conveyor of understanding and common bond of humanity everywhere.
English Professor, Don Nilsen, who holds his own annual humor conference around April Fools Day at Arizona State University, ascribed great social potentials to the spread of humor across national boundaries. “Humor lowers your defenses,” he says, “you can’t laugh and fight at the same time. By losing control of ourselves, we gain control of ourselves.” He notes that western European humor tends to be ethnic humor, while the eastern European variety leans toward political humor. That is because their problems come from government in those countries, he observes.
It is riot surprising that H.J. Cummings, a retired diplomat, found Washington a congenial place to start his newsletter entitled “Humor Events & Possibilities” (P. 0. Box 23334, Washington, DC 20025, $15 a year). Cummings is a real networker and is serious about the value of humor in preserving health facilitating understanding and forging links of broader perspectives between peoples of the world. The advisory council to his workshop library on world humor includes Steve Allen, Art Buchwald, Norman Cousins and Peter Ustinov.
With Mr. Nilsen, he is preparing for a massive international conference on humor in 1987 in Tempe, Arizona and hopes for many participants from countries at odds with each other and for more people from the business world. When I spoke to Cummings, he was doing a review of a book by a mathematician with the title “I think Therefore I Laugh.”
It is difficult at first for outsiders to appreciate the booming scholarship on thousands of varieties of humor, its history and its many mediums The humor conferences are filled with workshops, orations, skits and other presentations. “Humor scholars are terribly dull in general,” observes Nilsen. That paradox presumably may be because they think that the proliferation of insights and the relief of tensions which accompany laughter are themselves no laughing matter in a conflict-ridden world.