Prompting Laughter and Healing With ‘Bob’s Burgers’

Columnist Mark Harrington binge-watched 246 episodes of 'Bob's Burgers'

Mark Harrington avatar

by Mark Harrington |

Share this article:

Share article via email
main banner for Mark Harrington's

“Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” — Norman Cousins

Jan. 9, 2011 began like any other day. I had no idea that by nighttime, one of the greatest and longest relationships of my life would have begun. That evening, I saw the first episode of the animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers.” As they say in the movies, it was love at first sight.

Over the years, I became more than a fan. Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, Louise, Teddy, and all the other wonderful characters became like friends. I looked forward to meeting up with them every Sunday. I know these characters are animated and won’t ever replace genuine human contact, but in a strange and mysterious way, they became important as I learned to cope with the myriad challenges that come with myasthenia gravis (MG).

For the last couple of months, I’ve binge-watched all 246 episodes and “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” I watched it so frequently that I began to feel something akin to guilt. Shouldn’t I be doing something other than watching the comings and goings of animated characters? Finally, I realized something: “Bob’s Burgers” is not a waste of time. It has become an important part of my recovery and ongoing adaptation to life with MG.

Before you conclude that I’m insane, please read on and hear me out.

Recommended Reading
An illustration of a

NIH Grant Supports Work Into Faster, Simpler Test for MG Diagnosis

The power of humor

In 1964, famed author, columnist, and peace activist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Dissatisfied with the slow progress he was making in the hospital, Cousins decided he would combine traditional medical treatments with nontraditional techniques. One of these was humor.

Each day Cousins watched episodes of the reality TV comedy show “Candid Camera” and various comic movies. He found that hearty laughter each day caused him to sleep better at night. He also experienced a significant reduction in pain and eventually returned to work.

My dad had MG. In his early 80s, his weakened immune system led to a severe case of shingles. His condition deteriorated quickly, and he became almost completely debilitated. Unable to do more than lie on the couch, he was barely audible and close to death. He had all the usual medical treatments and there was little to do beyond bear the pain and wait.

Dad was a fan of the TV comedy show “Seinfeld.” As he was not known to like television all that much, we were surprised by this. My sister was familiar with Cousins’ work and decided to add humor to Dad’s regimen. She bought him the entire collection of “Seinfeld” episodes. Lying on the den couch my father would watch “Seinfeld” and laugh. It didn’t matter if he had already seen each episode. It didn’t matter that he knew the plots and the punchlines. In this case, familiarity didn’t breed contempt — it helped with recovery. Mercifully, he conquered shingles and lived on into his late 80s. He died a “Seinfeld” fan.

Medical research has shown that laughter has physiological benefits. Short-term benefits include the stimulation of organs, activation of the stress response, and increased stimulation leading to reduction of stress. Pain relief and an improved immune system can be achieved over a longer period of time.

Finding humor in difficult, painful situations can help make those moments bearable. I know that everyone with rare diseases has humorous experiences worth sharing. Many of mine probably wouldn’t make for reading by the general public. (You’ll have to wait for my book.)

I can share about one evening when I found myself in the ER. With IVs in both arms, I was unable to speak or swallow, and breathing was difficult. The neurological team came to evaluate my condition. Wonderful, compassionate women and men, they told me they were determined to return me to “normal” functioning. “We’ll have you eating and speaking in a few days,” the lead doctor said. I used my iPhone to respond that my family and friends may not like that. They just might prefer the more silent Mark.

Living with MG is a challenge. Since my diagnosis in 2020, I’ve been forced to spend most of my days at home or in the hospital. COVID-19 hit months before my diagnosis, and fear of the virus isolated me, and others like me with compromised immune systems.

Dark thoughts and the unfilled need for human contact can cause despair. But I can attest that laughter does help. For a few moments, laughter drives the darkness away and, I believe, helps with recovery.

To the Belcher family, their friends and customers, thank you. You’ve made this guy laugh. You’ve helped me manage my MG. You demonstrate that laughter can be the best medicine.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Tina, Gene, and Louise need me. I gotta run.

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


Kate Bambridge avatar

Kate Bambridge

I loved your article about the power of laughter helping ease MG symptoms (or, at least, giving the appearance of such). Laughter can be the best medicine. Despite having had MG for 47 years, I have been relatively lucky with regard to excellent NHS treatment, However, on occasion, I do get tired, stressed and quite low. Being able to laugh at something utterly ridiculous, or something exceedingly clever takes my mind off my troubles and has a positive physical effect on me too. Of course, there is always the danger that watching something as brilliantly stupid as "Count Arthur Strong", "father Ted" or "The IT Crowd" can lead me to choke, having been laughing so much. As we know, smiling with MG can be quite difficult, or we can appear as if we're not smiling at all, however laughter does appear to be the best medicine.

Suzanne M avatar

Suzanne M

Thank you, Mark, for this article -- it made my day. I too ADORE the Belcher family & those around them. I developed MG in late 2009, and instantly became hooked by their delightful personalities and silly antics. I've been rewatching old seasons & savoring the new, and they never grow old. Over the summer I bought a car shade of them in the food truck, with the kids holding a sign -- "Not our parents HELP!!!" Never fails to crack me up. I too LOVE Seinfeld -- I watched it in my teen years & am rewatching now. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a place in my heart too since I find it somewhat relatable my experience with illness -- instead of starting a career after college grad, I returned to my parents' home and went through phases of be house- and bed-bound, becoming a FT patient / being predominantly absent from "normal life" for years, and then the aftermath (and for me, the ongoing nature of illness).

Laughter is a HUGE part of surviving for me (with MG being one of 6 debilitating conditions), and maintaining a semblance of sanity. I'm often doing things while watching, like cooking or tasks while seated on the sofa (thanks, POTS). And yes, the pain I experience softens when I'm watching. Cool to learn that it activate and then dampens one's stress response, and helps the immune system. #psychoneuroimmunology

I agree with Kate's sentiments as well -- laughter is the best medicine.

FWIW I went to grade school with Patch Adam's son :) With you all in solidarity.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.