Laugh Gym – A Workout For Your Spirit

Finding the positives amongst a tidal wave of negativity in our newsfeeds can really be a daily struggle. That’s why Wade Jackson, high performance coach, author and founder of The Charitable Trust, Covert Theatre, has launched what we think is just such a cool, innovative, new laughter subscription model to bring business and laughter together. He’s calling it The Laugh Gym. We do so much working, but maybe not enough playing. Here he break it down.

Why does having a laugh make us feel so good?

I mean, the science behind laughter is that we know that laughter releases endorphins, which is the body’s own morphine system. So, it can help ease pain. We also know that laughter can help people shift perspective. Thirdly, laughter reduces blood pressure and lowers stress. So, the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter are real.

The funny thing is that you look at the world right now and there doesn’t seem to be a lot to laugh at. People are stressed about the recession and the unknown is a big factor. So, you’ve started this idea, the Laughing Gym, which I think is a great visual image for me. You are working as a coach and you’ve done so much training in this space. How have you found it? How much has making people smile and laugh really changed their perspective in a positive way?

Well, I’ll give you one example. We had someone send us an email talking about how she has terminal cancer. She said that she came to our show and for a whole hour she forgot that she was dying. So that kind of power of someone facing such challenges can be incredibly powerful. But even on a regular basis, we need to laugh. As we get older, we seem to laugh and play less, whereas kids are playing all the time and laughing all the time. So our play becomes more passive as adults. 

This is all about getting people out into the theatre. We go to the gym to work out our body, but this is a place to work out your spirit!

First of all, I’m so intrigued. I want to come along to one of these sessions, but for those that haven’t done it yet, what happens? Is it basically a show, an improvised comedy show?

So it’s nothing too outrageous in that regard. The concept is pretty simple. It’s about getting businesses to be proactive in getting their staff into the theatre and laughing. We’re not teaching people how to laugh; we know how to do that anyway. It’s about giving people the opportunity to laugh more. So you come along and watch the show. We have a variety of shows at the theatre, around six shows a week. It’s about getting businesses to be proactive in enhancing the well-being of their people.

I think it’s such a cool concept. You know, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners, and they’re like, “Oh, all we do at the end of the year, is we send our team out on a boozy lunch.” But how could we reposition that? What is the pitch? And how has it been received by business owners?

One organisation said it’s so simple because often with well-being, there’s a lot of planning and so forth. This is where we do most of the work for you. So the whole concept here is we’ll do all the work, send out all the tickets and actually get their people along as well.

Laughter is often overlooked in our daily toolkit, but it’s one of the best stress reducers. Why do you think that is?

As we get older, I believe that as a species, we are not only built to play but also built through play. Like any mammal, we learn through social cues and interactions during play as children. However, as we grow older, we tend to lose that aspect. Unfortunately, the importance of playing and laughing as adults is not deemed as significant, which is quite sad considering the powerful benefits I mentioned earlier. Laughter, in itself, is a form of healing. If we compare laughter to crying, both are ways of healing, but laughter is obviously more enjoyable. It’s crucial that we incorporate laughter into our lives regularly, not just during the occasional end-of-the-year boozy lunch. We should aim to exercise that laughter muscle frequently. 

Stella Adler, an acting teacher who worked with renowned actors like Marlon Brando, once said that life can grind you down and wear your spirit down, but art reminds us that we still have one. It’s essential for us to connect, get along, and laugh more often.

We don’t like to talk about the pandemic, but it happened, and we are all still in some ways picking up the pieces, and I feel like you’re a good person to speak to , speaking of the pandemic, how did it affect you and this. How did it affect the people close to you? I’m referring to your day-to-day interactions with people, not specifically business owners or businesses.

Regarding the pandemic, the backstory is that the Covert Theater was actually founded 21 years ago. We initially had a space on K Road for four years before closing it down. From then on, we operated from various venues around Auckland. In 2019, I made the decision to return to my roots in improv because I had been doing a lot of corporate work. I wanted to have a full-time venue because having a venue gives you a heart. So, in September 2019, we signed the lease with the plan to open in March 2020. 

Well, they say timing is everything in comedy, and I certainly nailed it because we couldn’t open at all due to the lockdown. It was a traumatic time for me as I had been working tirelessly around the clock, dealing with financial and human resource limitations, trying to beat the lockdowns and get the theatre open. It was disheartening to realise that we couldn’t make it. 

I had my fair share of sobbing, feeling defeated by the situation. We had a brand new charitable trust with zero income and an unfinished venue, which my wife generously allowed us to personally finance. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

However, I found it somewhat cathartic because I thought to myself, if this were an improv scene, how would I handle it? The essence of improv is that you can’t improvise the scene you want to be in; you have to improvise in the scene you’re actually in. So, I decided not to stress about the theater anymore. If it didn’t work out, it meant my vision was too ambitious, and that would be okay. But if it did work out, I would give it my all. 

The community rallied behind the concept of having a place designed to enhance human connection through play, which is our purpose. Although we’ve been open for just over two years, with half of that time spent in lockdown, we’re thriving. Our community classes are always sold out, and we have a school holiday program. We also work with Neurodiverse kids and sponsor a school in South Auckland for children with autism and special needs. It’s evident that people crave more laughter and connection in their lives.

It’s truly an amazing sentiment, isn’t it? The idea of taking what is given to you, accepting it, and finding ways to make the most of it. That acceptance is such a powerful word, especially in this moment. We can get through this together, knowing that there will be both challenging and joy.

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