Proceeds from ticket sales will fund research for Rx Laughter, a first-of-its-kind study that is scientifically testing the theory that laughter really is the best medicine for children and adolescents dealing with painful procedures and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. The five-year study was launched in February 2000 with a seed grant of $75,000 from cable TV network COMEDY CENTRAL. Researchers have completed the first two phases of the study - determining which classic and contemporary movies and television programs make children and adolescents laugh and testing the impact of laughter and humorous distraction on pain tolerance in a small group of healthy study subjects.
Preliminary data from this small pilot study indicates that watching funny movies and TV programs helped study subjects to better tolerate pain. The next phase of the study, which the benefit will help fund, will examine the advantages of humor over other types of distraction and the benefits of laughter for children and adolescents undergoing medical procedures such as blood draws.
Leading the study are Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, cancer researcher, professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Anesthesiology and director of the Pediatric Pain Program at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, and Dr. Margaret Stuber, cancer researcher and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.
"Our ultimate goal is to help children who are hospitalized and getting treatment for serious illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, where the immune system is vital and improving it could be life-saving," Stuber said. "It's already been suggested that if you make people laugh, they don't get as anxious and they deal better with pain and do better in the hospital. What we don't know, and what we hope to find out, is whether laughter actually makes a physical difference in such things as speed of healing."
Stuber and Zeltzer will monitor physiological aspects of the stress response, such as heart rate, blood pressure, palm sweats, the levels of a stress-related hormone called cortisol, and various other immune system factors to see if laughter can be used to help young patients.
Rx Laughter is a cooperative effort between cancer researchers and the entertainment industry. The founder and president of Rx Laughter is Sherry Dunay Hilber, a veteran primetime network executive. Hilber brought her proposal to Stuber and Zeltzer, who worked closely with her to develop a study plan.
As an extension of Rx Laughter, Hilber designed an in-hospital comedy channel for pediatric hospitals. The system will include special interactive devices to allow very ill children in protective isolation areas to laugh together while they watch funny programming in separate hospital rooms. The comedy channel system is being put into place now at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA.
"I want to understand how comedy programs
can be integrated in treatment procedures to improve immune function and reduce pain and
anxiety," Hilber said. "As we learn more about how Rx Laughter's research can
help seriously ill children and adolescents, we can implement an Rx Laughter Hospital
Network at several hospitals at one time, with an interactive component that allows
children and their families in treatment areas to communicate."
A four-time Emmy nominee for "Everybody
Loves Raymond," Romano launched his standup career in New York in 1984 and has
performed at comedy clubs nationwide. His role in the hit CBS sitcom has also earned him
nominations for two Screen Actors Guild Awards. In 1999, he received the Television
Critics Association Award for outstanding individual achievement in comedy. He also won a
TV Guide Award for actor of the year in a comedy series.
Liebman has performed standup comedy since 1984
and is best known for her unique timing - the punch line comes after the joke seems to be
over. She's a regular guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and has
appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."