NORTHAMPTON - When Trevor Smith laughs, his light blue eyes come alive, and his whole body is involved in the fun. He leans back or slaps a thigh.
Watching him laugh is infectious. It makes you want to laugh, too, and for Smith, the owner of Laugh For No Reason in Springfield, that’s good for business.
In Smith’s bag of tricks are dozens of hats that look like hamburgers or birthday cakes, as well as bubbles that people can blow, but what he does is not about comedy, and it’s not necessarily about improv, although that is involved. Laugh For No Reason is all about improving relationships, improving morale within companies and improving health.
What sets Smith’s business apart from a comedy show is that participants in therapeutic laughter are fully engaged and active, as opposed to audience members being entertained. Smith said therapeutic laughter is an activity akin to ancient practices, such as yoga and meditation. It involves stretching and breathing, as well as laughing.
“It’s a very unique program, and I think it has some health benefits,” Smith said. “(Laughing) lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It reduces stress, negative thoughts and feelings, and it’s a great cardiovascular workout. It makes you feel more energetic. It improves relationships.”
Smith added, “In the workplace, laughter improves morale. It has been stated that people who are happier in the workplace are more productive, which in turn makes the company more profitable. Laughter helps people build teamwork, their communication with their co-workers, and that results in less absenteeism.”
A ‘laughter session’
In a given month, Smith, a certified laugh leader, travels around the Valley to roughly a dozen organizations to present his laughter program.
Next Wednesday, his work will take him to The Arbors Amherst, an assisted living facility, where he will stand up from 2 to 3 p.m. and offer what he calls a “laughter session.”
“I’ll be there to engage people without using comedy or jokes,” Smith said.
“I’m not a comedian. I need to make sure people understand that, but I will be doing a couple of jokes along the way.”
Smith said he leads people through interactive games and exercises that get people laughing. One, for example, requires that people pretend to be pouring a milkshake.
“Everybody is sitting there in their chairs, pretending to pour a milkshake, and through this process, people are laughing,” he said.
Sometimes, that means the milk spills, but no one cries over it, or course.
They’re too busy laughing.
A segment of Smith’s clients are businesses; he offers presentations to engage employees and improve their relationships with one another. But Smith also stands up in front of groups of seniors at retirement homes or people with disabilities at social services agencies or on recreational outings.
Working closely with people from all spectrums - working to help improve lives - is something he learned from his father.
Smith’s father was in the human services field and was a social worker by training, and he did a lot of work with the American Friends Service Committee. Young Smith used to tag along. “It gave me the itch for human services kind of work,” Smith said.
So after graduating from high school in Philadelphia, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Curry College in Milton, then went on to get a master’s degree in psychology at Lesley University in Cambridge.
Smith’s thought while at Lesley was that he wanted to be a school guidance counselor, but while earning that degree, he did two internships - working under a guidance counselor - and he decided to change directions. Counseling wasn’t for him.
Back at home, Smith worked for a year at a private residential school for children with disabilities, and his sister - one of three siblings - told him about a master’s in education program at Springfield College, where he specialized in therapeutic recreation. That was in 1998. Smith went through a two-year program, graduating in 2001.
He moved to Worthington Street in Springfield, and he’s been there since. He lives with his partner, Ron Carle.
After earning his second master’s degree, Smith worked for the Mental Health Association in Springfield as a counselor in a group home, providing support for adults with developmental disabilities. He also has worked at ServiceNet, running a recreation group for people with traumatic brain injuries. Smith is still involved with this group and recently took the members skating at Lossone rink at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton.
In 2001, while at the Mental Health Association, Smith was looking for activities for his clients, and he discovered the World Laughter Tour. He made contact with the man who was running it and was invited to a training at a Laughter Club in Florida. There, he learned how to facilitate the program.
“It was very cool,” Smith said. “It was fun. I laughed a lot. It was such an interesting concept, and I never thought you could laugh without having jokes or comedy, and this program does that.”
One exercise, for warming up into laughter, is simple. Smith leads people in saying, “Ho-Ho-Ho, Ha-Ha-Ha” over and over.
“It’s a warm up laugh. It helps break down barriers and allows people to feel comfortable laughing without any jokes or comedy.”
After returning from the two-day training, Smith started his own Laughter Club with his clients. He later became independent and has been running Laugh For No Reason for three years now and has grown the business immensely. He has 12 bookings this month and presentations scheduled in March and April as well.
Smith said people often tell him they didn’t know they could laugh so much, and he has once seen a woman actually fall right out of her chair she was laughing so hard. There are times when Smith has a hard time getting people to come back to reality.
But when Smith first got started, he had an experience that wasn’t funny at all. His first laugh program in Wilbraham didn’t go very well.
“People didn’t get it,” he said. “They didn’t laugh. I just got through it somehow. I kept on laughing.”
Smith’s website, www.laughforyourhealth.com, emphasizes the health benefits of laughter, which includes a strengthened immune system; improved breathing, arterial flow, sleep and digestion; pain reduction; and calorie burn.
So, Smith said, Laugh For No Reason is good for his health, too.
“As adults, we don’t have an opportunity to laugh as much as we used to as kids. We take life too seriously,” said Smith. “The power in this program is it gives you an opportunity to just be yourself and let loose and be silly. And have fun.”
Reproduced from an article featured on MassLive.com from January 31st, 2011