When someone asks me what business I am in, I am seized with embarrassment: I blush and stammer, I who am otherwise known as a man of poise. I envy people who can say: I am a bricklayer. I envy barbers, bookkeepers, and writers. All these professions speak for themselves. They need no lengthy explanation, while I am forced to reply to such questions: I am a laugher. Then I am always asked, "Is that how you make your living?" Truthfully I must say, "Yes." I actually do make a living at my laughing, and a good one, too. My laughing is - commercially speaking - much in demand. I am a good laugher, experienced. No one else laughs as well as I do. No one else has such command of the fine points of my art. For a long time, in order to avoid tiresome explanations, I called myself an actor. My talents in the field of mime and speech are small, so I felt this title to be too far from the truth. I love the truth, and the truth is: I am a laugher. I am neither a clown nor a comedian. I do not make people gay, I portray gaiety: I laugh like a Roman emperor, or like a sensitive schoolboy. I am as much at home in the laughter of the 17th century as in that of the 19th. When occasion demands, I laugh my way through all the centuries, all classes of society, all categories of age. It is simply a skill I have acquired, like the skill of being able to repair shoes. In my breast, I harbor the laughter of America, the laughter of Africa, white, red, yellow laughter. For the right fee, I let it peal out in accordance with the director's requirements.
I have become indispensable. I laugh on records. I laugh on tape. Television directors treat me with respect, I laugh mournfully, moderately, hysterically. I laugh like a streetcar conductor or like a clerk in the grocery; laughter in the morning, laughter in the evening, nighttime laughter, and the laughter of twilight. In short: Wherever and however laughter is required - I do it.
It need hardly be pointed out that a profession of this kind is tiring, especially as I have also -this is my specialty - mastered the art of infectious laughter. This has also made me indispensable to third - and fourth - rate comedians, who are scared - and with good reason - that their audiences will miss their punch lines. I spend most evenings in nightclubs. My job is to begin to laugh during the weaker parts of the program. It has to be carefully timed. My hearty, loud laughter must not come too soon, but neither must it come too late. It must come just at the right spot. At the pre-arranged moment, I burst out laughing. Then the whole audience roars with me, and the joke is saved. But as for me, I drag myself exhausted to the checkroom. I put on my overcoat, happy that I can go off duty at last. At home, I usually find telegrams waiting for me: "Urgently require your laughter. Recording Tuesday," and a few hours later I am sitting in an overheated express train bemoaning my fate.
I need scarcely say that when I am off I duty or on vacation I have little desire to laugh. The cowhand is glad when he can forget the cow. Carpenters usually have doors at home that don't work or drawers that are hard to open. Candy makers like sour pickles. Butchers like pastry, and the baker prefers sausage to breads. Bullfighters raise pigeons for a hobby. Boxers run pale when their children have nosebleeds: I find all this quite natural, for I never laugh off duty. I am a very solemn person, and people consider me - perhaps rightly so - a pessimist.
During the first years of our married life, my wife would often say to me: "Do laugh!" Since then, she has come to realize that I cannot grant her this wish. I am happy when I am free to relax my tense face muscles in a solemn expression. Indeed, even other people's laughter gets on my nerves. It reminds me too much of my profession. So our marriage is a quiet, peaceful one. Now my wife has also forgotten how to laugh. Now and again I catch her smiling, and I smile, too. We speak in low tones. I hate the noise of the nightclubs, the noise that sometimes fills the recording studios. People who do not know me think I am taciturn. Perhaps I am, because I have to open my mouth so often to laugh.
I go through life with a calm expression. From time to time, I permit myself a gentle smile. I often wonder whether I have ever laughed. I think not. My brothers and sisters have always known me for a serious boy.
So I laugh in many different ways, but my own laughter I have never heard.