The Day Everyone Laughed

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Think Wilde, Wodehouse, Carroll, Cervantes—comedy has a thousand-year-old affair with literature. That said, what makes people laugh is as elusive and surprising as it is fascinating. Have you heard of the 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic?

We’re here in East Africa on the trail of the so-called 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic. As the story goes, in 1962 in the northwest corner of Tanganyika (a country now known as Tanzania), hundreds of people began laughing uncontrollably. The affliction, if you could call it that, spread from one person to the next, and nothing seemed to stop it. Schools shut down. Entire villages were caught in its throes. When the laughing stopped months later, a thousand people had come down with the “disease.”


Casey Dayan is a Rumpus intern and musician. He is finishing up his undergraduate studies in literature and anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he is working on a memoir and trying to one-up Jeff Buckley. Find his twitter here, @caseydayan. Find his band, “Moo,” here. More from this author →