Esther Rachel Russell is a professional laugh therapist and a comedian. No, those are not the same thing.
The Los Angeles native will bring her brand of laughter therapy to Pittsburgh, Thursday, May 19, when she speaks at Chabad of the South Hills Fifth Annual Women’s Spring Dinner, giving a presentation called “The Healing Power of Laughter.”
“Laughter is a very healing thing; there’s nothing better than a good laugh when things aren’t going well,” said Russell. “You can spend years in the therapist’s office, but ultimately talking and talking doesn’t heal. Laughter truly heals. It opens up this valve in your brain that releases hope and faith and those good things that make you feel like anything is possible.”
Russell began her laughter-centric career in comedy, performing at Los Angeles’ famous Groundlings Theater. There, she honed her skills in humor writing and performing sketches.
Russell rode that success to positions as a producer of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” while continuing to perform and write. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that Russell broke from pure comedy to embrace laughter’s healing side.
She has brought her laughter workshops to businesses, religious groups and senior homes; the workshops have Esther Rachel Russell“taken off,” she said. “They’ve taken on a life of their own.”
That life will come to Chabad next week.
“I thought this would be very necessary now,” said Batya Rosenblum, who organized the event. “Everyone could use a little laughter. There is a lot of stress and intensity in peoples’ lives. To lighten up, from a Torah perspective, we wanted to have this type of topic.”
The evening will include workshops discussing tips for creating happier homes, as well as an auction and baked goods sale, followed by dinner and Russell’s presentation.
Laughter therapy only gained traction in recent years, along with similar niche therapy methods like pet therapy and music therapy, as “people will try just about everything to solve their wounds,” said Russell, but, “we want to get back to what’s human, what makes us who we are. Different things speak to different people, but laughter works across the board. It brings us back to this fundamental place in ourselves.”
Still, some people struggle with Russell’s methods.
“Sometimes people are stuck; they can’t allow themselves to let go,” said Russell. “This is transformational work. People need to be willing to be foolish. It’s a shame when a person can’t laugh — it’s almost like not being connected to God.”
Though she deals in comedy, Russell said she takes her workshops seriously.
“Comedians are the most serious people you know,” she said. “As they say, drama is for people who cry, comedy is for people who think. I do both.”
Russell, a Lubavitch Jew, believes her work is also inherently Jewish.
“The whole idea of faith is being connected to God, to my Creator, and leading a life of joy,” she said. “Joy allows you to see possibilities; it connects you to something bigger than yourself. It’s being a godly person and leading a godly life, making the physical spiritual. That’s what being a Jew is.”
Register online at ChabadSH.com or by calling (412) 344-2424.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)