The mark of a truly funny joke or a bit or situation in a comedy isn’t “I laughed so hard I was in pain.” The mark of a really great world-class joke is when it comes back to you five or ten minutes later and it makes you laugh (or at least chuckle) all over again. Or it comes back to you on the way home, or a month or a year later. Or it makes you laugh ten years later.

I don’t “laugh” at the “nobody’s perfect” line at the end of Some Like It Hot, but every time I watch that film (roughly once a year) I always guffaw a little bit, or smile extra broadly.

Anyone who laughs so hard that their eyes water up and appear to be choking as they experience rib pain is experiencing a cathartic emotional geyser — an explosive release of a repressed feeling, memory or hang-up. There’s also regular-ass no-big-deal laughter (i.e., laughing at some joke on Cheers or some smart crack from Bill Maher) and all the other levels and gradations. But laughter is always about some recognition of truth — “Hah! I’ve been there myself and you can say that again!”

Stupid people think that people laugh when something is “funny” — thoughtful people know that all laughter is a form of recognition therapy. Whatever it is that the joke has released is some kind of buried guilt or anguish or regret or vision-recognition. This is why psychologists tell people that laughter is such a physically and emotionally healthy thing. Laughter is essentially about feelings breaking out of jail.

It follows that the darker the feelings and more intense the repression, the greater the geyser . There really isn’t that much difference between screaming with laughter like a raging banshee and a can of unopened baked beans exploding after being put on top of a campfire. Whatever it is that the joke has unleashed has been seriously bottled up for a long time, and so it triggers a kind of mad eruption. Which suggests that the laughing-in-pain person hasn’t dealt with whatever the issue may be, which indicates that he/she is probably lacking in terms of maturity and/or character.

Short version: if you laugh too loudly — if you scream and double over and slap your thighs and act like a howling monkey after having drunk a pint of bourbon — you may be a bit of a repressed putz. Not absolutely but probably. It means that you’re living or have lived under very tough rules (self-imposed or imposed by a tough spouse or parent) and you’re probably not all that thoughtful about your hang-ups and constipations.

My father had a drinking problem that he finally dealt with in the mid ’70s by joining AA. He wasn’t an emotionally expressive guy, to say the least, but one of my most vivid childhood memories of him is when he convulsed and howled at Lee Marvin‘s drunken antics in Cat Ballou. I mean, he really lost it when Marvin dropped a pint bottle of whiskey and saw it break upon a rock. I remember turning in my seat and glancing at him and going, “Jesus…what was that about?”

Even shorter version: If you laugh too loud you’ve got problems. You’re not dealing with your shit, or you’re a commoner of some kind, or you’re some kind of cultural or political conservative.

The people who go really wild at parties after they’ve had a few drinks — the ones who put lampshades on their heads (figuratively speaking) and who dance on table-tops and sing drunkenly at karaoke bars — are often (i.e., not each and every time but frequently) the more straight-laced types during business hours. Do you think Mahatma Gandhi ever howled like a drunken monkey having an epileptic fit while watching a Charlie Chaplin comedy in New Delhi or Bombay?

I know that if I notice someone who’s laughing too uproariously, I’ll make a mental note to keep my distance from him/her. And the people who in a very few minutes are going to angrily react to this article — not “disagree” but get pissy and insulting and trying to put me down any way they can — are probably cut from the same cloth.