University of Oklahoma professor Andrew Horton has a simple rule for students of his new course, The Nature of Laughter: Laugh, or you’ll fail.

“It’s a joke,” Horton said. “But it is important for students to learn to laugh. We can all be too serious.”

Which is why he and his course co-creator, OU English professor Joanna Rapf, are excited to welcome students and the public to a series of lectures exploring different facets of humor.

Writer and “jollytologist” Allen Klein will present “The Courage to Laugh,” a lecture on death, pain and laughter at 7:30 p.m Tuesday.

Science has shown that those who laugh, live longer, Horton said. (Disclaimer: Lectures are not a suitable substitute for diabetes medication.)

“Our first speaker was an expert on religion and laughter,” he said. “Buddhism got high marks for being open and playful. Christianity didn’t do as well, since there’s all that sin and going to hell.”

Horton said the course and lectures cover finding humor at every level: religion, race, gender, politics.

“On day one, we asked students to write what they want on their tombstones, and we got some good ones,” he said.

One of the best? “I’m finally out of Oklahoma.”

Future speakers include Herschel Weingrod, screenwriter of Trading Places, Space Jam and Kindergarten Cop, on Feb. 26; and Doug Watson on Oklahoma’s most famous humorist, Will Rogers, on March 12. Watson will perform as Rogers in “Conversations with Will Rogers.”

On April 2, Lucy Fischer will take up the debate about whether women can be funny. Wrapping up the series on April 16 is Lizz Winstead, co-creator of television’s The Daily Show.

Her talk will include TV comedy, her work on the show and her book, Lizz Free or Die.

Horton said this is a great opportunity for the community to learn and laugh, but he also hopes that is just the beginning. He’d love to see the university establish an international institute for comedy.

Considering how comedians coming to Oklahoma City must fly into airports named for people who died in plane crashes, Oklahoma’s as good a place as any for comedy.

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