In the opening line, the narrator admits to his embarrassment when anyone asks him his profession. He makes a good living as a professional laugher, but he envies people with professions that require no explanation, such as barbers, bookkeepers, and writers. He explains that he has avoided calling himself a laugher for a long time, instead referring to himself as an actor. Gradually, however, the infrequency of other sorts of work, such as mime and elocution, and his love of the truth have forced him to admit that he is a laugher.
He explains that the sorts of laughter that he can produce span centuries, continents, social classes, and even age groups. He can laugh like a Roman emperor or like a sensitive schoolboy. His diversity in laughing has made him indispensable to recording companies and television directors and to third-and fourth-rate comedians, who need someone in the audience to help start other people laughing at their mediocre jokes. Despite his admitted excellence at laughing, the narrator finds his profession to be not only embarrassing but tiring. He acknowledges that he does not actually make people happy but merely fakes happiness.
At this point, the narrator begins to sketch how his work influences his private life. He comes home exhausted, unwilling to laugh or to hear laughter when he is off-duty or on vacation. The desire to get away from work, he believes, is common enough among all workers who do too much of one thing, such as bricklayers, confectioners, and boxers. He recalls that during the first years of his marriage, his wife encouraged him to laugh for her. Eventually, as she came to understand his aversion to laughter, both the sight of it and the sound of it, she stopped asking him to laugh and even gave up laughing herself because other people’s laughter made him nervous. He concludes that his wife has forgotten how to laugh, even though they both smile occasionally. Their marriage is quiet and peaceful; they converse in low tones.
The narrator concludes with a view of himself from the eyes of the outside world; others view him as taciturn and serious. He recalls that even his brothers and sisters have known him as a serious boy, and he doubts that he has ever heard, or could even recognize, his own natural laughter.