Occasionally you ask a question that penetrates the squishy core of life in Powertown:

"When do you people have any laughs?"

Well, laughter exists in Washington but it's not as spontaneous as you and George might expect. The thing is, Beverly, you have to tell people beforehand, on an official invitation, that laughter is not only permitted at the event, but required. In this city nobody likes being taken unawares.

When we first came here, "wife of" didn't realize that there were publicly sanctioned Laughter Nights which are well-advertised beforehand so people know w to expect. Usually, official Laughter Nights are organized by the media and are supposed to relieve any little tensions that may have come up between the Powerful Press and Powerful Jobs.

The greatest expert on these Bacchanalias is Lionel Portant, the world famous columnist and media star, who deigned to give me a few tips on proper behavior at publicly sanctioned Laughter Nights.

1.Your goal is to endure the evening, not enjoy it.

2.Don't look happy. The correct expression on your face should be one of glum forebearance.

3.From time to time an indulgent smile is permitted, never raucous laughter.

4.Dozing in a sitting position is permitted. Sleeping on the hotel dining room floor can be controversial.

5.Eat fast and don't talk while dinner is being served so you won't slow up the service and prolong the evening.

6.Pray silently that they won't serve a separate course for the salad.

7.If someone says something particularly belittling about a Powerful Job, don't stare at him to see how he's taking it.

8.If someone says something genuinely funny, turn to your neighbor and tell him you know who actually wrote the speech.

9.Don't check your coat, unless you want to get home at daybreak.

A couple of years ago, Beverly, when Mr. Ambassador and "wife of" didn't know Washington very well, we tried to have some fun at a party and imported a famous comedian from Canada to entertain our guests. As soon as Mr. Ambassador announced the possibility of after- dinner laughter, whatever gaiety there might have been in the room ceased. A terrible silence gripped the company. Popsie Tribble actually left her place at one of the tables to tell me about my faux pas. (I don't think she was too thrilled where I sat her anyhow.)

"You never mentioned jokes on the invitation," she said reproachfully. "Don't you know that nobody laughs after 10 p.m. in Washington, unless there's an official warning?"

Popsie was right. As soon as we finished the maple- syrup mousse, Melvin Thistle Jr. from State announced, "I'm expecting a call from Seoul" and left. Joe Promisall kissed me goodby, saying, "Love to stay and listen but I have to make a long-distance phone call to Baltimore."

Sonny Goldstone, the social asset and gilded bachelor, told me that he had to drive to Rockville because he had promised to sleep over at his mother's house.

The rest of them, Beverly, didn't even bother making excuses. Mr. Ambassador said I must have been hallucinating because of my hysteria, but I'm sure I saw Senator Pod trying to beat the crowd at the door by escaping through a window. Baron Spitte was the only one who remained, because he believes in standing by his colleagues, no matter what the indiscretion.

Never again, Beverly. Have you ever sat up all night with a depressed comedian trying to explain why there were only 10 instead of 100 in the audience? (The chef, the butler and four waiters truly enjoyed his performance.)

The next morning Popsie Tribble called me and said, "Sondra, don't ever bring in a foreigner if you really want to do something for laughs. We have our own publicly sanctioned funsters who will keep your guests riveted in their golden ballroom chairs."

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Art Buchwald, Senator Robert Dole and Former Chairman Robert Strauss."

"Are they expensive?" I wanted to know.

Popsie gave my question some thought.

"Two of them might come for free but not to promote Ontario rutabagas."

"Would live hogs from Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, be more of a temptation?"

"You might be on to something there," Popsie said. "Why don't you give them a call?"

I'll tell you sometime, Beverly, what they said when I phoned them.

Your best friend,