Humor

"Let me tell you about the funniest thing I saw on television last night ..." "Hey man, listen up. Did you hear the one about the two guys walking down in the street when ...?" "Maria just said the funniest thing to the teacher. Did you hear her?"

Incidences of humor occur many times in a student's day. These range from the almost slapstick humor resulting from student or teacher clumsiness to the telling of sophisticated jokes, poems, and stories. The production and monitoring of humor may be the most complex and sophisticated of all verbal pragmatic abilities. In order to tell a joke or share a humorous situation (i.e., humor production), a speaker must understand the audience (to avoid offending anyone or hurting someone's feelings), and be able to preview possible outcomes (laughing versus sadness or anger). Effective humor production depends upon expressive language abilities (telling the joke in a fluent and rhythmic manner), as well as active working memory skills (not forgetting the punch line in the middle of the joke).

Monitoring the impact of a joke requires a speaker to process feedback from the listener(s), to make judgements about the nature of the feedback (Yes, they think this is funny), and to select a recuperative strategy or statement to win the audience members back, if they didn't respond well to the joke.

Here are some strategies for helping students develop their ability to effectively produce and monitor humor.

Helpful Hints

  • Humor is a sophisticated form of language. Students who are unable to use humor that fits their current social context may experience frustration with the "dead air" that follows their joke. These students may not be able to "read" their peers, use the language of their peers, or take the perspective of others to know when to use humor appropriately. These students may benefit from talking with their peers about humor and its uses in social situations.  
  • Teach students the appropriate times for making jokes, humorous comments, etc. in your classroom, in the school, and community. Discuss inappropriate times as well, and how they vary from situation to situation.  
  • Students may benefit from creating a list of topics that are appropriate for some audiences but not for others. Students may also need guidance in developing the ability to choose and use appropriate language based on the audience, a skill known as code switching.   
  • Help students recognize the difference between friendly joking/teasing and rude remarks. If necessary, discuss topics that are not appropriate for friendly joking (e.g., death, poverty, ethnicity, etc).