Monkeying Around With Humor in the Classroom

Rainbow colored face baboon angry smiling showing teeth Teaching is a lot like being a baboon zoologist.  One must be aware that at any given moment, the caged can expose their teeth and forget the fact that you've been cleaning their stalls for years, reverting back to their wild natural ways.  Which is why I always have a plan B, or an escape plan, if the $#!+ hits the fan.  This is one reason I don't use oscillating fans in my classroom.  No sense in exacerbating excrement.

Honestly, I have thousands of back-up plans. Most of them include humor, which has helped me escape a few hairy situations.  Not that I've ever feared my profession, just the monkey business that has sometimes been the objective of my pupils.

Humor, whether it is sarcasm, spontaneous, or purposely included in the lesson plan, has always been a crowd pleaser.  Unfortunately, it is also my Achilles heel.  You see, monkey see, monkey do. And monkeys doing silly things might make for great youtube videos, but it does not help one pass mandated state tests; because state test proctors have the sense of humor of Kristen Stewart (sad, I just used one of their punchlines--how unfunny).

Jar Jar Binks with stupid grin on his face Gungan idiot
Annoying is not a style of
comedy: look at the career
of Pauly Shore. 
And humor is not an easy thing to ape.  I don't have a lot of time for the jokes of students, or their mean spirited barbs at each other in an attempt to earn the laughing admiration of the classroom.  Nevertheless, in every class there is at least one student who wants to become my humor padawan, even though he or she might have the comedic timing of Anakin Skywalker or Jar Jar Binks. It's a good thing I don't have the power of the force, because I would most likely force choke him or her. Okay, I wouldn't really. Maybe just dip parts of them in carbonite.

They say that comedy is the hardest form of writing to master, and to some extent whoever "they" are, is right. I've gone back and looked at some of my humor columns over the years. Most are about as funny as a barrel of monkeys. Not the proverbial saying, but an actual barrel of the red plastic  monkeys. Amusing maybe, but not funny. Much like my student's humor. Much like this article; or the one below from my past.

Register Guard 20below article scientist cloning Chris Plumb newspaper story
I found this immaculate copy of my 1997 article about cloning for the Eugene Register Guard.
Like the newsprint it was printed on, my humor did not age well.  

Chevy Chase Vacation yelling at family in car station wagon screaming intense
"For the love of God, kids--SHUT UP, PLEASE,
and let me DRIVE!"  
But as any comedian or funny person would tell you, the majority of people who make others laugh, for a long time made others groan. My parents had to sit through horribly long car trips while my brother and I entertained ourselves with stupid voices and GIjoe SNL skits. Thinking back, there were a few times I swear my father was reaching back, his fingers holding an invisible cup, twitching, attempting to force stop our stupidity. Sorry Dad.

So maybe it's karma that now I have to deal with these fledgling comedians.  Kids inspired by my own idiocracy, trying to throw a monkey wrench into my lesson plans.  Trying to one-up me on the humor set list. "Don't you know I'm a Jedi, kids?  You're all just nerf herders." Do you think Stormtroopers ever looked at each other and said, "I don't know, DKN-2420, that one with the Harry Potter robe got's a light saber, maybe we shouldn't engage him in combat?"

Nerf Herder   Shepherd out watching his flock of Nerf balls
The lonely life of a Nerf Herder.  
In reality, we're all probably just a bunch of wookies barking some unknown humor dialect to a bunch of weirdos in Jabba's palace. But if one can make Jabba laugh, well, then that should account for something, right?

Humor, besides in relationships, isn't really valued in society. Maybe at the highest levels of creativity, like movies, television, etc., it has value, but to the average Joe, how often has your boss enjoyed your sarcastic comment? How did that prank go over at the construction site Port-A-Potty? (I still remember the co-worker who got fired at Jerry's Home Improvement for picking up the Buck's toilet with his forklift after our yard supervisor went inside...the fired employee thought it was worth it, though). Reality is, most of us spend most of our time holding in that funny innuendo, that gem of a humorous observation, or that hilarious word play joke, because we've learned that it only gets us in more trouble.
Kristen Stewart with ugly smirk sneer frown wasted drugged out
"Is Edward here today?  No? what-
ever,  just do questions 8- 243."

And to me, that seems like a shame.

So my questions are, am I doing my students a disservice by teaching them comedic timing in speech and writing? Is it worthwhile to know how to observe the world from a slightly less serious side? Is humor, like a decent singing voice, a skill that has almost no real-life application other than making life briefly happier? Should I even be concerned with their happiness, and focus solely on state standards and universal knowledge truths?  Because if that's true, than I'm going to have to work on my Kristen Stewart "serious" sneer; and I'll be a monkey's uncle before I allow the muffled Twilight jokes snickers of students while I lecture away about the overuse of idioms in bad writing. Sometimes, a teachable moment, is crushing their idea of funny, by SHOWING them a better, more laughable future.


  1. Nope, I think humor is an excellent skill children should be taught because it helps them cope with life. I was the most serious kid in the entire universe, and I was very unhappy. It wasn't until I learned how to find the funny in everyday life that I finally found joy in the small things. Whether it does me good in real life is questionable (my boss seems to appreciate my sense of humor, I guess?), but in my personal life - hells to the yes! Not that I even think I'm all that funny, but I certainly delight in humor, when done well.
    Also - if left to their own devices, children will revert to Pauley Shore/potty humor very quickly, so it is up to you to steer them straight. We're counting on you as a teacher to prevent this in the youth of America.

    1. Well, I didn't know you even three months ago, but I'd say you have a pretty hilarious, yes, you are funny now. My mother didn't have much of a sense of humor when I was in grade school, but as I grew up she got increasingly funny, to the point now that I think she's got a great sense of humor.

      Please don't but the pressure of the nation's unfunny weirdos on me. Not unless I can get a special title from the President, like Director of Educational Satire (and a hefty salary).

  2. I always loved my more humorous teachers...especially the ones that would put the dumb ass "I-think-I'm-so-funny-and-cool" students in their place! So I say focus on the humor more than those state standards! Then at the end of the year, you can hold a stand-up comedy night culminating their learning process. haha :)

    1. Stand-up is tough. Former students have tried it before and it's like that five minute speech with hungry wolves in the audience. But that could be fun.

  3. Go ahead and be funny. Some of the things I remember most from teachers or other speakers came from people who knew how to use humor well. You know...laugh, laugh, laugh, and the WHAM! Drive the point home. Of course, not all humor is used that way, and shouldn't be. If a merry heart is good medicine, there's nothing wrong with being merry. (Just help the kids recognize the difference between laughing WITH others and laughing AT others. BIG DIFFERENCE!

    1. Yes, there is a huge difference. 7th graders didn't know the difference, and that was a difficult year and a half.

      I agree, humor has it's place, and can and should be used with caution. But when done right, it does leave a mark.

  4. I think there's a lot of value to humor in our lives. No, sarcasm doesn't always play well at work and great one liners with F bombs don't play well at kids parties. That's what makes a funny person funny, they're able to adapt.

    I say carry on and forge ahead. Funny becomes the universal "cool" after about 30. I've decided.

    1. Adaptation is key to any socially relevant person. I do wonder if funny people adapt faster than people who take themselves too serious.

  5. Humor not valued? Perhaps in many stuffy/professional settings, but in real life, as in interpersonal interaction and connecting with the world over all, I think it's priceless. I certainly liked the teachers who put the dumb asses in their place, as Erica said above, especially those who weren't arrogant about their humor, just clever. Kids need to learn how to see things from as many angles as possible to get a better grip on navigating through life, and the less serious side is as important as its counterparts, I believe. You sound like the kind of teacher I would've enjoyed for sure. Keep it up, I say, because who says you can't use humor effectively while teaching your students about its appropriate use in different life situations?

    Also, humor was always my "in" with my students, as well. If I could make them laugh, or even give an appreciative snort, then I knew I had their attention. Especially with the younger ones, a smiling student is a more cooperative student.

    1. Well I think humor is valuable. I've also had to learn when it's appropriate and when it will only do more damage.

      No matter what good or bad that happens in my life...usually by the end of the day I have to laugh about it. It helps control my blood pressure.