What Good Comedians Can Teach Teachers About Teaching

Comedians are sociologists. We’re pointing out stuff that the general public doesn’t even stop to think about, looking at life in slow-motion and questioning everything we see. (Steven Wright)

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I am fascinated by really good comedians. Those funny men and women at the top of their game seem to have uncanny powers of observation. And the ability to sublimate almost any situation down to its absurd skeleton. Comedians make us laugh and they make us think. It’s funny because it’s true, we say.

But what I most enjoy about genuinely good comedians is their insight into the human condition.

Great comedians are a product of their times and of their contexts. They plan, rework, and refine their bits meticulously. Quips that seem off the cuff and natural are always the results of deep analysis and exceptionally hard work.

Professional funny people can teach us a great deal about being better teachers. Here’s how…

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What Good Comedians Can Teach Teachers About Teaching

  1. Comedians are deeply reflective and almost ‘meta’ about their own profession. They are always talking about what makes a joke work and what makes an audience laugh.
  2. Reading the room is an essential skill for comedians – as is adapting on the fly. And they always have a backup plan in case they bomb.
  3. Although they will perform the same routine quite often, they do try to ensure that every time is slightly different.
  4. Comedians talk to us about simple, relevant truths around the human condition.
  5. Examining hypocrisy and bias is a stock-in-trade for great comedians. They are critical thinkers and social justice warriors – not believing anyone, and not accepting the status quo. They are righteously angry guerilla subversives who take on deceit and injustice wherever they find it.
  6. Humorists teach us about the creative process by drawing strange and unusual connections, and by seeing things from unique perspectives. They also know not to critique ideas during the generative phase of crafting a bit.
  7. Timing is everything.
  8. Stand-up comedians are incredibly vulnerable – and courageous. They expose themselves to failure, sometimes even actively seeking it out, in order to improve.
  9. Audience attention and engagement are everything to a comic. They find better and better ways to keep our attention. And they talk to and with an audience, not at them.
  10. Excellent comedians are not afraid to show a bit of emotion as a way to connect to people.
  11. Illustrious comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, and Robin Williams seem to have a child-like wonder and innocence about them. They seem to be curious about everything around them, and to be trying to make sense of things for the first time. Great comedians always seem to have fun with what they do, and they bring out the child in all of us.
  12. Comedians are always looking to evolve and improve. They know that they need to innovate perpetually. Just because it used to work doesn’t mean it always will. They learn from one another and from a wide range of other people and are always ready to try something new.
  13. Jokers know how to use their bodies and their hands and their faces to engage an audience.
  14. Comedians know that you can’t please them all.
  15. Using simple, informal language is the best way to tell a joke.
  16. Comedians know that we love stories, and a chunk is nothing but a funny story. But they also know to economize to keep us from getting bored.
  17. Funny men and women know the power of good metaphors and analogies.
  18. There is a science to humor. But once those rules have been learned, they can be broken – so long as the focus in disobeying the rules is on improvement.
  19. Confident comedians are comfortable with silence. They don’t feel the need to fill every second.
  20. To write a good joke, comedians start with the end. They begin with the punchline and then work backward to figure out how best to lead the audience to the important part.
  21. Great wits are always writing things down as they encounter them. And they are always reflecting on what they see and do.
  22. Comedians know that specifics are better than generalities. And that personalizing a joke works better.
  23. Joculators avoid the obvious and embrace variety.
  24. Comedians are deeply observant and take nothing for granted. There might just be another joke hiding way in plain sight.
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One comment

  1. I loved the article from the first Stephen Wright quote. Good humour is absolutely necessary for the current situation where parents are finding themselves in this role. Especially parents of special needs children. At our school japari.co.za we are having success with the online learning platforms but parents need to cherish that sense of wonder, curiosity and make use of simple language… all relevant points!

    Liked by 1 person

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