Don't Forget to Bring the Laughs

Bill Nye isn't funny, however his show was just
awkward enough to make me think he was.  
Today a student asked, "How come when the Titanic hit the iceberg, why didn't the ship just push the iceberg away?" I fought off the impish temptation to say, "IDK, Tony, do I look like Bill Nye? Go ask your flippin' physics teacher." Instead (because I love off-topic questions), I said something about the mass of the iceberg probably being substantially larger than that of the ship...He still didn't understand. I realized, hey, I'm an English teacher, I'll use a metaphor to explain it. "Next time you are in the local pool and some 600 pound obese guy is floating in the middle, dive headfirst into the water and crash into him {Tony is about 120 lbs. soaking wet}. Mass is still proportional in water, even if everything is physically lighter in weight." **This is just a smaller scale, not a metaphor, I know.

Tony's face slowly turned from befuddled to whimsical. I knew he "got it," yet I knew some facetious follow up comment was coming.

"Have you ever seen a 600 lb. guy at a public pool?"

No, that's not me.  I have better form on my dives.  

Another kid, Freddie, barely cognizant of the whole conversation said, "I saw Mr. Plumb at Willamalane {the local pool} once."

Unaware of the connotation he made, I merely said, "Yeah, Tony. If you and I are ever at Willamalane on the same day and you come crashing into me while I'm swimming laps, I'll know you're testing our 600 lb. hypothesis."

The class heartily laughed, (although a bit uncomfortably). I heard a somewhat vacuous girl in the back of the room question a friend, "He's not 600 lbs. is he?"

No. Not even close to half. But I am bigger. And I like laughing.

Something tells me I'm lucky I don't have boys.  
So when a joke presents itself, especially at my expense, I willingly accept that moment. Butchering my pride is the price I'm willing to pay for comedy. I'm also willing to sacrifice eight minutes of my valuable class time to hear the class laughing. Many of these kids look miserable, and a laugh, a snicker, a guffaw, or if the gods are willing, a milk shot out of the nose? All equate a priceless educational experience.

Humor hasn't made me an effective teacher, but it has made me a relevant teacher. Kids attend my classes, and they attend because there's a chance something fun might happen. They might leave with a smile (and some unwanted knowledge) on any given day.

Sometimes I lose sight of how important smiling and laughter are. My own girls are terrible comedians. They tell the most illogical and awkward knock-knock jokes, all the while unable to keep a straight face (and then belly laughing through the whole terrible punch line). The whole presentation is what's humorous. "Isn't that funny, daddy?" Lily will giggle after her newest non-joke. "No, but you sure are," I'll reply. I could spend a whole day laughing with my daughters if I wanted.  But it can't be all fun and games, though, right?

Of course not. But that infectious laughter that children have? How could it hurt? Humor and prayer/worship are the only methods by which I've ever fought off my brief moments of depression or feeling sorry for myself. I didn't use to get low that often, but I've found as the older I get, the less I laugh, the less genuinely happy I feel.

Lately, I've been a real curmudgeon. It's been a very challenging year for me personally in my profession. Daily I feel like I'm in some horrible Faust story, in which I have to sell another part of my soul to keep my job. An especially astute and empathetic co-worker recognized my non-Chris-like behavior and innocently said, "Have you seen the new special by Mike Birbiglia called, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend? I think you'd really like it."

I went home and Netflixed the Bribiglia special (I think it's important to say, I saw Mike perform years ago on Comedy Central, and wasn't much impressed). M.G.B. wasn't the most hilarious special I've ever seen, but it does somehow wrap everything he talked about for over an hour into a perfect conclusion. It wasn't just a comedy special, but an epically funny thesis statement filled with anecdotal evidence. It is a masterpiece of comedy. I'm not saying it's funnier than my old Bill Cosby records, or Eddie Murphy in his prime, or Jim Gaffigan's Mr. Universe, or as edgy as Louis CK, George Carlin, or Chris Rock in 1999.  It's not comedy genius, but it is ---delivering a message--genius. It was exactly what I needed.

And it inspired me, because I too try to weave humor through my lesson plans, and when done right it is a thing of beauty. Humor can be relevant, effective, and it's good for the soul.

And with how much of my soul I've sold this year, it's good to reclaim some of who I am. (At 600 lbs. there's a lot left to retrieve).

**I apologize for this not being funnier. It's surprisingly hard to be funny while talking about being funny.  


  1. Nicely said brother. I too waste valuable class time answering random questions in order to tell stories and make my students laugh.

  2. I think it's great when we're willing to laugh at ourselves. I think that humor can add a lot to any relationship. I tend to trust people that I laugh with.

    1. Yeah, people who don't laugh? Something fishy about them.

  3. I got to tell my manure story to the first grade class. They loved it!

  4. Laughter is so important. When I'm feeling down, old episodes of The Office and 30 Rock pep me back up. I've needed them lately.
    Also, you sound like the kind of teacher that I wouldn't have tried to frighten...
    So, if you appreciate comedy, you have to go watch my latest stand-up obsession, Gary Gulman, In This Economy? It's on Netflix, and I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard.

    1. I'll check him out, thanks. I'm surviving off Arrested Development episodes I never saw when it was relevant.

  5. I think I'd enjoy one of your classes.