The Theory of Early Silliness EducationBy Charles Kraus
I've been performing comedy routines for children since … oh, let's not get
caught up in dates. It was a while ago. Initially, I was a kid
magician attempting to project a very serious attitude. I wanted audiences
to take me in ernest -- Boy Wonder and all. But it turned out, I was
funny, so I went with it. Eleven thousand shows latter, I'm still performing.
People often ask if audiences -- meaning the kids -- have changed, if children laugh at different things. My response is that what was funny "then" is funny now.
Entertainers, philosophers, scientists, psychologists, essayists -- Aristotle to Steve Allen, (from A to A) -- have all taken stabs explaining "funny." Their conclusions are more complex than mine. If it makes you laugh, it's funny -- that's mine.
Way back when, there was a gag in my routine where I tried to 'magically' link two solid steel 18" rings together -- stop me if you've seen this -- and by "mistake," one of the rings fastened itself to my suspenders. Being twelve, I looked quite out of place in my boy-sized tux, more like a short head waiter than a child magician. Freed from the right suspender, the ring ended up stuck on the left suspender. My audiences were composed of five and six year olds. They loved the foolishness.
Laughing and pointing, the boys and girls found my unfortunate situation hysterical. The kids were laughing at a classic comic moment -- when a person who thinks he knows what he's doing gets himself into harmless trouble. From time to time, I dust off the old rings and put this routine back into my act. I've embellished it -- after the suspenders, the ring now gets linked to my wristwatch. Brings down the house.
Kids like it best if the person who mistakenly proceeds against his own interests happens to be an adult, perhaps an authority figure. There is an unspoken agreement between the entertainer and the audience -- comedy situations are not dangerous. Odd behavior and absurd situations don't lead to real-world consequences. There is no humor in a slip and fall routine if the faller bleeds.
Audience's love it when I'm baffled by something and the solution is obvious to everyone but me. They chuckle if a word has two meanings and I'm operating with the wrong definition. And mostly, they laugh if I am about to get myself into a silly jam. Anticipation can be very humorous.
More and more young children are being exposed to foreign language immersion classes. There is some evidence that introducing dual fluency early on sets up high-end brain patterns that are uniquely formed at this stage of development. I hereby submit my early silliness education theory. Learning to laugh when you are a toddler sets up brain patterns that will upgrade the quality of your entire life. Patterns that will help you cope, teach you to see the big picture, and produce endless joyful interactions.
Getting the joke feels good. When I perform at bedside in a hospital, my puppet begins speaking with the child long before I do. "Listen, I'll tell you why I'm here," Biscuit The Dog Puppet says to the kid. "You're a doctor, right? And I happen to have a headache in my tummy ... once I had a tummy ache in my head instead. Should I eat chocolate pot pie, or do you think that'll make me cry?"
Somewhere during Biscuit's soliloquy, we can expect a little gleam to appear in the child's eyes. Sickness has been momentarily subdued, crowded out by an attack of funny.
If you've ever looked into someone's eyes to sharing a joke -- communicating soul to soul, you know certain joyful interactions are spiritual. Helping a child to realize he or she has the ability to experience delight in this very natural way opens a door to options that will come in handy.
Even the most enlightened people fall back again and again into stereotyping others. Color, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, accent, regional bias, financial or educational stigmas. But fill a room with every variety of individual, then introduce an outrageously funny joke. Not political. Not intellectual. Something basic to the human condition. For a moment, but with traces that last forever, everybody is infected by the humor bug, everyone is connected.
I ask Biscuit if he can count, and he tells me he can count all the way to one. "Of course," he admits, sometimes he forgets how to do that. "You forget how to count to one?" "Yep, so I skip it and just do two."
That joke worked both before and after New Math.