Quick! What do a quarterback, a chess player and a comedian have in common? If you think at all like a quarterback, a chess player or a comedian, you will just have run a number of answers through your head, discarding most, but taking a second look at some of the more promising possibilities. Like a computer, you were sorting through your database in a race to come up with an answer before time ran out.
The very best quarterbacks—and by the time they reach the professional ranks there are only a handful of them — have the ability within a few seconds to look down the field and determine where to throw the ball depending on the complex pattern unfolding before them. Like the quarterback, the chess master looks at the board and determines where to move in order to optimize the chance of coming out on top somewhere down the line.
I don’t believe that some people are born funny and some are not.
And so how does the comedian fit in with this company of insightful, quick thinking superstars? Quite comfortably, I believe. Did you ever notice that your funny friends often don’t seem to be paying very close attention to the conversation? Perhaps they could be just bored or distracted, but more likely they are frantically running snappy, funny comeback lines through their head. Like the quarterback who must release the ball before getting sacked, the joker in your group is shuffling comedic possibilities through his or her head before the conversation switches to another topic and the opportunity for a laugh has dissipated. What I’m trying to say here is that a child who develops a sense of humor, usually through lots of hard work, practice, and, a lot of bad jokes and groans along the way, is going to come out of the experience not only with a great social skill, but more importantly with a lightning quick mind that can read an audience and throw them a punch line as smoothly as the quarterback threading a football between two defenders and into the hands of the receiver in the end zone.
I don’t believe that some people are born funny and some are not. Everyone has the potential to become the next great class clown, which is where, of course, most comedians got their start. But, like any skill whether math, music or mime, competence requires encouragement first and foremost and then desire on the behalf of the pupil.
The encouraging part is easy. You probably already are doing it with a newborn whether making funny faces, tickling a tummy, or laughing a lot yourself, particularly at cute and/or funny things your child is doing. Laughing is a visible sign of happiness, and, by the way, science has shown that happy people lead longer, healthier lives.
The one rule you want to follow whether working with a two year old or a twelve year old is that it is not funny to make a joke at someone else’s expense.
By year two your child is already laughing at a few simple things such as slapstick comedy, funny pictures in a book, or noises they might make themselves or hear others make. Again, reinforce their laughter with laughter of your own or words such as “That’s funny!” The one rule you want to follow whether working with a two year old or a twelve year old is that it is not funny to make a joke at someone else’s expense , or to use humor in a way that is derogatory based on race or gender or other ethnic or personal traits.
As the child matures they will be able to master a few simple jokes and riddles—knock-knock jokes and simple riddles such as “What do you call a snowman with a sun tan—a puddle!”
The big leap in developing a sense of humor comes around seven or eight when kids can begin to make jokes involving puns—what is the saddest fruit? A blueberry!
Puns involve word play, and the ability to be funny makes a quantum leap for the child who understands that twisting words can elicit laughs—and is the first introduction to that place where the mind races about selecting just the right word, or turn of phrase.
Finally, a child, or young adult who has already experienced the joy of entertaining friends and families and strangers will, like the budding musician or magician, happily take it on their own to master their skills.
For the newly minted comic that means going to school by watching other comedians, funny movies and TV shows and by taking simple stories, including funny things that may have happened to them, and writing, and re-writing those adventures in their head until they have what amounts to a short comedy routine complete with a compelling set-up and satisfying (and hopefully very funny) punch line.
So, it is really quite simple: Encourage laughter and word play and you will be molding a smart, funny, self-confident child. Not only that, you will be making the world a happier place.