Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deadpan Humor

Yesterday in class I decided to use my one-on-one student as a guinea pig, and try out an exercise meant for a bigger class. It was basically about humor and what kinds of feelings inspire laughter. The lesson culminates in the student's piecing together of a joke from disjointed phrases. According to the "British Council for Scientific Research", this is the world's funniest joke. That point is up for debate.

The emphases here are rhythm and pacing as effective components of joke-telling in a social setting. The student in question is forever challenging me -- in a good way, challenging my preconceptions, and he can be quite recalcitrant. For example, when I brought up the issue of timing, pacing and inflection in joke-telling, asking him if he thought the delivery of a joke was important, I got this response:

"No, I don't think so, not at all."

"Really? You don't think that the way a joke is told, the inflection in the voice, or whether the person even has a gift for joke-telling, is important?"

"No, no. It doesn't matter. If the joke is funny, then the person tells the joke, and everybody laugh."

"So the joke stands or falls on it's own merit? It doesn't matter how it's told? I could read it off of a sheet of paper in a flat tone of voice, and it would still be funny?"

"If it is a good joke, then yes, I think it doesn't matter."

Now I know where Germans get their reputation for being humorless. Or perhaps, by the logic displayed here, they should find absolutely everything funny as hell!

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