Over many a summer, I have held a comedy camp for girls. This past June, for example, ten girls aged 8 to 14 spent four hours a day with me for a full week, learning about their own senses of humor and the tools of making things funny.
Now before you call me courageous or a shero (that’s what you were planning to do, right?), I should tell you that I don’t have children of my own – primarily because I like to be the most energetic and childlike person in any room. As a result, I am not as drained by youthful exuberance and don’t mind providing fun for other people’s offspring once a year. It’s the least I can do in exchange for never having to change diapers or watch a 12-year-old roll her eyes and tell me she hates me but wants to borrow my sweater.
The campers love it when they discover that I am a professional stand-up comic.
At the beginning of each camp, some of them treat me like a star of sorts – Lady Gaga or Spongebob or someone who was once on Dancing with the Stars. But by the end, when they’ve all gotten to know me better, we feel more like friends — especially when they yell things at me, such as, “My mom lets me jump off high things because she knows I won’t hurt myself.” Because jumping off ladders, tables, a piano, passing strangers, etc. seems to be extremely important among the tween set.
My point is (really, I have one), I might be able to offer mothers of children, especially girl children and those who identify as girls, some basic suggestions about how to improve their sense of humor and decrease the likelihood of door slamming and ugly crying.
Here are some of my humor rules for girls. Feel free to read these to your daughter if she ever takes out her earbuds.
1. Almost everything can be funny.
Many of our favorite funny stories are things that weren’t at all humorous to us (although they may be to other people) when they happened. If it embarrasses you (which, as far as I can tell, includes 98.3% of everything that happens to girls between 8-14), confuses you, or frustrates you, chances are, you’ll eventually find it funny. And if you work at it, you can find it funny faster.
2. No one else gets to decide what we find funny or don’t find funny.
There is no “funny.” It’s not like Where’s Waldo and eventually you can pick it out in a crowd because it’s wearing a striped scarf and a crazy wig. Finding something funny is as subjective as finding something tasty or weird. This means that Dad doesn’t get to decide what’s funny to you. Neither does mom or that cute guy in the 8th grade you have a crush on or a group of mean girls. Anyone who says, “You don’t have a sense of humor” when you don’t laugh or “That’s not funny” when you do is wrong.
3. Just because something’s funny to you doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful to someone else.
Your jokes and funny stories can either bring you closer to other people or push them away. In comedy, there’s a rule called “Punching up, not down.” This means we try to never use as the “butt” of a joke someone who has less power than we do, for example, your younger sister or brother or someone with a disability. In fact, the best way to use your sense of humor is to tell funny stories about real things that have happened to you. That way, no one is the butt of the joke. Also, another good comedy rule: Never punch anyone.
4. You get to decide if something offends you and it doesn’t mean you’re “too sensitive.”
Sometimes people try to see just how much they can get away with, so they’ll tell jokes that are hurtful to girls, people of color, someone who is LGTBQ, or isn’t considered attractive by the joke-teller. Think about “Your mama” jokes. “Your mama is so fat..” “Your mama is so stupid..” “Your mama is so ugly…” See how these jokes are not only body-shaming and intelligence-shaming, but also sexist? You never hear “Your daddy” jokes (except your mom might tell those after you’re asleep). Just as you might have boundaries around hugging or someone coming in your room when you’re not there, it is important to let people know when you think a joke steps over the line. And if they say you’re too sensitive, tell them they’re not sensitive enough.
5. Girls and boys often find different kinds of things funny.
In general, boys are more likely to laugh at pranks, dirty jokes, curse words and farts. This does not mean girls don’t find these things funny, but most girls find them less funny. On the other hand, girls tend to laugh more at funny stories that are mostly true, videos involving animals and babies, and wordplay (like riddles and “What do you get when you cross a…” kinds of jokes).
6. We tend to laugh most with our friends and family.
You probably laugh at “running jokes” (those that have been told over and over) and stories that no one else can understand because they weren’t there. Studies have found that people who share a sense of humor tend to have longer, more fun relationships. So to put more laughter in your life, all you really need is more funny friends.
Moms reading this, if you want to help your girls not only find the lighter side of their daily dramas, but also learn comedy skills that can help her feel more empowered and confident, enroll her in a comedy camp. Sure, she may become a class clown in school next year, but at least she won’t come home smelling like a horse or covered in glitter.