sticks, and each student’s overall learning experience is magnified. This
approach to teaching has been displayed in pop-culture and popularized
through many notable films. Maybe these films could even teach us a
thing or two about using comedy in the real-life classroom.
Teachers in film prove the validity of using humor inside the
classroom as their students consistently make significant gains. When
observing these teachers, it’s important to clarify the type of comedy
they are using, as to differentiate witty teachers like Professor Keating
(Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989) and Conroy (Jon Voight)
in Conrack (1974) from the slap-stick antics of Ned Shneebly (Jack
Black) in School of Rock (2003) or dry humor of Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey)
in Mean Girls (2004). Identifying the theory of comedy each teacher is
using is helpful in making these distinctions. In films, the most effective
teachers are those that use an approach to comedy that sets up an
expectation and then breaks it. This is known as the incongruity theory
of comedy. This approach has proven successful in films but, most
importantly, successful across all different learning environments.
Whether you are an illiterate girl trapped on Yamacraw Island, South
Carolina or a future physician studying at the elite prep school Welton
Academy, learning by having your expectations broken down is
effective. Once students have their expectations broken down, they are
open to new ideas. Of the three popular theories of comedy, teaching
through the incongruity theory has made an argument for being the
strongest strategy, and the approach when a teacher wants to use
comedy in the classroom.
In modern philosophy, there are three prominent theories of
humor: relief theory, superiority theory, and incongruity theory. Relief
theory, as posited by Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer, argues that
laughter is the human mechanism to reduce psychological tension, also
known as “nervous laughter” (Morreal). Superiority theory, which can
be traced back to Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Hobbes, contends that
we laugh at others’ misfortunes because it makes us feel superior
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