While teachers like Keating and Conroy use the incongruity
theory of comedy, there are other teachers in film that use the
superiority theory and relief theory. In School of Rock, Ned Shneebly
creates humor by asserting his power over his students. In his
introduction, he asks a student, “Hey what’s your name?” “Freddy
Jones” “Hmm.. Freddy Jones, shut up! The point is, you all can just chill
today. We’ll start on this crapo-ola tomorrow.” A girl raises her hand.
“Yes, Tinkerbell?... Miss Dumbum ain’t your teacher today, I am. And
I got a headache and the runs, so I say, time for recess.” While we the
viewers think this is hilarious, the students don’t, and their learning isn’t
a byproduct of his humor.
In Mean Girls, Ms. Norbury uses a relief theory approach and
creates nervous laughter. When Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), asks Ms
Norbury how she knows that you don’t have to dumb yourself down
to get guys to like you, Ms Norbury responds that “I know, how would
I know. I’m divorced, I’m broke from getting divorced. The only guy
that ever calls my house is Randy from Chase Visa and you know why,
because I’m a pusher. I push people. I pushed my husband into law
school, that was a bust...” While the audience laughs, Cady nervously
walks away. In Mean Girls, the students laugh at Ms. Norbury’s dry
approach to comedy as a response to the awkwardness, but there is no
learning associated with this approach to comedy.
The value in using the incongruity theory extends beyond the
movie screen, and into the real-life classroom. I’ve been fortunate
enough to have hilarious teachers who shadow the ways of Keating and
Conroy. While my learning environment is like neither Yamacraw
Island nor Welton Academy, my teachers have used the incongruity
theory and comedy to teach lessons that resonate and endure. In high
school, I took classes with David Figueroa, or “Fig.” He would set up
his lessons with elaborative expectations about history, and then shatter
them with humor. Because of this approach, I learned how to question
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