Snicker, chuckle, giggle, chortle, hoot, and cackle – have you had a good laugh today? Laughter and humor appeal to people of all ages. Older adults, in particular, can attest to the value of a good sense of humor. It helps to keep life in perspective, and it’s therapeutic. As Mark Twain once said, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” Ask your participants: How do you find humor in everyday life? Who/what has helped you learn to laugh at yourself and with others? Do you read the comics every day? What makes something funny? Did your extended family have any funny relatives? What is a dry sense of humor?
April is National Humor Month. You can begin the fun with your group by celebrating a traditional day for playing pranks and gags – April Fools’ Day. Ask participants to share a favorite funny story, joke, or riddle. Encourage them to wear something silly-a crazy tie, mismatched shoes, an odd shade of lipstick, or a funny hat. Props add humor to the occasion. Pass around Silly Putty, magic tricks, big glasses and nose, funny horns, finger puppets, wind-up toys, smile stickers, buttons with funny sayings, and bubble blowers. Serve a funny food such as green eggs and ham or eat dessert first with a big spoon. Reminisce about gag gifts, practical jokes, childhood pranks, greatest hoaxes of all time, and general tomfoolery. Ask group members to share a time when someone “fooled” them.
Webster’s defines humor as “the quality that makes something seem funny, amusing, or comical.” People’s words or actions often provoke a hearty laugh. Ask your group to name professionals or hobbyists who act, speak, write, or draw in order to make people laugh and have fun. (Examples: clown, mime, comedian, cartoonist, and caricaturist.) Get your group in the mood for some wholesome laughter with some Reader’s Digest columns, “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” Play the audiobook version one of humorist Erma Bombeck’s bestsellers, e.g., If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? Read selections from Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor. Look up the Prairie Home Companions’ Pretty Good Joke Book. Check your local library for other popular humor books.
Celebrate the gift of laughter with your group by sharing recollections of the following 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s humor and comedy. Whenever possible, read some humor samples, listen to audiotapes, or watch video clips of classic shows.
- Humorists – Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, and Robert Benchley (Read selections from 19th century humorist Mark Twain as well.)
- Classic radio comedy shows of the 1930s and 1940s – Fred Allen, Abbott & Costello, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Burns and Allen
- Comedy films – Marx Brothers comedy classics, the slapstick comedy of The Three Stooges; “Road” pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy; Walt Disney family comedies, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin
- Famous character clowns – Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Emmett Kelly’s Weary Willie or Red Skelton’s Freddie the Freeloader and Clem Kadiddlehopper
- Cartoonists/Comics – “Sad Sack” by George Baker, “Beetle Bailey” by Mort Walker, or “Popeye the Sailor”
- TV show comedy – I Love Lucy, The Jackie Gleason Show, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, The Jack Benny Show
- Talk show hosts – Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Arthur Godfrey
- The Golden Age of Comic Books – Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman
- American GI sense of humor – Bill Mauldin’s World War II cartoons with “Willie and Joe”; Bob Hope’s one-liners and comedy skits in USO troop shows
Write funny captions for pictures. Hold a joke-telling contest. Spell words backwards. Share baseball humor, golf humor, or parenthood humor. Watch political satire by Mark Russell, listen to Garrison Keillor’s stories of the mythical Midwest town Lake Wobegon, or read Will Rogers’ homespun political commentary.
Invite an aspiring comedian, ventriloquist, magician, or impersonator to entertain your group. Or, organize a senior talent show for your group. Be sure to recruit for a stand-up comic!
Ask your participants: What brings out the “kid” in you? What makes you giggle? Help your group discover the power of play. Try these intergenerational activities with your group: Read humorous poetry from Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss; hold a puppet show; act out humorous skits; watch a magic show; sing funny songs in rounds; or learn about clowning.
Conclude your sessions with a look at one of America’s first humorists, Ben Franklin. Read witty sayings from Poor Richard’s Almanack. (“Fish and visitors stink after three days.” – it’s good for a laugh or two!)
FAVORITE COMEDIANS QUIZ
Have you ever had a heartfelt laughing spell? Over the years, many gifted comedians have entertained us with their comedy routines via radio and television Ask: Who’s your favorite comedian? Take a poll among your group to determine the top five comedians of the 20th century. Quiz participants on popular American comics.
- “Cheapskate” radio and TV comedian who always claimed he was 39. Jack Benny
- He played the fast-talking Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko. Phil Silvers
- This husband and wife eneded their routines with the line, “Say good-night, Gracie.” George Burns and Gracie Allen
- Your Show of Shows star. Sid Caesar
- Nicknamed “the Schnoz.” Jimmy Durante
- Charlie McCarthy was his sidekick. Edgar Bergen
- Silent film comedian known as “The Great Stone Face.” Buster Keaton
- The Nutty Professor and Dean’s sidekick. Jerry Lewis
- Comedienne who joked about her facelifts and husband “Fang.” Phyllis Diller
- “Our Miss Brooks” wisecracking English teacher. Eve Arden
- “Strange things are happening” on his variety show. Red Buttons
- The Court Jester star with witty song-and-dance routines. Danny Kaye
- She played Ethel Mertz, Lucy’s sidekick. Vivian Vance
- Original host of The Tonight Show. Steve Allen
- “Mister Television.” Milton Berle
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” ~ e.e. cummings
“LAUGHING TOGETHER” written by Sue Hansen. © 2006 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reprint Policy: To reprint or republish all or portions of this entry, you must acquire written permission and agree to link back to the original source. Please contact us at [email protected] to obtain permission.