Does Forced Humor Work With Kids?


If you’re around babies much, you’ll probably learn early on that they are quickly drawn to exaggerated, funny faces. However, that likely won’t work with older kids. So parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone in charge of children must find other ways to get laughs. So does forced humor work with kids, and if so, what kinds?

Forced humor doesn’t come naturally or readily evoke laughter. Sometimes, comedy resorts to forced humor to garner laughs quickly or for profit only; other times, parents, dads especially, are apt to use forced humor resulting in cheesy jokes. Forced humor can be used as a way to develop humor, too.

As a not-so-funny mom and retired public school teacher, I was at a disadvantage when it came to hooking kids’ attention. However, I learned to develop a sense of humor, which was one way to force humor. Another, more common, idea of forced humor is when movies, TV shows, and comedians rush their jokes or acts so that humor is lost.

Forced Humor Is No Joking Matter

It doesn’t always make sense what kids find funny, but it helps understanding their cognitive development for humor.

Forced humor, by the clearest definition, is humor that’s really not so funny, which is why it becomes forced. So if it’s not naturally funny or going to bring about easy laughs, why use forced humor in the first place?

Forced humor is a useful approach when laughs are not quick or common for a particular situation or area. It could be necessary to force humor for profit or to make something successful; during times of stress or distress; and sometimes, to build a sense of humor or develop relationships.

Louis Franzini (2002) wrote Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child’s Sense of Humor (available at Amazon) in which he explains how humor develops in stages in children naturally, in alignment with noted Psychologist’s Jean Piaget’s stages of child development; however, it’s also possible to enhance it with directed and explicit support.

One way to build humor with your kids is to use it strategically through routines or regular activities. For instance, our Fun Jokes For Kids Coloring Book is a great tool for embedding humor through kid-friendly activity.

This means, then, that forcing humor is a means to develop it in children as well as to enhance it with adults who seem to be humor-challenged (more on this in a later section).

Tips for forcing humor in children:

  • Tell jokes together. Start each day or end each night with a joke, funny or not. You can even rate the jokes on a funny-scale.
  • Read joke books. We have a kids joke coloring book, available at Amazon here, which can be useful.
  • Watch kid comedians as a family time activity.
  • Just be goofy together. Wear a silly hat; stick googly eyes on everything; talk in a fake accent…or some other out-of-the-norm manner to liven up your daily routine.
  • Teach kids by example and by your words that it’s okay to be silly, in the right context, of course (Mass is not the right venue for silly hats and fake accents!).

Sometimes humor is forced for profits, too.

Humor is big business. In fact, many marketers launch studies to find out exactly how best to use humor to drive profits. One such study from 2014 was directed to find what humor mechanisms people are most likely to find funny, with findings that include using simple rather than complex advertising and what was termed ‘distraction’ humor.

distraction humor: humor that makes you distracted from (or forget about) your daily life, stresses, or other problematic issues

In this case, it means that sometimes movie and TV makers, as well as stand-up comedians, may choose to use forced humor in lieu of anything funnier. For them, it’s more important to make a movie with cheesy or flat humor than no movie (or TV show or stand-up act) at all!

And, finally, we know that forced humor is used as a means to bring levity to tricky, unfunny situations.

Remember, in moments of crisis or serious stress, often making one smile is as necessary a medicine as anything a doctor could prescribe! And it’s not to say that it’s appropriate to be silly when seriousness is warranted. However, a brief moment of humor can be beneficial even if the overall tone is not humorous, or should not be.

For instance, this reminds me of a forced humor moment from my all-time favorite movie, Steel Magnolias (available for rental at Amazon Prime). This moment of forced humor took place at a funeral, during a mom’s extreme grief no less!

So what happened? Well, another character decides it’s time to crack a ludicrous joke in order to help this grieving mom from falling into utter shambles. It doesn’t make sense, and certainly isn’t the time for silliness, but it helped alleviate an almost unbearable moment in the movie, giving respite for the characters, and the viewers alike!

Forced Humor In Order To Develop Humor

Another way to think about ‘forced humor’ or a way to force humor strategically is to work on your sense of humor, even when being funny isn’t natural for you.

Already mentioned is that forced humor can also be used to develop a sense of humor, as well as grow and foster relationships, particularly for parent-child and teacher-child dynamics. So, in this case, what should parents and teachers know about forced humor for development for themselves and children?

Forced humor is beneficial for growing or developing your own sense of humor, or humor in others such as children. By forcing yourself to use humor devices and immersing yourself in humor for your own or others’ benefit, it becomes more natural and easier to use over time.

Research shows that a well-developed sense of humor improves physical and mental health. Essentially, laughter is often times, ‘the best medicine.’ Thus, spending the time to develop and grow humor is worthwhile, even if it means using forced humor techniques.

Using forced humor for yourself to develop relationships with child/students:

  • Parents or teachers should find a good joke resource (like our joke coloring book) and use it daily with kids.
  • Parents should play silly games with their kids like Throw Throw Burrito or goofy charades 1-2x per week with their kids.
  • Teachers can utilize silly cartoon clips during lessons to lend humor to learning.
  • Teachers might think about having silly spirit days in class like wear crazy hats or mix-match dress up day (with administrator approval!).
  • Parents and teachers should lead by example that it’s ok to be silly and not get embarrassed by goofy behavior.

To read more about humor, I recommend these related articles:

Examples of Forced Humor: TV, Movies, Stand-Up Comedians

Forced humor is a sign of lazy writing, acting, and/or delivery in bad comedy TV shows, movies, and stand-up acts.

Perhaps the most common examples of forced humor come from corny TV sitcoms, bad comedy films, and forgettable stand-up acts. Let’s look at some specifics from each category, below.

Forced, Cheesy Sitcoms

One of the most popular late 80s/early 90s TV family sitcoms was Family Matters. And this is despite it’s resorting heavily to forced humor when it came to one of the main characters, Steve Urkel.

Urkel was the ‘boy next door’ character, who wore nerd glasses, suspenders, and pants pulled up way too high. He also talked in a high-pitch voice and had an irritating laugh, as well as an annoying habit of causing disturbances or breaking things and then replying, ‘Did I do that?’

This character was so over-the-top and such a caricature that it wasn’t and still isn’t the least bit funny. Yet, he certainly is hard to forget. And, ultimately, the forced humor of Urkel became the cornerstone to this show’s longevity!

Young kids are likely to find Urkel’s forced humor funny since it’s overt and slapstick. Older kids, or more advanced children, might be as turned off to Urkel humor as adults.

Forced, Unfunny Films

Many well-known comedians are guilty of resorting to forced humor in films, with unfunny results. For example, both Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have just as many unfunny comedies as funny ones, though both comedians earned big bucks for all of them anyway.

Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), The Cable Guy (1996), Dumb and Dumber, To (2014) and Adam Sandler’s Little Nicky (200), Jack and Jill (2011), and Grown-Ups (2010)/Grown-Ups 2 (2013) are just some of the examples of their comedies with forced humor due to lazy or rushed writing.

Some of these are rated kid-friendly with PG labels, but even most kids watching will find little in the way of humor. And those parts that kids might find funny are not funny as intended but more so for the reliance on out-of-the-norm slapstick or shock value.

Special Note: This isn’t to say that sometimes movies don’t get ‘forced humor’ right. Take, for instance, my earlier mention of Steel Magnolias and the funeral scene. This is a prime example showing where it worked. So next time when you watch a comedy where humor is inserted oddly or unconventionally, pay attention. This is forced humor. Did it work?

Comedians Known For Forcing Stand-Up Comedy

The gags of forced stand-up often rely on shouting, props, or profanity or vulgarity.

For instance, Carrot Top, a comedian from the late 80s and early 90s (and then later, Las Vegas shows) was as well-known for his use of props for laughs as anything else. He regularly pulled out oversized or colorful trinkets to go along with his comedy routines. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it did not. Regardless, it was always a bit of forced humor.

Then, there is Howard Stern, radio ‘shock jock’. This moniker came about because his so-called interview technique almost always involved vulgar and/or profane tactics to shock his audience and bring about big laughs, or just laughs from uncomfortableness.

For kids, you can take a cue from Carrot Top by bringing in funny gadgets or finding the observational humor in regular everyday items that one might not notice at first glance. Kids like toys and ‘things’ so props can be a useful tool for forcing humor in the right direction; however, props are less likely to work on teens, who are prone to find such devices ‘uncool.’

Forced Humor Punchline

So to wrap it up, forced humor is humor that’s not natural or logical for its situation or context. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, even if it fails at humor.

Yes, forced humor can be used without legitimacy, but it’s possible to use forced humor to grow or develop humor purposefully and/or thoughtfully.

To read more about humor, I recommend these related articles:

Jackie Booe

A mother to four kids, grandmother ("Oma") to a growing number, a retired teacher for over 18 years, and a wife to Mat since 1994, Jackie knows kids and laughter. She holds a license to teach in 3 states and is certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners, with practical experience at all levels. She holds three degrees in the field of education and has taught education courses online at the university level as an adjunct professor, too. She has mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, in addition to homeschooling her own children.

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