How to be funny, and how not to be

Famous comedian Roy Wood Jr. offers tips

Teach your kids about the nuances of humor

Being funny comes naturally to some kids. You’ve seen the little comedians on the playground, or at gatherings, making faces, doing odd voices and crazy dances, cracking up other children (and adults). If your child happens to be one of those jokers, famous comedian Roy Brown Jr. – seen regularly on The Daily Show – has some words of advice via Fatherly’s “Letters to Boys” project. In this ongoing feature, the site offers guidance in the form of heartfelt advice “given generously by great men who show us how to take that crucial first step in confronting seemingly unsolvable issues – by offering honest words.” Roy Wood Jr.’s contribution is refreshingly candid and… funny.

His opening gambit in his letter to his three-year-old son recalls the great Oscar Wilde quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.” In other words, Wood tells of initially using humor in the third grade to protect himself from bullies. “I figured that if I could make the bullies laugh, we could connect, I could keep them close,” he writes. “It worked, and jokes became my survival strategy.”

Interestingly, when Wood’s family moved him to an all-black middle school (Wood is African-American), he learned to wield his power in a different way. 

“I discovered something new about comedy,” he writes. “I could use it to hurt people. I changed. I threw out my power to connect and became the bully.”

He and his friends started making fun of a learning-disabled class, teasing and taunting. Caught by the principal (he says he’ll never forget Principal Gladys McGee), they were made to join the learning disabled class for two weeks. He writes: “We went to PE with the class. We studied with them. We ate lunch with them. And we got it. We understood the meanness of what we’d done. That’s the last time I weaponized humor against the disadvantaged.”

Wood’s letter is a reminder to parents of funny kids that they should make sure their child doesn’t use a talent to make others laugh as a means of disconnecting from certain people. It’s never too early to teach a child to be responsible and kind. 

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