A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, than draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda make his way towards the exit.
The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “I’m a panda,” he says from the door. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and explanation. “Panda. Large black- and- white bear-like mammal, very cute and adorable, native of China. Eats, shoots and leaves.
GIVEN HUMOR’S DEMONSTRATED SUCCESS in the workplace, you’d think comedy would be taught in school. (Instead of punished) But according to 26-year-old Greg Gagliardi—or “Mr. Gags,” as he’s known to his students at Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey—that’s rarely the case.
Not only was Gagliardi barred from writing a humor column for his own high school newspaper, but his advisor would go through his articles and take out all of the funny lines. Now that he’s on the other side of the desk, he understands the logic: Many teachers assume that encouraging humor opens the door to disruptive behavior. Gagliardi has found the opposite to be true. For his English class on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, for instance, Gagliardi instructs his students to stand in front of the class and read the play. They intone their lines in iambic pentameter while he stages the action on a desk—with 11 bottles of salad dressing. As Caesar gains power, he evolves from Lite, to regular, to creamy. The Romans are a vinaigrette; common people are croutons. It may sound silly, but instead of goofing off or staring out the window, the kids actually learn. “When students see the salad dressing,” Gagliardi says, “they automatically remember every thing about Julius Caesar.” Even quiet students and so-called discipline cases have been won over by his lighthearted—or is that lite-hearted?—approach. Voted the school’s funniest teacher two years in a row, the sometime stand-up comic finally found a way to get the last laugh on that editor who kept his jokes out of print. As advisor for Cherry Hill East’s student paper, Gagliardi added a humor section in 2002. In it, he encourages kids to crack jokes, spoof school events, write satirical news briefs—in other words, have fun. Smart plan. This past spring the paper won an American Scholastic Press Association’s first-place award with special merit.
AND THEREIN LIES THE KEY to using humor effectively—be yourself. Because if you can unlock your own sense of humor, you’ll likely unlock others’. To paraphrase the great philosopher William James: We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh. Try it and see. Why not start today?
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