The Serious Side of Silly

© 2017 James N. Watkins

Several major universities have conducted serious studies of humor. (A serious study of humor sounds like an oxymoron: jumbo shrimp, government intelligence and legally drunk!)

However, these studies have shown that silly writing can produce serious results.

The research proves that writing and speaking with humor increases attention, comprehension and retention!

We have no better example than Jesus Christ himself. Really! “Hyperbole” or intentional exaggeration was the hip humor of first century Palestine. Jesus would have had them rolling on the hillsides with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. The audience must have howled when he told the Pharisees they would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Or how ’bout camels squeezing through the “eye of a needle?” Jesus also used silly situations: Putting a lamp (an open flame then) under a bed (a flat, flammable mat at the time).

The research also promises that using humor will make the author or speaker more likeable and effective.

Studies show that people “like” people with a sense of humor. It also breaks down barriers between people. If you can share a laugh with someone, you’ve connected with that person. The defenses come down, and there’s a desire to continue the dialogue.

And finally, humor provides “laughing gas” to tackle tender and touchy topics.

You’re not going to stay in the dentist’s chair and allow him or her to drill away on a root canal unless you’re hopped up with plenty of pain killer. So humor is the laughing gas that allows us to drill away at the abscessed areas of another person’s life. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer claimed laughter is—and I quote—the “sudden perception of incongruity” between our ideals and our behavior. You can get away with so much more using humor than you can with preaching.

So do consider using relevant humor in your writing and speaking. (Studies show that humor that doesn’t reinforce your point is simply distracting.) It will increase not only your likeability and ability to tackle tough topics but the comprehension and retention of your message.
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James N. Watkins is an award-winning author of over 2,000 articles and 20 books, including Writing with Banana Peels: Principles, Practices and Pratfalls of Writing with Humor. He has spoken across the United States and overseas. He has served as an editor and editorial director at Wesleyan Publishing House, an editor with the American Bible Society, taught writing at Taylor University for 15 years, and guest-lectured at Liberty, Regent, and other universities. He is currently writing and speaking full-time as well as editing for ACW Press and other clients. His most important roles, however, are being a child of God, husband, dad, and “papaw.”


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