‘Humour is very much a social, interpersonal act’

5 July 2017

Laverne Antrobus, Child Psychologist, writes today on why kids love anarchic humour.

Child in playground (ab-279) hero crop

It is quite hard to put one’s finger exactly on what makes us laugh but having just spent a weekend with a four year old I was catapulted into the world of laughter. I watched and participated in endless silly jokes and humour. It was heart-warming, exhausting and infectious and connected a group whose ages ranged from 78 to 1. The jokes seemed utterly ridiculous, there was talk of having a tail, a big nose and lots of risqué humour.  There was wonderment in the eyes of the younger members and I too felt transported back to a time of carefree abandon, punctuated with deep uncontrollable laughter.

It made me think about humour more broadly, where we find it and how much we need it to connect us up in sometimes very bleak times. It made me think about how closely humour can teeter on the edge and how important it is to have some way of navigating when it has perhaps gone too far.

There is a real art form to constructing a narrative that holds the attention of a young audience and makes them want more. I felt exhausted at the end of the day as I realised that keeping the jokes alive was harder than my day job. How presenters keep the performance relevant so that the audience keeps laughing is a real craft.

Dick and Dom will give a keynote speech tonight at this year’s The Children's Media Conference 2017 and their work as a double act continues to command rich descriptions of them both as legends within the industry. Their longevity for me has a number of key features. Not only do they communicate that they have weaved a close working relationship, they both show the joy they get from creating hilariously tricky situations where they push the comedic effect to its limits.

Their relationship is at the heart of why children are forever drawn into their performances. They are friends who have a unique understanding of each other, which includes a shared sense of fun, the essential ingredient. In addition they both support each other to think about the most precarious aspects of a joke and from this moment onwards it seems they then work their way through the different stages, bearing the burden of seeing it through together. One imagines they have conversations that start, ‘What do you think would happen if we did this?” and that once the anarchic act has been identified, ‘lived’ and laughed about they then work out the delicate path they will need to tread to reach the goal of execution. They have a perceptive ability to push the boundaries of humour to ensure that risk taking is at the heart of what they do. They persuade the viewer to come with them on this journey and to share the agony of trying to achieve the impossible with a straight face. Once they start to tell the story there is no going back either for them or us.

As the viewer we are invited to laugh at the unacceptable, share the responsibility for execution and to, figuratively speaking, hold hands with them until the end.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the relationship and the performance is to see Dick and Dom allowing their child selves airtime. There is no pretence, just unbridled enjoyment of the anarchy that they create, it is fully owned and consumed by them which makes joining in so much fun.

Allowing our ‘inner child’ to come to the surface is important – Dick and Dom give us a unique opportunity to grapple with the complex emotions we can feel when making fun of someone and also provide some valuable lessons about putting ourselves in the other persons shoes. It reminds us that the joke has to include the person who is being teased in order for us and them to feel ok.

So back to my weekend with the young children, it was fun to together let our minds go to places that they had not been to before, to not be constrained by rules and to share the jokes together but above all it was great to feel free to allow the child within all of us to play.

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Help your kids with growing up released

Robert Winston’s Help your kids with growing up book was launched today (Thursday, July 6).