Beating the post-holiday blahs requires pursuing a laugh whenever possible. Between my neighborhood’s current deep freeze and breath-stealing windchill, the past several nights have found me sequestered indoors, basking in the glow of the television. The other night, courtesy of Drunk History, I found myself turning in, feeling a bit sunnier. Lighter. Energized by some gloom-busting giggles.
Watching Will Ferrell play Roald Dahl, my all-time favorite author when I was a kid, was not only entertaining, but educational. That’s the whole point of the show, right? To inform while entertaining — an intersection where education is both meaningful and memorable.
What better way to send a message?
For the Uninitiated
In case you aren’t familiar with Drunk History, here’s Comedy Central’s official description:
Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation’s history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It’s just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.
Incoherent? Often. Inconvenient? Sometimes. Irreverent? Usually. Informative? Always.
Despite the inebriated presentation and comedic tone, the show does an important job of presenting even some of history’s darker chapters without apology, mocking those who were on the wrong side of history.
Approaching its fifth season, set to air January 23rd, the question is, why does this format work? What is humor’s real role in education?
Connecting through Comedy
It’s not difficult to draw a line between a few well-timed jokes and a happy audience. But, serious consideration has been devoted to the actual relevance of humor in education and how it can be strategically used as a tool to create greater student engagement and overall success.
In “How Laughing Leads to Learning,” Zak Stambor covers the research that has been done regarding the use of comedy in the classroom. Sure, there’s a fine line between engaging and overwhelming when it comes to humor, “However, a growing body of research suggests that, when used effectively, classroom comedy can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation and increasing students’ motivation to focus on the material.”
Between calming test anxiety to creating a more accessible environment, there is a real case for keeping things comical in the classroom.
Granted, according to Melissa Bekelja Wanzer, EdD, of Canisius College, “Students don’t necessarily want Jerry Seinfeld as their instructor,” she says. “They want appropriate humor that is relevant, lightens the mood and makes the information memorable.”
Sometimes the best instructor is just someone who is passionate about the subject. Take actor Robert Wuhl, for example…
Assuming an Identity
Admittedly, Robert Wuhl is not a professor, nor was he when he endeavored to “Assume the Position,” on HBO, as a substitute teacher at the collegiate level. A self-proclaimed “history guy,” Wuhl’s purpose was to entertain, certainly, but also make a serious point, “The key to history is who tells the story.”
A relevant observation back in 2006 and one that continues to resonate in light of current partisan politics and the spinning of news, whether real or fake. According to Wuhl, “Spinning history is a way of making it fun, and if you make it entertaining and educational, you have something special.”
Marketing with Humor
Of course, as marketers, we’re always telling stories and even assuming the identities of our clients as we represent their brands and craft their content. “Stories make it easier to understand the world. Stories are the only way we know to spread an idea,” according to Seth Godin.
And while a comedic tone might not be appropriate for a particular project or client, it is helpful to bear in mind that, when done right, a little humor has the potential to connect with your audience, carrying that message a long way.
Extending the distance your message travels is the whole aim of marketing. As defined by Godin, “Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.” With respect to marketers, Godin is quick to warn, “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant.”
Consider infusing a little levity into your content marketing and leverage more miles for your messages.