By Rick Kaempfer
Comedy is really my only parenting tool. Over my sixteen years as a father, I’ve used it to great effect to diffuse tense situations, to foster strong relationships, and to teach my boys one of the most necessary life skills. If you’re laughing, life is going to be just fine.
Unfortunately, a Daddy comedian needs to be adaptable. Different comedy works for different ages. Jokes that absolutely kill with three year olds are often despised by ten year olds. Jokes that kill with ten year olds are reviled by sixteen year olds. I still haven’t figured out how to deliver a belly laugh to the youngster while avoiding the simultaneous heckles of the older son, but I will never, ever, give up trying.
Comedy for Ages 0-2
Honestly, this age group isn’t exactly my forte. My wife is the baby entertainer. Bridget can make any baby laugh, anytime, anyplace. She has a rubber face, an unlimited supply of funny noises, and a complete inability to be embarrassed by her actions. I’ve seen her make a screaming infant smile in mid cry.
My only trick for this age group is the "napkin blown into the air" bit. Simply unfold the napkin, placing it on your nose so that it covers your entire face, and then count down...three, two, one, BLOW! A forcefully applied blow sends the napkin sailing nearly all the way to the ceiling. Huge laughs are guaranteed and you can’t repeat it too often. It gets the same belly laugh on the four hundredth try as it does on the first.
Comedy for Ages 2-4
Now we’re in my wheelhouse. This is where my collection of cartoon and puppet voices comes into play. When Johnny was three, he and I went almost a whole year without speaking to each other Dad-to-son. Grover drove him to pre-school, Kermit put him down for a nap, Eeyore talked to him when he was sad, and Ernie sang to him in the bath.
This is also the age where the pratfall (someone else's pain) becomes the king of boy comedy.
Comedy for Ages 4-7
This is the age for subtlety and nuance. If you can’t or won’t employ the use of bodily functions, pick up your ball and go home. There’s no place for you here. If you have a problem with the words “butt”, “poop”, “fart”, “burp”, or “booger”, more power to you, but you will never, ever get a laugh out of a 4-7 year old boy.
Although, I must say, pratfalls still work.
Boys this age absolutely love the Three Stooges. I had to stop letting Tommy watch the Stooges because he laughed so hard during their routines that he began to hyperventilate. I wonder if the Stooges have ever killed a 4-7 year old boy. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Comedy for Ages 7-10
Ah, the age of word play. Knock Knock jokes. Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? Whoo boy. That’s a good one. These jokes have not changed in fifty years.
Tommy and Johnny were also obsessed with words that have double meanings. Tommy’s favorite planet became Uranus. Johnny told me to close the refrigerator because it wasn’t polite to watch the salad dressing.
Parody songs are also a huge hit with this age bracket. Kids still sing that version of Jingle Bells with “Batmobile lost his wheel and the Joker got away.” (That poor schlub hasn't received a penny in royalties, whoever he is).
Comedy for Ages 10-13
Two words: Mel Brooks.
Each and every Mel Brooks movie will have 10-13 old boys howling--even the lousy ones ("Robin Hood: Men in Tights" had my boys holding their sides).
Comedy for Ages 13-15
Ah, sarcasm. Comedy's ugliest friend. Sarcasm is a constant companion during these incredibly rough years.
Occasionally you can also still get boys to laugh at this age by saying and/or doing something stupid (Getting lost, hitting your thumb with a hammer, pop culture unawareness). The key is, however, you can't do it on purpose. It's only funny if you are truly an idiot. Again, I'm lucky to be blessed in this area. This is the age of "We're not laughing with you, we're laughing at you."
Comedy for Ages 16+
I've recently discovered that my oldest son Tommy is now getting the jokes/pithy comments I make to my wife. My wife stopped laughing at them about ten years ago (we've been married for twenty), but Tommy suddenly thinks I'm hilarious.
Oh, he'll also still laugh at my stupidity, but now he's actually laughing when I'm trying to make him laugh.
Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was to discover that I've still got it.
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