Last time I discussed why children love repetition and how you can use this bit of knowledge in your kids shows. In this article, we’ll explore what makes little kids laugh.
You’ve probably been in front of an under 5 audience and, by accident, stumbled upon something they found hilarious. (It’s happened to us all. And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. Trust me!) These little discoveries are priceless, but how would you like to know what it is that could guarantee those little giggles or fits of laughter every time?
But before we look at what makes little children laugh, we are going to explore the why.
Humour plays a crucial part in a child’s development. It contributes to vocabulary building and pre-reading and reading skills. It forms a part of the child’s understanding of the world and plays a role in the formation of creative thinking and social interactive skills, which in turn boosts a child’s popularity and self-esteem. All of these skills are essential, but the most important role of humour is that it will help children cope with the stresses of life later on in adolescence and adulthood.
Understandably then, humour changes as a child grows older. A child’s sense of humour reflects his or her new intellectual achievements. Humour is a form of intellectual play, the play involving oftentimes abstract ideas. ‘Getting’ a joke or a gag is a result of a kid’s intellectual growth.
This make it easy for you as a children’s entertainer to learn what kind of humour a child of a certain age will find funny. As I am sure you know, most gags for children under 5 just don’t work for preteens. This is because they are just too easy to understand for older kids (and this is the same reason we adults groan at some puns).
With that said, let’s look at some sure-fire techniques that can get the little ones rolling almost as if on cue.
Google defines slapstick as “a style of humour involving exaggerated physical activity which exceeds the boundaries of common sense.”
Little kids find slapstick comedy hilarious. The more ridiculous, the better. Think of the times you accidentally flicked yourself with a balloon. The kids were in stitches, weren’t they?
The good thing about visual humour is it requires no actual language skills. It therefore works well with very young children.
Overacting, also referred to as hamming or mugging, is exaggerating gestures and speech when acting. Sometimes known as “chewing the scenery,” it is commonly used in comical situations or in stressing the evil characteristics of a villain.
Deliberately overdoing an action will get the little ones rolling with laughter every time. Similar to slapstick comedy, the visual impact and physical element of overacting are what children find so exceedingly entertaining. Adding words and silly sounds also contribute to the overall effect.
Misnaming Objects, Actions or People
A firm favourite of kids under 5 years old is the miscalling of things and people. I use this to great effect to break the ice with youngsters. They know what their names and their friends’ names are. They get the idea of using names in ‘wrong’ ways and love the game that follows. When you miscall them, they find it highly amusing so you can repeat this again and again. I use the same technique in my show by miscalling colours and counting in a silly way.
Funny Words and Noises
Using funny words that the children know are not correct is very funny for them. They also have a whole lot of fun playing around with silly words and sounds. From my experience, I get the most laughs with the raspberry sound.
This is what I do:
“We need a magic word,” I tell the children.
Most of the kids will pipe up and say, “Abracadabra!”
I quickly latch on to this and exclaim, “I love it! Havabanana!” You can just imagine the giggles I get and the children frantically correcting me.
I then say, “Sorry. I meant to say Smelly Pajamas!”
The kids break into hysterics.
I do this again, but this time I clasp my nose and make the raspberry sound. It’s a hit with the kids every time. They even often come up to me afterwards just to tell me, “You’re silly. You don’t say ‘smelly pajamas.’” And then they leave, giggling to themselves. It always makes me smile.
I tackled why kids like repetition in my previous article, How We Can Learn from the Science of Sesame Street. The same technique is also very successful for getting lots of laughs.
Just a Note
A key element to making kids laugh is to always have them laugh at your expense. Don’t ever humiliate a child or an audience member for the sake of a giggle.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
Another thing. Sometimes, especially when working with little kids, you have to tell them that something is funny. I once did the classic ‘flick my finger with the balloon’ gag when a little one came up to me with utter concern on his face. “Are you okay?” he asked. My heart melted. What a sensitive child.
So in closing, I suggest that you spend some time thinking about your show. See where you can use miscalling colours or objects or where you can add visual and physical gags to your routines to bring that next level of enjoyment to your young audiences. There are tons of ideas in popular children’s books as well if you want to find out more about what kinds of things make kids laugh.
Have fun finding out and exploring what tickles your young audience’s funny bones!