Why Are We Teaching Cursive?: School Shootings and Education Overhaul

The other night, I sat down to take care of my 2019 taxes. Armed with my 2018 tax forms and an IRS-sponsored how-to as a reference, I was fairly confident I’d finish up within an hour. Four hours of frustration and stress later, I leaned back in my chair, signed the final dotted line, and sighed, “I wish we learned how to do this in school,” out loud.

Whodathunk that teaching a useful tool for adulthood at some point during elementary, middle, and high school might be a good way to spend some of that 13 years?

Filing taxes isn’t the only skill our education system can teach that would make the world a better place. Sift through Twitter, Facebook, or the comments on YouTube videos for a few minutes. Turn on the news and watch talking heads argue with one another about one person sitting in a certain white house for hours on end.

Perhaps teaching our fragile-minded youth a thing or two about skills they’ll use EVERY DAY like empathy, communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and creativity would do them better than learning how to classify species of primates, a skill they’ll never use… unless they become a biologist.

Imagine students graduating college and entering the workforce with the abilities to diffuse conflicts before they even start, to turn disagreement into collaboration, to share the talents they’ve been honing for over a decade in a way that contributes to society.

Or we could keep teaching them cursive.

Kids need to engage their brains, explore, and discover what they’re passionate about, and how to work with other people to share their passions. It’s silly that the system forces children to work alone on tests, projects, and various busy work, while ranking them individually. Then, once they graduate, they have to suddenly work together in groups with others who don’t think like them, and no one has the skillset to collaborate efficiently.

HOW IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?

In episode five of the You Can’t Laugh at That podcast, the topic of discussion is school shootings. As comedians, one of our jobs is to point out absurdities and injustices in ways that make people laugh. The fact that younger generations have to go to school worried about a potential shooting is absurd. Yet, nothing is being done about it. Sure, lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to restrict the purchase of firearms, but an overhaul of our massively outdated education system – a system that was created to control the population during the Industrial Revolution – reaches the core (not Common Core) of the problem.

Shootings are the symptoms of a much larger problem:

  • Kids aren’t being taught actual life skills like how to get along with others who aren’t like them. They’re taught how to fall in line and fit within a societal construct.
  • Children need to collaborate, explore, and be creative, and that need is being stifled in favor of robotic, state-mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
  • Children are punished for their eccentricities and displaying their talents in ways that don’t fit an outdated system.

Do you think there’d be a school shooting problem if students actually looked forward to going to school? No one has ever said, “I love going to school!” Then proceeded to go on a shooting rampage.

What can we do? It’s not like our education system is going to be overhauled overnight. We can:

  • Push our school districts to put more money into art and mental health programs
  • Lobby for schools to push more collaborative classroom learning experiences
  • Vote the legislators out of office who support standardized testing
  • If you have children, support their creative exploration and let them make mistakes. Besides, you’ve made mistakes too. It’s okay to not know all the answers all the time, and your children need you to support them as they search for the answers to their questions. That’s the real education
  • START A CLASS THAT TEACHES KIDS HOW TO DO THEIR TAXES

It takes several small changes, starting in your home and in your community, for any real and lasting change to occur. After a quick glance at our world today, there is a deep need for growth in how we condition our children, and rather than just alleviating the symptoms, it’s time to get to the root of it all.

Also, WHY ARE WE EVEN TEACHING CURSIVE!?

You Can’t Laugh at That episode 4: School Shootings

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-4-school-shootings/id1495600197?i=1000465863089

When it Comes to Jokes, How Soon is Too Soon?

Life is full of ups and downs. Without the ebbs, we wouldn’t appreciate when things seem to be in a state of flow, and when things are down, they seem really down. In the face of tragedy and trauma, sometimes the last thing we want to do is laugh, but sometimes, that’s the jolt we need to shake ourselves out of a slump. At the end of the opening monologue for the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11, executive producer Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani quipped back, “Why start now?” which immediately broke the tension and heaviness that hung in the air. Collectively, it seemed as though Americans breathed a sigh of relief.

In the age of social media and constant content, when tragedy strikes, comedians, personalities, and basically anyone with access to a smart phone take to Twitter to joke about the tragedy. Many are in poor taste, many are cringeworthy, and very few actually do what the Giuliani did on that night in 2001. As he was flanked by first responders, he cut the tension with one punch line.

Which begs the question: how soon is too soon to joke about something?

The answer to this question has been debated for forever, and it can’t measured in days, months, or years. Whether a joke is too soon is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Too soon can be better measured by combination of the teller’s intent, the target audience, the trust built with that audience, the framing of the joke, and the target of the punch line. Whether you’re a comedian on stage, a random person tweeting about a tragedy, or searching for a way to console a friend or coworker, these are the question you should ask yourself:

What is the intent of your joke?

A comedian’s job is to make people laugh. Even though sometimes it may seem to be to shock, offend, or gross out an audience, the goal of these jokes is always laughter, and through a trial and error process at open mics and bar shows with very few laughs, the goal of funny is either reached, or the joke is abandoned. For me, the biggest reward of getting a laugh is the fact that I have succeeded in making a connection with others. I’ve shown them that funny does exist, even in the darkest corners of life, and that from that darkness can come release. If the goal is simply to offend, shock, or disgust, think twice about opening your mouth or hitting “send.”

Who is the audience?

If you want to make your audience laugh, you first have to know who your audience is.

One of my first speaking gigs was for a group in Richmond, Indiana. In that presentation, I had a joke about the negative spirals our brains can take us down when we’re stressed, and the joke ends with me joining a cult because “I can never turn down free Kool Aid,” which almost always gets a laugh. In this case, the audience stared back with nary a smile, and I had no idea why until we reached the Q&A portion of the program. A woman’s hand shot up in the air, and with anger in her voice, she scolded me, “Jim Jones is from Richmond. Some of us in this room lost loved ones in the Jonestown Massacre.” My face turned fruit punch red; I had no idea.

“Maybe you should do some research on your audience before making insensitive jokes.” And since then, you better believe I read the room and adjust my material accordingly before I get on stage. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a luncheon, and as the meeting was about to start, the meeting planner made me aware of a table of nuns seated in the front of the room. Instead of powering through the program, I switched out a few of the more PG-13 punchlines and had a great presentation without alienating anyone. I even snuck in a double entendre at the end that made the table of nuns double over in laughter. Why? Because before I told the joke, I asked the question:

Have you built trust with the audience?

I could spend 1000 words talking about how building trust with someone is more important than the content of your funny line, but I’ll boil it down to just a couple of points.

  • Communicate that you empathize with your audience. See where they’re coming from before you share where you’re coming from. This is vital whether you’re performing at a comedy show, or just having a 1-on-1 interaction.
  • Be sure to approach them from equal footing – if you make it seem like you’re preaching or talking down, it makes it harder for the two of you to see from the same angle.
  • Do they know you’re funny? If I’m in front of an audience, I never start with the edgy material until we’ve all shared a laugh at my own expense or at the absurdity of everyday life, so we’re now on the same page. If you barely know someone and you find out they’re going through a rough patch, even if you want to make them laugh, it’s abrasive to just introduce yourself, then go right into your jokes.

How are you framing the joke?

Again, your goal is to make your audience laugh, but the tragedy or trauma in itself isn’t funny. It rarely is, even if there is humor to be found. For example, Giuliani’s joke wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for such a heavy tragedy. Without explicitly mentioning 9/11 in the setup or punchline, though it was implied, that way, when the punch came at the expense of Michaels and SNL, everyone exhaled deeply. More recently, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. Since then, I’ve been using that tragedy as the vehicle of a joke about my mom always calling me to deliver bad news. The joke isn’t framed to make light of the tragedy, the tragedy is framed to make light of my experience of it.

Who is the target of the punchline?

The intent of the above Kobe joke is to make people laugh, I perform it in front of audiences who want to laugh, I place the joke at the end of my set so that the audience trusts that I’m funny, I use the tragedy as a vehicle to get to the punchline, and the punchline never comes at the expense of the victim. It takes the tension and releases it in a way that makes the audience feel better for having laughed. After my Aunt Kristie was killed in 2009, I was able to make light of the situation, not by making light of the tragedy or by poking fun at her, but by making light of the weird ceremonies we have to mourn the dead, by making light of the idiocy of her murderers, and about how I don’t have the tact to make people laugh in the face of tough times.

You don’t have to be a comedian to practice these tips. The next time you want to break the tension after a tough meeting, someone’s hard day, or after a tragedy, ask yourself the above questions and help make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time.

Hear more on the topic and listen to the above Kobe joke in this bonus episode of “You Can’t Laugh At That” on Spotify. If you enjoy, follow the podcast on Spotify – we post new episodes every Monday.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

You Can’t Laugh at That Recap: Comedy and the Power of Words

Episode 2 of You Can’t Laugh at That was released yesterday, and it’s a topic that has both inspired and infuriated me for years: the power of words. Growing up, I was confused by the fact that certain words hurt others, but didn’t hurt me, and that other words have hurt me, but didn’t hurt others. Comedy legend George Carlin said it best when communicating his confusion with an arbitrary list of “bad” words: You never know what’s on the list because it’s always somebody else’s list… People’s lists even change day-to-day. 

I’ll never forget discovering my first swear words as I marched into my parents’ kitchen after a rigorous day in kindergarten. They had some friends over and I wanted to share my new vocabulary with an audience, so I put my bag on the floor, proudly proclaimed, “Fart penis!” and was whisked into the bathroom to learn what soap tasted like. Though those words aren’t considered bad by most people, that was the day I discovered there are “curse words” that you can get in trouble for saying, but also that these words aren’t cursed by everyone.

In this episode, fellow comedian Steve Mers and I invite the outspoken Dave Flynt onto the show to ask and answer the questions:

  • What even are words?
  • Why are some words offensive to some and not to others?
  • As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence, do we have a responsibility to avoid offending others?
  • How can we lessen the power of these words so that they don’t hurt anymore?

Words are…

  • Literally just noises out of your mouth that creates emotions and actions in others through their subjective understandings and interpretations of them.  Because the interpretations are subjective, a word doesn’t have the same effect on one person as it would another person hearing or seeing that word. Society is based on shared stories that bring people together, and we’re a social species, so we needed a shared method of communication, so we decided certain sounds would mean certain things, and language was formed. This caused the exponential growth of the human race, but the subjectivity of meanings can also cause disagreements and conflict.
  • Tools you can use to do whatever you want, from asking someone to grab you a beer from the fridge, to starting a movement, it all depends on who’s using the tools and what their intention is.

Some words are offensive to some and not to others because…

  • When it comes to the words we use, we have to remember that others have different life experiences, and that certain words will cause them pain when they mean nothing to the person who uses them. To paraphrase the eloquence of Flynt:”Some people have emotional stuff that makes them feel a certain way. You could be listening to a rap song called “I Fucked Your Bitch,” and if your girl cheated on you 2 weeks ago, that hurts. If you could be the dude who fucked his bitch and you listen to that song, you’re like, “I feel good.”
  • When we have a conversation, tell a joke, or write a tweet, we have to remember that other people’s feelings are at play and that we don’t share the same experiences and aren’t riding the same emotional wave they are.

As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence…

  • We have to realize that a comedy set is a roller coaster ride for the audience. If each line has the audience in stitches, those laughs will diminish as the set progresses – there has to be a natural ebb and flow.
  • We have to realize that the show can be an emotional experience for some. I once did five minutes of funeral jokes and was approached after the show by the woman who booked me that I wasn’t welcome back to present to the group because they had recently lost a member to cancer. At another presentation, I did the funeral bit with rewritten material, and afterwards, an older man who had just lost his wife to cancer shook my hand and thanked me for making it okay for him to laugh. Being wary of the potential sensitivity of the audience pushed me to be more creative in expressing myself.

We can lessen the power of words by…

  • Realizing that much of the offense comes from societal inequalities. Steve hypothesizes that if we treated everyone equally, there’s less of a reason to feel offended about something because they don’t feel like they’re being subjugated.
  • Changing the narrative behind the words to dilute their power. Since language is a manmade concept, changing language to move us forward is also a manmade process. If there’s a word that brings people pain, the question isn’t, “How can we stop using the word?” It’s going to be difficult to convince ignorant people to stop using “retarded” negatively, so changing the meaning of the word or creating a new word to describe someone who is developmentally disabled may be a better option.
  • Stopping the prohibition of certain words. Steve asks an incredibly intriguing question: “Are words like drugs where if you make them legal, they lose their power?” When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.
  • I was totally referring to a penis.

As a comedian, your sole job above all else is to make people laugh. If you’re trying to shock, offend, or subjugate, you’re not doing your job. Remember that certain words trigger certain people, and that you can still make your point – and probably in a much more creative way – if you find a better way to communicate your ideas and what’s funny to you. As Steve puts it, “If you’re not an asshole, convince people you’re not an asshole before you say something that makes people think you’re an asshole.”

This goes for comedy and everyday life.

Listen, comment, follow, and share on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0uivwpcpfokYkTBsOKepz5?si=8CA86iyAST6Nj86Whc5T1g

or Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-2-the-power-of-words/id1495600197?i=1000463781993

You CAN Laugh At That

My last name is Horning.

That’s where it started.

With a last name like that, you naturally get picked on when you’re a kid, and I learned at a young age that because my last name was Horning, therefore, I must be “horny.”

I didn’t know what that meant.

I was in kindergarten, so there was no context for “horny.”

You don’t experience “horny” when you’re six, so I imagined a Viking helmet, a bull, or a trumpet, and I was none of those things, so I resisted the name-calling.

And instead of solving the problem, it made it worse.

And the more I resisted, the more I became an easy target.

Until one day, I decided that enough was enough.

I decided to lean into the bullies and it flipped the script completely.

They were like, “Your last name’s Horning, you must be horny,” and I was like, “I am.”

And it worked.

Because no one wants to pick on the horny kid.

The horny kid is unpredictable.

The moment I start dry humping pillows at your birthday, is the moment you stop calling me “Horny Dave.”

It solved my bullying problem.

Because if we get into a fight, I’ll defend myself, but if I get a boner and you win the fight, I win the fight.

That’s a risky proposition.

This taught me that when shit hits the fan, instead of resisting, lean into it.

Once you do that, you realize that even though you may be struggling at any given moment, there are an infinite number of other ways to examine the situation, discover new information, try something new, and overcome it.

This realization has the power to flip your mental script, not only making the shit more bearable, but making it exciting.

You can power through to the other side and do something about it because now, you see that another side exists.

When I leaned into my last name, I learned that leaning into the situation instead of pushing back took away the power that other people had over my happiness.

Leaning in and rolling with the punches life throws has gotten me through bad days, stress, anxiety, failure, heartbreak, loss, and even death (not mine).

The wave of relief that comes with the realization that there’s another side to any situation is a gift that laughing gives, and that’s why I do comedy.

It makes me feel good and I want to share that with you.

It’s why I speak.

It’s why I started a podcast.

It’s why I’m writing this.

No matter where you are and no matter what’s going on, know that somewhere, somehow, there’s something funny, and as soon as you’re ready, give yourself permission to find it and laugh.

Remember that you can laugh at that, and when you do, it makes you stronger and happier… even if you are a trumpet.

*Below is the first episode of my podcast “You Can’t Laugh at That” with fellow comedian Steve Mers. If you’re a comedian, a fan of comedy, or you’re looking for fresh perspectives on controversial or overplayed topics, there’s something for you in every episode. New episodes drop every Monday, and we dive in headfirst with our first where Steve and I break down transgender jokes, exploring what’s funny, what’s not, why, and how to find fresh angles that prove you CAN laugh at that.*

Listen here:
If you enjoy, follow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Libsyn.
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And most importantly, enjoy!

Thank you!