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Stand Up for Storytelling

    By Jeff Schouela

    Everyone loves a good story, especially if it’s funny. Nothing increases engagement and connectivity more than laughter. Many students feel that they are not funny or don’t have humorous stories to tell. What they don’t know is that humour can be found hiding within their story, and if they still can’t find it they can find ways to layer it in.

    ELA teachers strive to educate their students by showing them how authors use literary terms and devices for effect. Whether it’s through Shakespeare, novels or poetry, students are taught how to identify particular examples used by the authors to layer their descriptions of events and characters.

    As an experienced comedian and educator, I have observed the vast amount of crossover between how comedians effectively perform their stories and how authors pen their tales.

    The act of adding literary devices into stories helps deliver a sense of “realness” to readers and listeners. These same devices are also used by comedians to elicit laughter from their audiences.

    When authors use imagery to paint a picture and help capture the senses, their stories are re-created and brought to life in the minds of their audience. Students are encouraged to layer imagery into the description of their setting as well as adding the minutia into how the characters look and feel. The exact same can be said for comedy. 

    One element that is important to mix into a great performance is adding a lot of detail into the stories. Comedians like using a ton of details throughout, both large and small. This not only helps them create a greater sense of reality but also allows them to use particular details to layer in some jokes. Examples might include commentary on the clothes they’re wearing, their mood, what they’re eating, etc. The location of a story not only sets the tone but any type of extra descriptions are appreciated, especially if one is able to reflect on particular details to greater effect. If I were to describe a bowling alley, I would look for places to comment on – its classic and dreary beige-coloured walls, the sobering lighting, the air smelling like sweaty socks, the never-evolving 1980’s style scoring on the screens, the greasy holes in the bowling balls, how all the employees are at least 75 years old, the guy that pops up from under the alley to fix a pin, etc.. Surely once you add these and other details, not only can the audience “feel” what you’re depicting, but also some laughs will ensue, either because of the relatability or the snarky nature of the detailed commentary.

    Students are also encouraged to mix in hyperbole to help explain how something or someone felt. Of all the popular literary terms, comedians probably use hyperbole the most to get those laughs. Many comedians will generally take something that is true and take that narrative as far one way as they can to create a more colourful hypothesis of a series of possible events, or go over the top to describe a character. Saying that, for example, “I waited in line for so long at Disney that Mickey died of old age” is a sad but humorous way of explaining how long it felt to wait for a ride.

    Other devices such as using metaphors and similes for effect are also used by both authors and comedians alike to create a mood and even to get laughs. Explaining how someone danced like a mime not only puts a silly image in one’s head but also helps describe the awkward nature of their movements.

    Good storytellers have the ability to lay out the plot and characters. Great storytellers are able to properly take us on their journey by layering in great imagery, hyperbole, similes, metaphors and euphemisms. The more devices that are used, the better and more entertaining the story will be. Even better, if you can use these elements to get laughs, you will experience first-hand an audience that is with you all the way through and will reward you for a story well told!

    Jeffrey M. Schouela is a professional comedian and educator who resides in Montreal, Quebec. His unique school-based comedy program has grown out of the conviction that the use of humour in the classroom setting can enhance student engagement, strengthen relationships with teachers and fellow students, and contribute to learning and personal development. The program Jeffrey has been developing over the last several years has aimed to integrate the medium of comedy into the academic curriculum at both the primary and secondary levels, and a growing number of schools have shown great interest in exploring this creative approach to the educational process.