Class Clown

I was intrigued by this week’s Headline — each week’s stories end with one, usually with some sort of twist, from a real news source:

Well Duh
‘Class Clowns’ May Also Be the Most Intelligent Students
WGN Chicago headline
Yep, I was the “Class Clown” in school …as readers probably suspected after reading that.

As a wanna-be writer I figured I needed to know how to type, so I took typing in high school. I always made sure I got there early so I could get one of the few IBM Selectrics, rather than the old manual machines.

Lawson was a good kid, just a little slow. (Photo: CDC on Unsplash)

The teacher, Ben Stein (though not this one), usually had us type random stuff for the second half of the class, just so we could get some practice in. Bored with the material in the book, I instead wrote crank letters to Mr. Stein, such as one saying the school hadn’t paid for the typewriters, and they would be repossessed. Would Tuesday work for him?

I can’t remember which college lecturer I harassed with a stream of one-liners all semester in a speech communication class, but it was extra fun because he not only stifled a chuckle each time, he paused trying to think of a comeback …and never could come up with anything good enough.

“Speech Communication” is the name of the department, and I minored in that …with a twist. I designed my own program with them, which they signed off even considering what it really was: my minor, I usually say, is Nonverbal Communication. That’s right: from the Speech Communication department.

The course of study consisted of a number of the department’s regular classes, advanced studies in “implicit communications” (usually referred to as body language), and a year of American Sign Language. The advanced study was particularly interesting: those are some of the few textbooks I kept …and should dig out again. They were written by Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, and the school brought him up to teach a seminar. A few of us went out to dinner with him afterward.

Unfair Advantage?

One of the things I learned well from Mehrabian was how body language communicates dominance and submissiveness in social interaction. He even brought a film to demonstrate the points.

Not long after, a few guys and I decided to rent an apartment together. It was a primo location, and the particular apartment we were going for was built specifically for the owner to live in. Even though he never lived there, that apartment was special to him: he wouldn’t rent it until the prospective tenants came to his office for an interview. He was a lawyer.

For some reason my three buddies chose me, the most introverted, to be the spokesman for the group. As he spoke with us, I started getting the feeling that he wasn’t convinced we would be the best tenants. That’s when my education kicked in — first, noticing he was signaling dominance (not surprising for a lawyer!), and then that I was signaling significant submissiveness: sitting at the edge of my chair, leaning toward him, and probably had an unfavorable facial expression.

So I confidently slid back in my chair, leaning into its back. I crossed my legs (one ankle on the opposite knee), which put up a mental barrier. I smiled, and looked away for a moment to break any “eye lock.”

It was astounding to watch as his dominance disappeared and I took control of the meeting — in the matter of less than a minute. Very shortly thereafter, he not only agreed that we could rent the apartment, he said he was going to raise the rent with this particular turnover, but decided not to.

Thank you Dr. Mehrabian!

My Now-Rusty American Sign Language is still useful: I had to call upon it on an ambulance call recently with a deaf patient.

She laughed when I signed that I only remember a little bit, and she replied verbally (she could talk just fine) that she also could only remember a little; she mostly reads lips. But I used signing for various things, such as to ask if she had pain, to ask if something was “a long time ago,” and “wait” — she figured she had to stand up and walk to the ambulance, but for medical reasons that wasn’t a good idea, so I had her wait for the ambulance crew to wheel the gurney inside.

Anyway, the headline refers to an actual study published in the scholarly journal Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (yes, really!), which was established “for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty.” It’s the official journal of the International Society of Humor Studies.

See? I told you this stuff was important! The full text of the study is available here, should you wonder how humor is researched, in this case among schoolchildren.

Study Summary: researchers rated each student’s humor, and then gave them all I.Q. tests. The more intelligent the student, they found, the better their humor and, particularly, its relevance to what they were commenting upon. Clever research!

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10 Comments on “Class Clown

  1. Interesting. Like any subjective evaluation, it has some problems — rating “Funniness” is problematic, at best.

    The fact that the Standard Deviation on scores became smaller with increasing Intelligence Quotient — consistently, no less — also raises interesting questions about the sample and methods.

    That said, I have found that the premise appears to be true in my experiences over 70+years

  2. I’ve always thought humor required intelligence. Reading up on comics like Robin Williams and you realize the best comics were also very smart.

  3. Here I thought I had an unusual college minor, but I think you win. Like you, I ‘designed’ my own made up from an assortment of fascinating classes — Mysticism and the Occult, as a minor to my mechanical engineering degree from MIT.

    That’s right up there. Maybe we can form a club! -rc

  4. I wasn’t a class clown ~ too shy to say the funny things i thought. But when teaching my faves were the few clowns who are still social media buddies as their posts are brilliant!

    Cool to hear from a teacher on the subject! -rc

  5. In my experience, class clowns were disruptive, not intelligent and funny. Being deliberately humorous would need intelligence, but putting on a silly hat and dancing up to the whiteboard when called upon doesn’t require that. Maybe class clowns were different for older generations. I can say I didn’t even know the kid who got voted as the “class clown” for my graduating class because he wasn’t in a single honors or AP class as far as I could see, which were the people I did know.

  6. I too was the class clown. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I made educated comments that were pertinent to the subject and made the teacher laugh that I could get away with it.

  7. I was the “class clown” due to extreme boredom, often finishing assignments long before the rest of the class. I also had bad eyes that were regularly changing. My parents instructed the school that they were to be notified if I was behaving. That was a sign that my eyes had gotten too bad for my glasses, and was sitting near the teacher so I could see them and the board.

  8. Psychologist Hans Eisenck once devised a personality test that asked people to rate a number of cartoons on how funny they were. (5 = excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor; 0 = not funny / I don’t get it).

    His thesis is that different personality types respond to different types of humor in cartoons, and these can be assessed while the subject is disarmed by looking at cartoons.

    I think the one example I saw needed more validation and reliability testing.

  9. Interesting.

    I’m not sure I was the class clown. I often wasn’t that engaged. I remember that I tended to read the entire textbook in the first couple of weeks, then was bored almost to tears for the rest of the class. I tended to spend my class time reading science fiction. One particular class, I remember reading a book during class. The teacher became annoyed, and started asking me questions about his lecture. Having already read the text, I was able to answer the question without having paid any attention to the lecture, and without even looking up from my book. One classmate told me at a class reunion that I had been his hero!


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