Comedian Seàn Cullen finds his kids are a tough audience



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

Writing comedy is hard.

Living comedy is easy. When you have children.

Civilians think that, being a comedian, I’m a superfun guy with the kids and I keep them laughing all the time. Not true. The bad part of being a comic is that people think you are always on the clock. You’re always cracking wise and making with the laughs.

Definitely not true.

First of all, this would make me a very annoying person to be around. There’s nothing more irritating than a comic who’s always “on”. It’s bad enough in the wider world but in a family setting, you become that creepy uncle at every family gathering. ABORT!

Secondly, the only people who don’t respond to my comedy hijinks are my children. They see me as Daddy first and funnyman second. They think of my job as just that: a job. When they see me dressing in a suit they say, “Are you going to work, Daddo?”

“Yes!”

“Is it the singing work or the dancing work?”

“It’s the funny work.”

“Oh. Can we play Wii Star Wars when you get back?”

They are not impressed by what I do at all. When I try to be funny with them, they tell me not to be silly. The problem with children and humour, is that they don’t appreciate a well-crafted joke. They just don’t get it. Their idea of humour is usually very low brow.

To wit:

Me: Cleo, do you want some milk with your breakfast?

Cleo: Is it Pee Pee Milk?

Me: No. And don’t say pee pee please. Do you want milk?

Cleo: Is it Milk Diaper?

Me: No. Not Milk Diaper. Just milk.

Cleo: Is it milk poo poo?

And so on.

Joke structure is often difficult for children to grasp. We are all familiar with the famous knock-knock joke “banana and orange.” If you are not familiar with it, I am disturbed. It involves repeating the knock knock formula over and over again as follows:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

POW! A classic.

My children don’t understand the structure at all. They keep saying orange first time around and laughing hysterically. No amount of explanation will stop them from doing this. Fools!

My point is that depending on actual jokes when dealing with children is basically pointless. If you’re planning on opening a comedy club for children, be prepared for bankruptcy. Structured humour is impossible.

More important and effective is being ready to laugh. Children are the ultimate improvisers. As a parent, you have to be living in the moment and ready to laugh with your kids. Laughter can tip the balance between tears and joy. Most of the time, children are waiting for a cue from you to decide how they will deal with an incident. A dropped ice cream, a broken cup, a fall and a bump: if your first instinct is for laughter, a lot of negative situations can be reversed.

I believe a child’s first instinct is for joy. Give them the opportunity to laugh and they will take it rather than giving in to tears. I’m not talking about severe injuries here, nor am I talking about life-threatening illness. Laughter does not cure salmonella, for example, nor can a solid guffaw reattach a severed foot. But minor bumps, bruises and disappointments can be soothed with a little bit of humour applied at the right moment.

The most enjoyable moments I’ve had as a parent have been moments of spontaneous laughter. Unplanned hilarity is what makes being a father so much fun. Wardrobe malfunctions, sudden expulsions of gas from top or bottom: these make my life worth living. Best of all is when one of my children insults me but reveals their love for me at the same time.

Dropping my six-year-old son at school, he suddenly leaned close and whispered in my ear, “You may be fat but you’re my favourite daddy.”

You can’t write that sort of comedy. It just happens to you.

Seán Cullen is a veteran performer of stage and screen. He can be seen regularly on Match Game on The Comedy Network. He also hosts his own podcast The Seánpod airing on SiriusXM and available on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @MrSeanCullen or read more about him at SeanCullen.com

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2013.

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