Wall Street Journal, Law School Should be Funnier, Says Professor:
Stephen F. Reed, a clinical law professor at Northwestern University School of Law, says professors shouldn’t underestimate the pedagogical power of laughter. “[H]umor can have value in creating a lively classroom environment in which students are ready to learn, and in its best forms can help faculty accomplish their pedagogical goals,” Mr. Reed writes. ...
He encourages professors to brush up on pop culture and jot down ideas before class. And he also cautions against going overboard with slapstick: "I cannot emphasize this enough: do not be a clown in class; be a professor with a sense of humor."
Stephen F. Reed (Northwestern), The Lively Classroom: Finding the Humor in Business Associations, 59 St. Louis L.J. ___ (2015):
I have yet to meet a faculty member who does not, in at least some small way, use humor in the classroom. It almost seems to be part of human nature, and some of its value is obvious: it commands attention, it relaxes both the speaker and the audience, and it provides a release in stressful situations. It may even help us to better retain information.2 This article is not intended to justify humor in the classroom, which other authors have covered,3 but takes as a given that humor can have value in creating a lively classroom environment in which students are ready to learn, and in its best forms can help faculty accomplish their pedagogical goals.
My main project, then, is to give you ideas on how to introduce humor to your course no matter how “unfunny” you consider yourself to be. I understand that those of you who do not believe you can use humor effectively in the classroom may dismiss this piece immediately.4 Although I implore you to give the ideas below at least a pilot run next semester, I understand completely why you might think it futile. ... Too often, we ignore that much of what happens in the classroom depends on certain inherent physical and personality traits of the instructor. Many of us wonder - even fear - that maybe some faculty have just “got it” and we do not. Anyone can buy a dapper new outfit, but only Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie can wear it like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, while the rest of us middle-aged professors in the “prime” of our careers wear the same outfit like Buddy Hackett or Carol Channing.7See material on staying current with cultural references, infra.
I am convinced, however, that you8 have “got it.” Admittedly, the “it” you have is likely different from mine and from everyone else’s—we all have different senses of humor and strengths in relating stories in a lively way. Moreover, there is no one correct formula for creating humor in the classroom. As Steve Allen noted in How to Be Funny, “Telling people how to be funny is far more complex than explaining how to play golf, or the piano, or bridge. The primary reason is that there is a definiteness to these other activities. There are rules of the game… There are no such rules about humor or funniness.”9 Nevertheless, there are some ways we can harness our natural tendencies to lend humor to our classroom endeavors.