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Wanna be funny? Harper College offers course on sense of humor

Antioch-3/1/08 Sat./St. Peter's Father Haley Hall Dobie Maxwell/Lake Villperforming for crowd. Joe Shuman/For Pioneer Press

Antioch-3/1/08, Sat./St. Peter's Father Haley Hall Dobie Maxwell/Lake Villa, performing for the crowd. Joe Shuman/For Pioneer Press

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Can you learn to be funnier in your day-to-day life? Dobie Maxwell thinks so — he teaches classes on it, like the upcoming humor class at Harper College. His tips include:

† Have at least three jokes memorized and ready to go, with the third one being the one you think is the best.

† Do not do ethnic, religious or political jokes unless you are of that particular group. Political correctness outweighs funny these days.

† Keep it clean, unless you are 100 percent sure of the group you’re in. A misplaced off-color joke can do much more damage than good.

† A true comedian does not bother friends and family with a barrage of bad jokes. Try material out on strangers. You’ll never see them again.

† Laughs are about the unexpected. It’s all in the surprise.

Updated: November 9, 2011 12:39PM

Are funny people born that way or is a sense of humor something you can learn?

Harper College officials in Palatine believe it’s the latter, and are offering a free, non-credit community course to help people be funnier at home and at work.

“From Humor to Health: Comedy and Healthy Living” is a two-part class offered later this month by a stand-up comic and a humor therapist aimed at improving day-to-day life with laughs.

Learning humor is like learning music, said Scott Cashman, Harper’s continuing education manager.

“A lot of people think they can either sing or not sing,” Cashman said. “But you can become a better singer by learning how to sing. I’m not sure [the class] is going to change people’s worldview, but the way you can communicate with people can definitely be improved upon.”

The health benefits of humor are well-documented. Higher creativity, better memory, and improved problem-solving skills characterize people with better senses of humor. They tend to have increased attractiveness and happier marriages and friendships. They also have less pain, stress, depression and anxiety.

Cashman said the connection between health and a person’s frame of mind was what inspired the class, the first free community class the school has offered.

“That’s the whole point of bringing together laughter and humor with a health perspective,” he said.

Dobie Maxwell, a stand-up comic from Fox Lake, has taught at Zanies as well as a community college in Wisconsin and is one of Harper’s instructors. The students at clubs and colleges are different, he said, but the message is the same.

“The first thing I tell them is I cannot make you funny,” he said. But he can help bring out the humor inside. “If somebody [is] funny I can point them in a direction which is such a time saver,” he said.

The course is like a sports fantasy camp for aspiring comics, he said. Others were everyday folks looking to improve their lives.

Maxwell aims to teach them not to be performers but to make laughter more a part of their lifestyle.

“It’s a way of life,” he said. “It disarms a lot of things. It’s really therapeutic. The secret to walking on water is knowing where the rocks are.”

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