The Value and Challenge of Humor

Students explore the value of humor, how sometimes "jokes" become hurtful, and what we can do when that happens.

To the Teacher 

This lesson explores the importance of humor and comedy as well as the difference between laughing with and laughing at a person or group of people.

Students will be asked to think about the people in their lives who make them laugh and the value humor and comedy add to their lives. They will think about ways that comedy can be used to talk about and cope with difficult topics. And they'll discuss how sometimes jokes go too far, how they themselves respond to hurtful “jokes,” and how they can push back when comedy crosses the line.

A red neon sign that says "laugh"

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash



Share with students that when things are hard in our lives (as they are right now for many of us), it’s important to keep finding and celebrating hope and joy in our lives. Humor is a great way to do that. Comedy can also be used to talk about and cope with difficult topics.

However, sometimes jokes go too far. They can be hurtful and harmful.

Tell students that today we’ll share our thoughts about the benefits of humor, and also  the challenges of humor when “jokes” become hurtful.

Opening Go Round:

Ask students: Who is the funniest person you know? 

(Note: this person can be someone they know personally or a celebrity they think is really funny.)


PART 1:  The Value of Humor

Turn, Talk, and Share 1

Have students turn and talk to a partner or partners close to them.

Each person should share with their partner(s): What are the qualities or characteristics that makes the person they chose so funny?

Invite the group to share out, popcorn-style. 

Turn, Talk, and Share 2

Ask students to share with their partner(s): What do you value about comedy and laughter?

Invite the group to share out, popcorn-style.

Small Group Sharing

Invite students to divide into small groups of 4-5. Ask them to think about comedians or comedies that use humor to talk about serious themes.

Invite them to share with their peers and chart their responses to the following prompts:

  • Prompt 1: What examples can you think of where comedy has been used to talk about serious topics. Who are the comedians and what topics do they discuss?
  • Prompt 2: What is the value of using humor to talk about these topics?

Group Share Out

Invite each group to share out what they discussed

Students might give examples of comedians such as John Mulaney and Pete Davidson, who have used comedy to talk about their struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, or shows like South Park and Saturday Night Live that use comedy as a way to talk about current events and controversial socio-political issues. Students may also mention social media or YouTube influencers who use comedy in similar ways to talk about real and serious struggles.

PART 2: When Comedy Crosses the Line

Once students have shared everything they love and appreciate about humor and how valuable and healing it can be to laugh, invite them to think about examples of “jokes” that have crossed the line and caused harm. 

Turn, Talk, and Share

Have students share with their partner(s) examples from either their own lives or in current culture where someone has made a “joke” that has hurt or upset them or other people.

Note: Ask students to be very mindful about the language they are using with each other so that they don’t unintentionally cause harm themselves.

What do they notice is the difference between comedy about serious topics and the harmful or hurtful comments disguised as jokes? 

Then ask students to share out, popcorn-style. Again, remind students to be mindful of their language.

What Can We Do?

Share with students that comedy can be an excellent coping mechanism in even the most difficult situations. However, comedy that targets people or groups without the person telling the “joke” sharing that experience can cause pain and harm. There is a difference between laughing with and laughing at someone. 

Invite students to think about what they can do when they hear a joke they know isn’t funny.

Send the talking piece around and invite students to share:

  • What makes it difficult to push back?
  • What strategies have they used in the past that have worked?
  • Who can they ask for help? 



Share the following quote with the students : 

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it feels like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”  – Robin Williams 

If there is time for a full go-round, invite students to share closing responses to the quote. If time is limited, invite one or two students to share final thoughts.