Maddie’s Got Jokes: Developing A Sense of Humor

Even before I had a child of my own1, I would sometimes think about where a sense of humor (or lack thereof) comes from and how it develops in an individual, family or community. I have had discussions along these lines with my brothers and my wife. Why is that my brothers and I are all relatively sarcastic? What is it about my family that made us adopt situationally quoting movie lines for comedic effect?2 Why do I like to do impressions of people? Is a certain kind of humor–or generally appreciating humor–genetic? Do overly serious people breed more serious people?

Now I have a daughter who can serve as a living laboratory for exactly these types of questions! And having just rounded the eight-month milestone, she’s starting to show glimmers of a baby-sized sense of humor. Without getting too cocky about it, I think that my wife and I both come from families with above average senses of humor. At the very least, we make each other laugh a lot, so there’s a lot of laughter in our house. For that reason, it makes sense to me that Maddie would be the smiley little girl that she is. She is incredibly ticklish now, and when I tickle her she frequently acts like she wants me to keep doing it, so that’s one way to make her laugh with little effort. Slowly but surely, she’s now developing an appreciation for more situational comedy–laughing at peek-a-boo or other repeated noises and motions.

As a burgeoning comedian herself, Maddie performed her first set yesterday to an audience of two laughing parents. While sitting in her high chair and preparing to eat some apple sauce, Maddie leaned back in her seat and let out a long “Aaaaaaaaah”–sort of a sigh mixed with a growl. She then proceeded to laugh at herself. I won’t deny it…As infant comedy goes, it was gold.

Cuddling with MaddieLater in the evening, I had another moment with her that I never want to forget. We’ve started a new tradition where I will put her face down on top of my chest, so she is sprawled out face-to-face on top of me while I’m lying on the couch. Usually she’ll look me right in the eye and then start trying to roll over while on top of me to change her position or vantage point. Yesterday she rolled herself into the crook of her arm and just sat there happily with me for several moments. It was so awesome. It lasted long enough that I actually got a photo of it, which by baby standards of movement, is about a month.

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s cute, but how is that funny?” Well, the funny part happened next. I put her back on top of my chest, she looked me in the eye and then made a growling noise and grabbed my nose! As I shook my head and played along, yelling for her to let go, she continued to growl and laugh and hold on. I reset her on my chest again and she repeated the joke two more times! It reinforced for me just how much of a sponge her developing mind really is. The sound she’s making is very similar to sounds that Theresa and I make to her all the time–especially when we are grabbing her feet or giving her a hug or tickling her. There’s no doubt in my mind that she was trying to replicate what she’s already seen–I honestly don’t know of any other explanation for it.

The scary part about this is the realization that soon many words, phrases, jokes, TV shows, songs, movies and other things will have to be eradicated from our daily lives to keep them from entering the unblemished, ever-listening ears and ever-watchful eyes that are now a part of our household. I want to be a positive influence on her humor, not raise a two-year-old female Adam Sandler. That said, it’s incredibly exciting to watch her developing in this way and to know that so many other aspects of her personality are currently in development and will soon be on display. The greatest show on Earth is only going to get more entertaining from here.

I’m curious to hear from parents of older kids…How did humor manifest itself in your children? Did you see a lot of your own influence or did they go in a different direction?

  1. a phrase that is still very surreal to type
  2. Sometimes we’ll watch movies and count the number of lines that we reference frequently in conversation. For whatever reason, I think White Christmas is one of the most often quoted.

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