Letter to the Editor

Friedman. H. H., Friedman, L. W., and Amoo, T. (2002) "Using Humor in the Introductory Statistics Course," Journal of Statistics Education, 10(3) (jse.amstat.org/v10n3/friedman.html)

It was refreshing to see the article by Friedman, et al. on the use of humor in the classroom. It not only contained many enjoyable and useful examples, but also provided empirical support that may tip the balance for instructors who have held back for fear of going too far out on a limb. I also have found humor can be effective in the classroom for many of the same reasons music in the classroom can be effective, and I use them in combination (see the song parodies in Lesser 2002, for example). I agree that most textbooks (statistics or otherwise) minimize the use of humor, though I'd like to add Gonick and Smith (1993) to the short list of exceptions.

I would also like to add to the "How to Produce Humor" suggestions in Section 5 by suggesting Helitzer (1987) as an example for accessible and comprehensive background on producing humor, and also noting that in major cities there are comedians who offer enjoyable short introductory comedy workshops for small groups of amateurs. Those who make sense of new ideas best through an abstract or mathematical perspective may enjoy a book such as Paulos (1980).

I agree that a teacher's humor that is self-deprecating is usually the most effective, considering that the teacher is generally perceived as having significantly more power in the teacher-student relationship. Considering this, I suggest caution about using the "partial credit rule" in 3.2, as this could backfire in a room full of students more anxious than usual about an upcoming evaluation or assessment. Another example of humor with a potential pitfall in some environments would be jokes with implicit references to sexuality or sexual acts (some of the "Top Ten Reasons to Become a Statistician" at the end of Section 3.2). In general, it could and should have been made more clear that there are certain jokes that are virtually foolproof or failsafe and there are others that may work only with a particular personality, delivery, established history, culture, context, setup, and so forth.

Lawrence M. Lesser
Armstrong Atlantic State University
11935 Abercorn Street
Savannah, GA 31419-1997


Gonick, L., and Smith, W. (1993), The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, New York: Harper Collins.

Helitzer, M. (1987), Comedy Writing Secrets, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books.

Lesser, L. M. (2002), "Stat Song Sing-Along!" STATS: The Magazine for Students of Statistics, 33, 16-17.

Paulos, J. A. (1980), Mathematics and Humor, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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