LMFAO: Learning isn’t funny, is it?

Learning content isn’t funny is it? It’s a terribly serious endeavour. At school we got bollocked for laughing in class, shushed in the library, and rarely (if ever) were there jokes in the textbooks we read. so on reflection I’m surprised because whenever I see learning being delivered in a real-time environment in the Land of Adults, humour is (usually) there in some form.

I’m not saying that L&D practitioners should go to comedy school, but let me tell you a story that inspired this blog post…

A few years ago I received a brief from a very admirable and lovely, but nevertheless massively conservative global organisation, to do a health and safety training video.

I met with the health and safety manager who was also going to present the video. He was a very nice chap, and for the sake of this story I’ll call him Bob, because that was indeed his name.

Bob knew his stuff and he went on to deliver a precise but very serious presentation.

Whilst I was watching it, I had a flash back to when I had to watch videos like this in the past – you know – the typical ‘off the shelf’ corporate induction video teaching you how to lift a box into the back of a car etc – and that drool-assisted feeling in the training room of life slowly ebbing away.

So we wrapped up the filming – that was that – and I did the edit. My god it was boring. I could foresee people rolling their eyes and mentally switching off the minute the film would be played. So I wanted to do something about it.

Now I had a friendly relationship with the L&D team and knew that whilst the very serious video would be the one they would go with, it would be worth doing an alternative edit as an experiment.

That edit involved Bob doing the same presentation, whilst using cutaways that were connected to the content, but at the same time I threw  in some completely ridiculous shots. So I got a couple of friends to wear hard hats, and examine dangers such as banana skins on the floor, whilst measuring them with a ruler, and taking notes on a clip board whilst looking terribly serious.

This wasn’t exactly epic comedy, but the thing is the client told me the whole L&D department were literally in stitches, crying with laughter, when they watched it. It worked because the expectation was immediately set of ‘oh god it’s another health and safety video’ which followed the sense of relief where it detoured into something different but still relevant.

The thing was that whilst they indeed did not launch it across the organisation, the feedback was that the people who did watch it remained engaged to the video and still picked up the facts they needed.

And here lies the point I’m making really. I’m not suggesting that every L&D video needs to be injected with humour, but what I am saying is that I believe many L&D professionals are scared of even contemplating it, and here’s 3 reasons why, along with my thoughts:


Humour is a very subjective thing. Some people will not find it funny.

I’ve heard this a lot – not just in relation to video. This entirely depends on approach. Humour can be very simple, very subtle. The training video I mentioned above wasn’t exactly going to win any comedy awards, but it played off people’s expectations and that’s why it was funny.

Sometimes just the teensiest sliver of humour, that could simply be about grinding binary oppositions together or suchlike, is enough to send a wave of relief through the training room/computer screen – even if it’s just a blooper reel at the end of the video (everyone likes bloopers – although they tend to come at the end of a video).

What if the humour offends somebody? 

I would say that it’s not like you’re going to be getting Roy Chubby Brown and Frankie Boyle in to script it. It’s perfectly possible to have non-offensive humour.

Humour isn’t offensive by default.


What if humour undermines the learning content? 

I really don’t think it will if it’s well thought out and subtle. Humour doesn’t need to dominate the video, but can be used to simply break it up a bit. I think if it’s done right, it can actually increase the engagement of the content, even make it shareable (if your platform and course allows).

I’ve got a blog in the pipeline at the moment about ‘serious video’ – not just for L&D but also marketing. Aside from video for social media, video is a very serious endeavour, but when it’s not taken too seriously, or even if just for tiny little moments when humour appears, it can make a production feel more human.

Have you ever used humour in learning content you’ve created? We would love to hear some other real-life examples!

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