Bizarrely humorous

So I’d been planning to lead a weekly discussion group for ESL students in the Adult Ed program where I work since, oh….September? Well, the first one finally occurred this afternoon. It went off pretty well; the idea is that it’s a way for students to practice English in an informal, non-class setting.

Today I prepared a bunch of hand-outs and tried to provoke discussion on the admittedly rather mundane topic of emergency preparedness. (If you live in NYC, go here for crucial info!)

Bizarre humor commences: There are several hajab-wearing Muslim ladies in the class, immigrants from various different Arab countries. After I had spent a lot of time talking about hurricanes, other severe weather, avian flu, toxic chemical spills, etc. I asked the class if they could think of any other emergencies or disasters that we should prepare for.

“Terrorism!” giggled the Arab ladies. Then the whole class laughed.

I couldn’t help laughing out loud too. But what’s funny about it? I guess they were able to take the negative stereotype surrounding Arabs and devout Muslims and turn it into a joke? Why is that funny? Very odd.

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One Response to “Bizarrely humorous”

  1. Jason Says:

    Re: your story. It is very funny and I think you are right to ask why. We kind of all know why. Our silent thoughts, because they are unspoken are sometimes a bit taboo, which means that we won’t air them. When something always remains unsaid, even when it is totally wrong, it can be funny when spoken by the party that is the usual subject of the taboo thoughts. There’s an Iranian comedian in the UK who uses the same effect in his act. He can say stuff that others think but would never say out loud. That gets laughs.

    On the teaching side – Did you take the class out to practise in the streets? Give it a go, but prepare carefully and tell them to use the magic words ‘Hi, I’m learning English can I ask you a few questions?’ We do this all the time in London and it is a very powerful learning experience.

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