There was a man who stopped eating. Not because of his health or weight or spirituality. He was saving his appetite for a big feast that was one week away.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, a couple years ago, I was a librarian at a K-8 school here in San Francisco called St. Philips.
So the week of Halloween arrives, and the kids and I are running on a sugar rush. We decide that instead of our usual reading a book on the carpet, we’re going to do something new. We’re going to make up our own story.
That’s where he came from: the man who stopped eating. We called him Mr. Porksmith.
And what happened next is devastating. He eats and he eats and he eats, including the underwear he’s wearing, until he’s so full he’s ready to pop.
You can guess what happened next. The explosion is heard from miles around, and food is raining down for hours.
Morose, I know. But here’s how they reacted.
We decided that it was the funniest story ever told. So I went home and wrote it down. And then it occurred to me: what if they thought it was hilarious only because they were, you know, in kindergarten?
I decided we needed to broaden our audience, so I called in the upper-brass. I called in the 1st graders.
And so we set out to answer a simple question, that as far as we knew, no one had ever answered: do kindergartners and first graders find the same thing funny?
I set up an experiment that would help answer this question. First I asked the kindergartners to make predictions about the funniest parts. Next I recorded the two classes’ reactions. And then, I compared.
I’m just going to tell you, the kindergartners found it way funnier. There is no denying it.
When kindergartners laugh, which is all the time and at anything at all, they don’t hold back.
But by the time you reach 1st grade, you are world-weary. Self-conscious. You still laugh at the same things, but you look around first to see if other people are laughing too. And if they are, then you join in, dancing that fine line between joy and restraint.
But once, every now and then, you can’t help yourself. Your inner-kindergartner comes out.
Or, to put it another way, eating your underwear is universally funny, and nincompoop is a hilarious word.