Nobody’s laughing. A moment ago, I was laughing, but even I’ve stopped. So now, nobody’s laughing.
The faces of the ten young people facing me and the screen we’re all (now) suffering through show pain. That kind of pain that comes when someone wants you to find something funny and you Just. Do. Not. It presents itself in winces. I am facing those faces, so I get to enjoy interpreting and obsessing over those winces.
In my quests to be the popular teacher and make people laugh (and some mishegoss about shaping the great minds of tomorrow) I often use clips of comedians and humorous shows. Each one has a methodological aim and comedic perspectives often convey a concept with clarity, sense, and hilarity.
But not today. Today it’s Blackadder to spoof British social classes. While Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry make my abs hurt, they’re obviously not doing it for the students.
On the first viewing I asked them to catch the gist of the problem being addressed. When it got nothing but flat-mouthed crickets, I asked comprehension questions the students stuttered through. I don’t blame them, they are an active, interested, and intelligent group of young people. They just don’t know what to say.
I determine that they’re missing the whole premise and therefore the jokes are falling flat. It’s the language, I decide. Fry’s emoted upper class stuffy RP and Atkinson’s back of the mouth sardonic are too hard to pick up. I draw out some vocabulary and we discuss meaning. This should clear it up.
“OK, what’s the problem being discussed?” I ask as we begin the second viewing. Eyes squint as they strain to understand and shoulders shrug when they get a tidbit of what is supposed to be funny.
“So?” I ask.
They understood the language and the problem. They eke through it. I set a third task. “The Irony,” I say. The students shift in their seats in fidgety why is this still going on? restlessness. Sweat becomes part of my world. “Where’s the Irony?” I sit back at the helm and sing to the computer screen, “Please laugh. Please laugh.”
They do not heed my melodic request. I seriously consider jumping out of the window and running home. And this is when I get frustrated with the failings of the English language.
Untranslatable words in languages other than English have become all the rage. When a Czech person prozvonits he or she calls and hangs up to give someone their phone number. The Japanese call mothers who relentlessly push their children towards academic achievement Kyoikumama. If you engage in Tingo on Easter Island, the Pascuense speakers around you may accuse you of taking objects you desire from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing them. The Scottish, never to be outdone linguistically, have us covered on the much-needed word Tartle to describe the hesitancy we have all exhibited while introducing someone whose name we have forgotten.
As far as I know, we have no word for the immeasurably awkward situation when one fails brutally in trying to make a group of students laugh and then desires to jump through a window and run home. Flop and bomb may be used to convey a similar concept to part of that, but it doesn’t cover the whole meaning that other teachers have felt.
Later on, I plop down in my office chair, physically and emotionally exhausted. The joke continued to bomb and, quick learner that I am, I tried to explain it. In the end they didn’t budge into enjoyment and I was left bitterly judging my life choices. I spin in my chair and try to come up with a suitable sounding word to convey the whole concept. I am thinking of trying out Blagubulation or perhaps Sclorthfrapanuese or maybe Frigmahamama. But I’m open to suggestions.
What other situations, actions, concepts, and feelings need words in English?