What’s So Funny? Kids, teens and humor Part 1

Whether exploring TV shows, online content, or real-life situations, it's challenging to pinpoint what kids and teens universally find funny because humor is largely shaped by individual taste.
April 1, 2010

Whether exploring TV shows, online content, or real-life situations, it’s challenging to pinpoint what kids and teens universally find funny because humor is largely shaped by individual taste. What appears to be a laugh riot for one person may leave another in stunned silence. So rather than attempt to dive into the rationale behind an individual’s sense of humor, we took a step back to explore different categories of humor, defined by kids and teens ages eight to 17, and the role media platforms play from both a kid and teen perspective. Finally, we talked to parents in an effort to understand what they find funny for themselves and for their families.

Boys and girls of all ages understand that there are different types of humor. While terms such as ‘stupid,’ ‘gross’ and ‘embarrassing’ were collectively used to describe what they found funny, kids and teens added several varieties of their own, with ‘random,’ ‘hysterical’ and ‘weird’ making their lists.

Boys and girls of all ages agree that girls have smarter and more subtle senses of humor. Boys also find girls to be more sarcastic; they tend to believe that because ‘girls are smarter than boys,’ females respond more positively to complex, situational humor. This type of humor only works for boys when they understand it; if they don’t, the humor doesn’t translate. As one 16-year-old girl put it, ‘Guys want stuff that’s more in your face. I like sneaky jokes that you have to think about – those just go over boys’ heads.’

Almost all kids and teens agree that boys gravitate to content or situations that are ‘gross’ or ‘disgusting.’ This can include anything from bathroom humor to violence, such as the ‘Oh my God, they killed Kenny’ gag from South Park. In our study, girls often mentioned that boys find ‘stupid’ things funnier than girls. While ‘gross’ and ‘stupid’ humor are perceived to skew towards boys, girls don’t reject them entirely. In fact, there wasn’t one type of humor categorically rejected by boys or girls. So as long as the content is gender-relevant, understandable and age-appropriate, all types of humor can appeal to everyone.

According to kids and teens interviewed, the type of humor they share with their family depends on the individual’s family unit. For example, tween and teen boys oftentimes feel they can share ‘dirtier’ humor (i.e. sexual innuendo, bathroom jokes) with their fathers, but can’t ‘go there with mom.’ However, it doesn’t apply to all boys, as we heard some include mom in on the jokes. Additionally, some girls participate in this type of humor with mom and dad.

From parents’ perspectives, ‘silly’ humor serves as the most common unifier for families. Displays of ‘physical’ and ‘embarrassing’ humor, found in shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and American Idol auditions, are co-viewing comedy staples in the home, too. Parents also have nostalgic feeling and fondness for the performers and content they grew up with, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bill Cosby and the Three Stooges. Because parents feel so connected to performers and shows from their childhoods, they’re often looking for content that resembles the comedy they grew up with. As a result, parents are sometimes harsh critics when it comes to evaluating today’s TV and film offerings. For example, parents of teen girls remarked, ‘Humor was more slapstick when we were younger. Now it’s about the words. It feels more rehearsed.’

We will continue this exploration of humor among kids, teens and parents in part two of our Humor Report in next month’s Kaleidoscope. For more information, contact

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