From email conversations with Mina Liccione, founder of ‘Laugh Out Loud!’ comedy school, I’m expecting a larger-than-life character. She doesn’t disappoint. At a svelte six feet tall and with a mass of black curly hair, she resembles an upside-down version of one of the exclamation marks that splatter her emails. ‘Yeah, I’ve had to embrace my lengthiness. I’m ok with it,’ says the Italian-American New Yorker who used to earn a crust spinning around in the air in a comedic aerial dance act. After tap dancing her heart out on several off-Broadway shows and a three-year stint with comedy percussion act Stomp, Mina (pictured right) fancied a change of scene. Following a spell at Dubai Summer Surprises, she made the permanent move to the Middle East and opened her kids’ comedy school, fittingly, on April Fools’ Day last year.
So, I’m curious; as someone who often reveals the punchline in the middle of the joke, how can funniness be learned? Are some people just more amusing than others? Mina says yes, there are natural comics, but everyone can be taught to see the funny side of life. Helping kids transform all the frustrating and irritating things that happen to them into stories that make them chuckle or, as the name suggests, laugh out loud, is not only an absolute hoot, but it builds their confidence and self-esteem too.
‘We have some kids who are really outgoing – the class clowns – and others who don’t want to talk. We try to get them all in the middle,’ she says. Mina sets the kids assignments, including eavesdropping on conversations or events in public places and coming back into class and having a good giggle about them. ‘Like the boy in the mall arguing with his mother because she wouldn’t let him have pizza,’ Mina explains. ‘She went to get his food and the boy snuck over to an empty table and ate someone’s leftovers. The kids found that really funny, but not as disgusting as you might think.’
A former student of the San Francisco-based Clown Conservatory (yes, there is such an educational establishment), Mina’s lessons are far removed from the ordinary classroom. ‘How to trip properly’ was the topic of a recent workshop where she made use of the ‘three-beat’ technique. ‘You trip over an invisible object, look back, go round again, trip, look back, then the third time you do something different, like take a massive step to avoid the obstacle, then trip as you go off the stage.’ There’s comedy show and tell – getting kids to bring in an amusing article of clothing to recreate characters and scenes – and, parents take heed, she also encourages the sharing of truthful tales from home that have kids in stitches. ‘The most popular stories are the baby brother or sister who pees in the bath or on the floor – they find that hilarious – or when the baby starts walking. They’re like: “He took two steps, he fell down, he laughed, he got up, took another two steps, he fell down.” Also dads being hairy provides endless amusement, particularly among girls. They say, “Eeew, it comes out of his ears, his nose, his shirt – why doesn’t he just cut it off!” Here, they’re allowed to tell their secrets. They wouldn’t tell dad they think it’s hysterical that he’s hairy.’
It’s this sharing of secrets that appeals to kids. It’s liberating to discover that maybe they’re not as weird as they thought, and that, actually, their everyday frustrations are quite laughable. Apparently, Dubai kids are particularly droll; the expat lifestyle, the combination of cultures, and even the traffic providing endless material for witty routines. ‘Kids here are different; they’re smart, they’re worldly and they just seem to have that international flair,’ says Mina. ‘They all have funny airplane stories, from the food on the flight being disgusting, to not sitting at the back next to the smelly toilets. They’re not shy these kids. They’re more independent and they know stuff. If I want to fly to India, I’ll ask the kids in my class – they’ll tell me the best airline and the best route.’
Interestingly, Mina says even at this tender age it’s easy to spot national comedic quirks. ‘You can see the differences in their sense of humour. The Brits are really witty and really fast, they’re like, “bang bang bang”, whereas the Middle Eastern kids are much more relaxed. They tend to tell jokes as a story, “laa-di-daa-di-daa-di-daa”. And, of course, the Italian kid flings his hands around all the time. Kids mimic their parents so much without even knowing it.’
You have been warned.
Laugh out Loud! (050 927 3621; email@example.com) holds classes every Saturday morning at DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates for kids aged five-11 and a ‘tiny giggles’ session for kids aged three-five.