Our Third Year of Ha-Ha-Ha-Happiness

The Happiness@School Project© is a joyful learning experience that uses stand-up comedy skills to promote well-being through mental health literacy, positive psychology, and laughter. It is a Canadian first using strategies to encourage skills that aren’t traditionally taught — but have serious curriculum connections!


Take a look at this link to The Toronto Star coverage , a fantastic article, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To School written by Louise Brown and captured perfectly in photos and video by Todd Korol.

As the creator of the project, I worked (it was more like playing) with two professional comedian-coaches, Kyle Woolven and Marc Hallworth, and we ran a series of workshops with students in three grade 7 classes at North Kipling Junior Middle School in the Toronto District School Board. Sincere thanks go to Principal Alex Tracey and the three grade 7 teachers: Doug Cornell, Shannon Patterson and John Morrone for their pioneering spirit with this innovative project. As an Accepted Partner with the Toronto District School Board in their Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, we had these outcomes in mind:

  • to develop high-level language skills (oral and written)
  • to build resiliency through mental health and well-being
  • to develop character strengths, including creativity, gratitude, humour and play
  • to develop comic writing and performance skills
  • to experience the value of stand up comedy skills to turn problems into punchlines
  • to learn the difference between humour from a helpful class clown and a hurtful bully
  • to lighten up with laughter exercises, mindful meditation and breathing techniques

The Stand-Up Comedy Showcase was the culmination of 3 months of playful work where sixteen budding stand-up student comedians in grade 7 performed acts they have written themselves — about themselves. This is not a contest and is intended to feature a variety of diverse student personalities.  To laugh at comedy on TV or in movies is one thing, but to write and perform stand-up comedy about yourself in front of others is a totally unique experience. We learned that writing for performing is a unique set of literacy skills. The media coverage we received just blew us away!  I will share as much of it as I can in these blogs.

Although this was a grade 7 project, we believe it would be successful in high school as well. We are currently developing plans to take this to more schools in Ontario and even across the country.

The plan with my plans for this weekly Blog this spring is to take you through the process with video clips and resources you can adapt or use directly with your classes. Next week, I will feature  comments from the students from their blogs and final survey.

In a few weeks I will be posting a Project Guidebook that contains a Teacher Guide and a Student Book.  Stay tuned to this space for a lot more fun and information. I welcome your comments and questions.


The Most Positive Thing in Your Life: from grade 7 students

Stay Positive

We’re off to another fun year with the grade seven teachers and students and their Happiness Project at North Kipling JMS in the Toronto District School Board.  To start the project off, we decided to use a short questionnaire this year to keep some data. One of the questions was — What is the most positive thing in your life now? Why? Thinking they would say things like “my new iPhone”, I was delighted and surprised about the theme of the majority of their comments.

Overwhelmingly, they talked about their families. In their words, here is a sampling of their comments:

“My mom is the most supportive of me”, “My brothers will always be there for me”, “My family makes me laugh.” “My parents have done a lot for me and my siblings.” “My family because they bring me up and help me, they take care of me and they make me happy.” “My family supports me no matter what the situation is.” “They know me well and with them it’s easy to laugh and smile.” “Without my family, I’d have nothing.”

There were lots of comments about school too, like “Going to school, because I can learn something new.”

And friends . “My friends keep me company and help me out of tuff situations.”

“Playing soccer!” “Helping others because you feel good after.” “Being healthy”

With Thanksgiving weekend coming soon in Canada, these are comments I am thankful for. It’s going to be an awesome project with these students this year! More to come!

North Kipling Comedy Cubs “Stand Up Comedy Showcase”

The Run Throughs
A few days before the final Showcase we held two run throughs at lunchtime. This ended up being a critical part of the success of the Showcase as we could give feedback to each act. We also had to ask certain groups to reconsider their performances because they were too close to the line (or well over it) of being tasteful and appropriate. One of the guidelines was “If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see this, don’t put it in the act.” Some racially and politically-based humour continued to be a point of discussion.



The Day of The Showcase
Showcase2The morning of the Showcase brought out the best in most of the comedians. A few got cold feet and withdrew when they saw the videographer from CBC TV. Kudos to those who found the courage and went for it in spite of their nerves. —Naba; Noor; Cory and Rohan; Adedayo; Sehan, Jaiquon, Kiran, Jonathan and Aingaran (The Melon Show), Karanjah and Chesney; Tashifa, Sabhat and Nain (The Power Puff Girls); Emily and Baarath;, Niveithan and Palram; Randy; and Alim.

The program and content the kids chose dealt with types of parents, out of control shopping experiences, social media, and experiments gone wrong — just to name a few. Thanks to all the courageous grade seven students who took a risk and tried something new with this project whether it was in their classroom performances or in this Stand Up Comedy Showcase. Each one is different — and we should celebrate those differences!

Showcase1To laugh at comedy on TV or in the movies is one thing, but to write and perform comedy in front of others is a totally unique experience. It takes special skills to perform in front of others and hope you make them laugh. These comedic skills will be useful throughout their lives in many ways at work, with friends and at home. We all need to lighten up and laugh more. No one student won the Showcase as students agreed that they were all winners for performing in front of an audience.

CBC covers The Showcase on Our Toronto. WOWEE!
CBC Debbie Lightle Quan picked up the story from the TDSB website and spent so much time with the kids filming their stories after the Showcase. Here is the lead-in to the TV segment:

A Lesson in Laughter: Here’s a unique way for kids to not only learn, but to laugh. A class where stand up comedy has students sitting up and taking note on how to treat each other. Debbie Lightle-Quan has that story and a little blooper of her own.
Would you like to watch the CBC coverage here? Be prepared to laugh!
CBC coverage on YouTube

Shout Outs Go To…
We need to send a shout out to Melbourne (Australia) International Class Clowns Festival for students 14-18 years older. We watched many of their students performing for ideas and inspiration. I included their program, developed by Ian McFayden and Karin Ferrell, as a resource in my book Kidding Around: connecting kids to happiness, laughter and humour. We hope to collaborate with them in the future.

Huge shout outs also go to the teachers (Doug Cornell, Marilyn Orszulik, Alessandro Lammana, Ellen Walton and Ian Robertson), the principal Alex Tracey for supporting the program, the comedian-coaches Tyler Morrison and Marc Trinidad, expert photographer Patti Henderson — and above all to the KIDS themselves! We videotaped the entire program and will share an edited version of all the footage in a future blog.

Patti Henderson said in her blog Laughter is the Sound of the Soul Dancing, “This was one of the most insightful, entertaining and worthwhile education projects of my 20 year career in this field… involving an energetic and irrepressibly optimistic and funny group of Grade 7 students. I must say that as I was editing and posting these photos to the gallery, I could not stop smiling! Nothing cleanses the soul as much as the sight of kids laughing. Laughter really is the best medicine! This is especially true in this corner of Toronto where students and teachers often face challenges to joy and laughter.Patti’s Blog Post

Students and teachers hope this pilot project becomes an annual event at North Kipling
JMS. They also hope that by spreading the word, it can be scaled up to share with students at other schools in TDSB. As one of the teachers Doug Cornell said, “We’re on to something new and good here!”

I encourage you to learn from our experience and try this in your own classrooms or schools or living rooms. You could start small and just get your feet wet or you could jump in the deep end and ride the waves of comedy. Let’s share the results and network about this more.