Unconventional humor: Rice's resident jokesters
Jonathan Bunt is a frequent prank victim. Photo Courtesy Jonathan Bunt
Maybe it’s time for someone to ask The Princeton Review to add another category. For years, the college admissions company has consistently ranked Rice University in the top 10 of its “Happiest Students” list; however, some Rice students will not be satisfied until they can also call themselves the funniest.
The residential college system facilitates humor in a unique way. Students at McMurtry College took to comedy to entertain themselves during the week off of classes from Hurricane Harvey by staging a “Stupid Talent Show.” Ben Johnson, a senior at McMurtry who organized the event, said that the show consisted of “a few sign-ups but mostly audience members improvising with talents on the spot.”
Zach Verne, a McMurtry sophomore, emceed the event.
“I started off by reciting the opening monologue from ‘Bee Movie,’ which is indicative of the kind of stupid funny stuff other people did,” Verne said.
Sophomore Caroline Siegfried titled her talent show performance “Total Eclipse of the Fist.” She played the classic Bonnie Tyler song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while squeezing her entire fist into a small bowl, a teacup, and eventually her own mouth.
“We were bored,” Siegfried said. “Honestly, this was a lot more fun than a normal talent show.”
Will Rice College holds a tradition called “Friday Games.” Every Friday during lunch, Will Rice’s secretaries organize a series of “relay races and quirky versions of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey,” as Will Rice sophomore Margaret Wang put it.
“Friday Games is a great way to start off the weekend,” Wang said.
Rohan Bhardwaj, a Will Rice junior and secretary, said that they try to involve members of every grade in the games.
“Games encourage people to come out of their shell when they would usually just sit and talk to a couple of close friends,” Bhardwaj said.
Jonathan Bunt, a sophomore at Martel College, is known across campus for his hilarious sense of humor and huge imagination.
“This summer, my bike got stolen,” Bunt said. “Rather than spending money on a new bike, I built a driveable couch on used wheelchair wheels. It was the highlight of my summer.”
Bunt’s affinity for humor leads to many back-and-forth practical jokes between him and his friends.
“Last semester, my friends and I would hide uncooked spaghetti noodles in each other’s pillows, shampoo and laptops every day,” Bunt explained. “While you were showering, people would throw handfuls of dry pasta into the shower. The hot water cooked the pasta so it got mushy in your hair and on the shower floor.”
Bunt agrees that Rice’s residential college system produces hilarious memories. He recalls Martel’s “Hammered and Sickly: The Communist Revobrewtion” College Night as a particularly funny experience.
“We all went out on the sundeck blasting the U.S.S.R. National Anthem and had an upperclassman read aloud Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’,” Bunt said. “Everytime he read, ‘seize the means of production,’ everyone stood up and cheered.”
Many in the Rice community know Luis Zelaya, a Sid Richardson College senior, for the Rice memes he frequently posts on Facebook. Luis explained that it is his love for Rice, and for the residential colleges specifically, that inspire his memes.
“Poking fun at Rice’s idiosyncrasies makes me love the place even more,” Zelaya said.
Zelaya has been posting Rice memes on Facebook since his sophomore year. Zelaya’s jokes became famous last year when, in one of his memes, he wondered what the difference was between two posters plastered on either side of Rice Stadium that read “Rice Business” and “Rice Business Wisdom.” Rice students loved it, and the joke became a campus wide hit.
“I like memes because they are instantly consumable,” Zelaya said. “You can look at the meme, laugh and move on.”
Emma May Anderson, president of Rice’s improv group Spontaneous Combustion, engages in humor both at her SpoCo practices and at Brown. SpoCo’s members perform funny skits on campus about once a month. Emma aligns her own sense of humor with that of SpoCo’s:
“Anyone can draw a penis on a wall and make people laugh, but that’s not fulfilling,” Anderson, a Brown College junior, said. “For SpoCo, it’s all about quick wit and clever humor — those are more challenging to pull off, but ultimately much funnier.”
For Anderson and other SpoCo members, the most important part of successful humor is trust.
“You can’t get on stage and do a scene with someone you don’t trust,” Anderson said. “Developing relationships with the group allows you to believe that every scene will be a success.”
Anderson loves SpoCo practices and views them as a cathartic break from her difficult work as a mechanical engineering major. Her funniest memories, however, come from lunchtime at Brown with her friends.
“At lunch, I’m usually not the one among my friends cracking jokes and making everyone laugh,” Anderson said. “I’m usually the butt of the jokes.”
For Michael Devine, acting and writing for Rice’s sketch comedy group Kinda Sketchy gives him an avenue to share his humor with others.
“I enjoy laughing, and I think that through acting out sketches, I can make someone else enjoy laughing as much as I do,” Devine, a Will Rice College senior, said.
Danial Syed agrees that Kinda Sketchy is a way to both be creative and make people laugh.
"Sketch writing is a fantastic way to channel my own creativity into something others can enjoy," Syed, a Will Rice College senior, said. "It is really cool to see how my fellow Kinda Sketchy members put their own personal spins on the roles they give them."
Rice is fortunate enough to not only have funny students, but also humorous professors. James DeNicco, ECON 100 lecturer, uses humor in the classroom largely because he thinks that it makes his students in a large lecture class more willing to ask questions.
“And almost nothing is worth doing if you can’t have fun with it,” DeNicco said.
As far as funny classroom memories go, one specifically sticks out in DeNicco’s mind.
“One time I was in class talking about surpluses and I said, ‘you end up with a bunch of inventory shitting on your shelves!’ I had a hard time recovering after that.”
DeNicco also admits to liking a bit of vulgarity and irreverence in his humor. His favorite shows are “South Park,” “Family Guy” and what he calls “obscure dark horror comedies.”
“That’s not the type of humor I use in the classroom,” DeNicco said. “The best kind of humor in the classroom is self-deprecating humor. You are allowed to mercilessly make fun of yourself.”
For DeNicco, humor is a way to bridge gaps between opposing viewpoints and to get people to talk to each other. During the times that his views differ from those he works with in academia, he turns to comedy.
“Humor lets you express your views in a way that isn’t abrasive, and in a way that makes people more likely to listen,” DeNicco said.
Eleazar Marquez, a MECH 211 lecturer, agrees with DeNicco that humor has value in the classroom.
“In Science and Engineering classes, it is easy for students to lose attention,” Marquez said. “Humor regains their attention quickly, and this is when they learn most.”
Marquez enjoys poking fun at his students during class. “I like to threaten to call their parents and give them a bad report when they make a mistake,” he said. “Obviously, they're simply jokes. Our students are very talented!”
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