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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 26, 2022

Comedy Bootcamp: stand-up comedy as humor training for military populations

  • Andrew R. Olah

    Andrew R. Olah is a research consultant with The Junkin Group, LLC, providing quantitative and subject matter expertise to clients in the comedy and arts sectors. His research focuses on the applications and consequences of humor for psychological well-being and intergroup relations.

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    , Janelle S. Junkin

    Janelle S. Junkin, PhD, MT-BC is the founder and CEO of The Junkin Group, LLC, a woman-owned small business. Her areas of research include identity development (children, adolescents, veterans); community music therapy; conflict transformation. She is committed to community-driven research. She is an independent researcher, music therapist, and develops monitoring and evaluation systems for businesses and organizations globally; she has worked in 15 countries on 5 continents. She is published in the Journal of Applied Arts & Health, International Journal of Education & the Arts, International Journal for Doctoral Studies, Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, and has a book chapter in Arts in Healing.

    , Thomas E. Ford

    Thomas E. Ford is a Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University. He is a co-editor of the 2021 book, Social Psychology of Humor, and a co-author of the 2018 edition of The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. His primary research interests address the impact of disparagement humor on prejudice and discrimination.

    and Sam Pressler

    Sam Pressler is the Founder and former Executive Director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP). His grandma is very proud of him.

From the journal HUMOR


This paper details the results of an 18-month program impact evaluation (n = 72) on Armed Services Arts Partnership’s “Comedy Bootcamp,” a popular stand-up comedy course specifically tailored to military veterans. Based on literature around the benefits of sense of humor and humor training (e.g., 7 Humor Habits), we anticipated that participants in Comedy Bootcamp would show greater well-being relative to a control group, and that this effect would be mediated by an increase in sense of humor (i.e., self-enhancing humor style). Results largely supported the hypotheses, showing that Comedy Bootcamp participants experienced an increased self-enhancing humor style, which in turn yielded improved self-esteem, resilience, depression, and stress (though not anxiety). Further, longitudinal analyses demonstrated the benefits of the program persist at 3- and 6-month follow-ups. Implications and future directions are discussed.

1 Introduction

There are currently over 19 million military veterans in the United States, with over 200,000 service members transitioning to veteran status every year (Schaeffer 2021; Vogt et al. 2020). Unfortunately, many veterans find the reintegration process an uphill battle as they are confronted with clashing cultural norms and disrupted relationships (for a full review of veterans’ reintegration challenges, see Elnitsky et al. 2017), and their well-being may suffer as a result. For instance, Vogt et al. (2020) found that one-third of U.S. veterans experience mental health problems within the first year after formally ending their service: 22.5% of veterans experience anxiety, 19.8% experience depression, and 12.3% experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In comparison, the prevalence of these conditions in the general U.S. population is 19.1% for anxiety, 8.4% for depression, and 3.6% for PTSD (National Alliance on Mental Illness 2020). Additionally, many veterans perceive stigma around seeking treatment for mental health (e.g., concerns about appearing weak), which can dissuade them from getting the help they need (Kulesza et al. 2015). This high prevalence of challenges to well-being mixed with low desire to engage with traditional treatment leads many veterans to seek support outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the primary government-sponsored health systems.

The Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) is one nonprofit organization that has taken initiative to support veterans. Since 2015, ASAP has offered free community arts classes and workshops to all military veterans and their families/caregivers, allowing them to reap the benefits of the arts without enduring the perceived stigma veterans often experience in more public arenas. While ASAP’s classes are intentionally designed to improve veterans’ arts-based skills and provide social support, they also positively impact veterans’ well-being. This paper describes the results of a program impact evaluation of ASAP’s popular stand-up comedy class (“Comedy Bootcamp”), as an implicit form of humor training to promote well-being.

1.1 Humor and psychological well-being

Martin et al. (2003) proposed that people employ some combination of four humor styles, or habitual ways of using humor. These styles can be differentiated by whether the humor has positive or negative consequences for others or the self. People with an affiliative humor style use humor in constructive ways to amuse or affirm others; those with a self-enhancing humor style use humor to regulate emotions and to cope with adversity by reframing difficult events in humorous ways. People endorsing an aggressive humor style use humor against others (such as teasing and ridicule) as a means of insult and criticism. Finally, those with a self-defeating humor style excessively use self-disparaging humor to entertain others or to avoid dealing with negative feelings and confronting problems (Stieger 2011).

A considerable amount of research derived from Martin et al.’s model has consistently shown that the positive humor styles relate to better well-being, and the two negative styles relate to poorer well-being (for reviews, see Cann and Collette 2014; Martin et al. 2003; Schneider et al. 2018). For instance, self-enhancing humor style has been associated with greater self-esteem (Martin et al. 2003), greater resilience (Boerner et al. 2017; Cann and Collette 2014), decreased depression, anxiety, and stress (Cann and Collette 2014; Maiolino and Kuiper 2014; Martin et al. 2003), fewer difficulties with emotion regulation (Boerner et al. 2017), greater life satisfaction (Cann and Collette 2014; Maiolino and Kuiper 2014), decreased suicidal ideation (Tucker et al. 2013), and more satisfaction with social support (Martin et al. 2003). The same studies generally report that affiliative humor style has similarly positive (but often weaker) relationships with well-being.

In contrast, the self-defeating humor style relates to lower self-esteem (Martin et al. 2003) and life satisfaction (Maiolino and Kuiper 2014), greater depression, anxiety and stress (Maiolino and Kuiper 2014), more emotion regulation difficulties (Boerner et al. 2017), increased suicidal ideation (Tucker et al. 2013), and less satisfaction with social support (Martin et al. 2003). Torres-Marín et al. (2018) found that, whereas self-enhancing humor style was associated with reduced feelings and expressions of anger, an aggressive humor style predicted more feelings and expressions of anger, and a self-defeating humor style predicted unhealthy anger suppression.

While most work with this model has been conducted using college samples and no prior research has explored humor styles in military populations, research using samples from other high-stress careers identifies similar trends as those discussed above. Navarro-Carrillo et al. (2019) found that among Spanish hospital nurses, affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles predict greater happiness, hopefulness, sociability, and life satisfaction. Hageman (2014) reports that self-enhancing humor style predicts decreased stress in emergency service providers, while aggressive humor was associated with greater stress. Among firefighters, a self-enhancing humor style mitigates the effects of traumatic events on burnout and post-traumatic stress (Sliter et al. 2014).

To date, researchers have not examined the relationship between humor styles and well-being among military personnel; however, there is research demonstrating humor’s coping benefits in response to service-related trauma. Riolli and Savicki (2013) found that active U.S. Army Soldiers experienced improved psychological adjustment after recent combat operations to the extent they use humor as a coping strategy; similarly, Ward et al. (2021) found active U.S. Army Soldiers who use humor to handle stress in tense situations tend to experience fewer PTSD symptoms. In art therapy sessions, Kopytin and Lebedev (2015) observed that Russian war veterans frequently use humor for coping with traumatic memories and fostering relations with their therapy group. Qualitative interviews with prisoners of war from the Vietnam era reveal they used humor to cope with their daily struggles as well as to build social support (Henman 2001). Collectively, these findings illustrate veterans’ and service members’ use of humor serves similar functions as the self-enhancing and affiliative humor styles.

1.2 Comedy bootcamp and humor training

In 2015, ASAP launched the Comedy Bootcamp program, “the first-ever stand-up comedy class for veterans, service members, and military family members” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2021). Throughout this 7-week course, participants learn the fundamentals of stand-up comedy (e.g., joke writing, performing) in small classes with other students from the military community (maximum 12 students per class); the instructors are veterans and often Comedy Bootcamp alumni themselves. After 7 weeks of class, students present a public graduation showcase, during which they perform a 5-min set of their own original material. At the time of evaluation, ASAP offered this class in two locations in the eastern United States three times a year, thus graduating six distinct cohorts annually.

To date, researchers have not explored the well-being benefits of taking stand-up comedy classes like Comedy Bootcamp. However, given the established benefits of a healthy sense of humor, researchers and practitioners have developed a variety of “humor training” interventions (for a review, see Ruch and McGhee 2014). Perhaps the most well-established is McGhee’s (1999, 2010 7 Humor Habits (7HH) program. The 7HH is a structured, skills-based intervention intended to improve participants’ sense of humor, and by doing so improve their mood, emotional resilience, and coping ability. While created as an intervention for either individuals or groups, research has focused only on group delivery. Participants agree to meet as a group on a weekly basis, and a facilitator guides the group through the program material. In addition to regular group sessions, participants complete “home play” throughout the week, which consists of daily skill consolidation exercises to build the behavioral habit, and maintain a “humor log” in which they reflect on their sense of humor, the humor habits, and their progress in the program. This structured approach sets 7HH apart from many earlier humor interventions, which were less formalized by comparison and thus yielded inconsistent results (Ruch and McGhee 2014).

The 7HH framework provides a lens to understand the potential benefits of ASAP’s Comedy Bootcamp. As the name suggests, the 7HH teaches seven habits designed to improve the sense of humor, devoting one week to each habit: (1) surround yourself with humor and reflect on your own sense of humor, (2) cultivate a playful attitude, (3) laugh more often and more heartily, (4) create your own verbal humor, (5) look for humor in everyday life, (6) take yourself lightly and learn to laugh at yourself, and (7) find humor in the midst of stress. In an eighth week, participants work to simultaneously integrate all seven habits into their everyday life, in an effort to strengthen the habits further and ensure they’re easily accessible when needed (i.e. in times of stress). Collectively, these habits build participants’ receptivity to humor, generate their own humor to find levity in times of stress, and reap the potential benefits of physically laughing for mental and physical health (for a review of laughter-inducing therapies, see van der Wal and Kok 2019).

Though not by design, Comedy Bootcamp conveys all 7HH skills. By definition of stand-up comedy, the fourth 7HH habit (create your own verbal humor) is central to ASAP’s program; participants learn how to write and perform their own jokes, and Comedy Bootcamp’s strict “no plagiarism” rule ensures participants are engaged in creating humor (rather than simply reciting the humor of others). The first habit (surround yourself with humor) is encouraged in the participant handbook’s introduction: “Beginning now, we expect you to live as a student of comedy in your day-to-day life. Spend your downtime brainstorming funny ideas, seek out any local comedy shows, or re-watch some of your favorite comedians on YouTube” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a). During the first group session of Comedy Bootcamp, participants get to know each other by having “conversations about your favorite comics, sense of humor, and potential sources of comedic material,” an activity that involves reflecting on one’s sense of humor (a standard goal in the first week of 7HH programs).

Further, by identifying potential sources of humor in this collaborative manner, Comedy Bootcamp participants can open their eyes to find humor in everyday life or in their stressors (reflecting the fifth and seventh habits, respectively). Related to these habits, the handbook provides a collection of prompts to help guide participants’ material (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a). Several of these prompts directly facilitate finding humor in everyday life (e.g., “What was your hometown or high school experience like?,” “What are some ridiculous things civilians ask about your service?”) or in times of stress (e.g., “What is it about your current job that you dislike?,” “What are some of the challenges of being a military spouse?”). These prompts encourage ASAP’s participants to seek humor in their everyday life as well in response to common stressors.

Comedy Bootcamp also promotes the second habit (cultivate a playful attitude). The handbook’s introduction includes the frame “Remember that this is a comedy class. Try not to take yourself too seriously, and remember to have fun!” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a). Some of Comedy Bootcamp’s marketing materials explain that instructors teach participants “to take the world and themselves a bit less seriously” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2019a). Complementing this and serving the third habit, laughter is heavily encouraged in this program. Many marketing materials indicate the centrality of laughter: for example, an instructor featured in one promotional video states “Comedy Bootcamp’s primary purpose is to give people a space to really laugh. There’s a great sense of freedom in being able to share what you think is funny and have everybody else laugh with you” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2019b). The instructors’ training manual includes a number of class exercises for which the expressed purposes include “spreading laughs” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018b).

Lastly, the Comedy Bootcamp handbook and marketing materials stress the sixth habit (take yourself lightly, learn to laugh at yourself).[1] Many of the examples used to demonstrate different writing techniques throughout the handbook (Armed Service Arts Partnership 2018a) include self-deprecating humor in some form (e.g., “I started running this summer to get in shape and figured I would try interval training. So I’ll do 8 min on, 2 months off. For some reason, I haven’t burned much fat”); and like with the fifth and seventh habits, several of the prompts directly encourage some light self-deprecation (e.g., “What is something you think you should have figured out by now?,” “Did you ever say or do something embarrassing in front of a subordinate?”). In teaching participants how to lay out their set, the handbook advises that “if there is something about you as a performer that might be distracting to the audience, it may help to address it, own it, and move on with your set,” further adding that “a bit of self-deprecation and honesty can help you connect with the audience” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a).

Structurally, Comedy Bootcamp is similar in length to 7HH, instructor-led, and includes elements resembling 7HH’s home play and humor log exercises. The home play of Comedy Bootcamp takes the form of weekly assignments, mostly revolving around writing and practicing material to perform and workshop in the upcoming class sessions. A formal humor log is absent from Comedy Bootcamp, but parts of the program still serve this component’s purpose. For instance, early in the program participants are asked to reflect on their sense of humor through a series of prompts, such as “Where do you think you will draw material from?” and “When do funny things pop in your head?” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a). As participants progress through (and beyond) Comedy Bootcamp, program instructors advise participants to watch recordings of their sets to “identify what went well, and where there is room for improvement” (Armed Services Arts Partnership 2018a).

Although all seven humor habits from McGhee’s 7HH are present in Comedy Bootcamp, there are important differences. First, the goals of the programs are different. The 7HH aims to directly train one’s sense of humor: to use humor to cope with stressors and improve well-being. Comedy Bootcamp aims to train participants in the specific art of stand-up comedy: to use humor to generate laughs from audiences (regardless of how personal their material may be). Related to this focus on stand-up comedy, Comedy Bootcamp culminates with a live performance for a public audience. The 7HH has no performance or public-facing component. Concerning home play, the 7HH assigns home play for each of the seven habits. Comedy Bootcamp home play only ever relates to the first and fourth habits due to the nature of the artform. On a final note, Comedy Bootcamp is tailored to exclusively serve military populations, to build stand-up comedy skills and foster social support and belonging in that community. The 7HH is not tied to any particular population (however, as Ruch et al. 2018 learned from one of their intervention samples, 7HH can serve as a foundation for social support).

Despite these differences, the overlap between programs suggests that existing research on the 7HH may provide insight about the potential benefits of Comedy Bootcamp. Crawford and Caltabiano (2011) compared the well-being of three randomly assigned groups of healthy adult participants: (1) a group completing the 7HH program, (2) a social group that met weekly for tea and socializing, and (3) a control group that received no intervention. Participants were assessed at the beginning and end of their intervention, and three months after their intervention. Results showed that the 7HH group experienced significant increases in self-efficacy, positive affect, and optimism, and significant decreases in stress, depression, and anxiety; all of these changes were sustained at the three-month follow-up. The social and control groups showed no significant changes. The use of a social comparison group is critical, in that it demonstrates the benefits of humor training are not simply the result of the social interaction afforded by humor interventions, but rather there is something about the nature of humor training itself driving these results. Similar results of this humor training have also been found in clinical populations (Falkenberg et al. 2011; Tagalidou et al. 2019). Critically, participants in these studies all reported enjoying the humor intervention.

In perhaps the most deliberate assessment of the 7HH to date, Ruch et al. (2018) measured the sense of humor and life satisfaction of participants in four randomly assigned groups: (1) a group receiving the 7HH program in its entirety, (2) a group receiving the 7HH program without the home play, (3) a “placebo humor” group that exposed themselves to humor but did not receive any systematic training like the 7HH groups, and (4) a control group that did not receive any intervention. Participants were assessed before their intervention, at the end of their intervention, and two months after their intervention. Results demonstrated that participation in the 7HH (with or without home play) showed significant improvements in their sense of humor; not only were these increases sustained at the two-month follow-up, but these improvements were noticeable to participants’ peers. The two 7HH groups also reported higher life satisfaction. Participants in the placebo humor and waiting control groups did not experience improvements to their sense of humor or life satisfaction. The inclusion of the placebo humor group adds additional insight; the results of 7HH are not simply due to being exposed to humor, but rather are due to the systematic, skills-based nature of the 7HH. Interestingly, the 7HH group without home play improved more than the 7HH group with home play; the researchers later learned that the group without home play often met up voluntarily outside of the regular group sessions, and Ruch et al. speculated that this level of enthusiasm and initiative spurred the additional increases to their life satisfaction. Overall, these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of the 7HH program in promoting participants’ sense of humor and well-being.

To date, no research has explored the 7HH program with military populations. Brausa (1993) loosely describes a case study of veterans experiencing psychiatric problems enrolled in a “comedy support group,” a humor training program echoing some of the core 7HH skills. Participants seek out humor (mainly in joke books), cultivate a playful attitude (establishing a norm accepting of silliness), laugh more (as “joke etiquette,” members of the group laughed regardless of whether they found each other’s jokes funny), and “create” verbal humor (by reciting some jokes they’ve read/heard, not their own original humor). The remaining habits are absent from their report. Brausa speculates this comedy group improves participants’ moods and reduces stress, but focuses on humor’s ability to distract from stressors, rather than humor’s ability to regulate emotions (e.g., Martin et al. 2003), and does not assess the group’s impact on sense of humor. Further, Brausa presents no formal description of their research methods or measurements, only offering their perspective as a facilitator, ultimately leaving a high risk of bias in reporting. More systematic evidence is needed to assess the effects of humor training in military populations.

1.3 The present study

Using data from ASAP’s 2018 program impact evaluation, we compare the humor styles and well-being of veterans enrolled in Comedy Bootcamp to a control group comprised of veterans on a waiting list for ASAP’s classes. On the basis of the literature reviewed, we hypothesized that participation in Comedy Bootcamp promotes more positive humor styles (affiliative, self-enhancing). By improving these humor styles, we further hypothesized that participants experience greater well-being, characterized by (1) increased resilience, (2) increased self-esteem, (3) decreased depression, (4) decreased anxiety, and (5) decreased stress (see Figure 1). This project was approved by the institutional review board at Western Carolina University.

Figure 1: 
Hypothesized mediation model.
Figure 1:

Hypothesized mediation model.

2 Method

2.1 Overview

We report on quantitative data collected as part of a program impact evaluation of ASAP’s community arts classes that ran in Spring, Summer, and Fall 2018; classes met at facilities in either Washington, D.C. or Hampton Roads, Virginia.[2] We assessed participants prior to starting the course (Pre), shortly upon completing the course (Post), 3 months after completing the course, and 6 months after completing the course. Additionally, we surveyed a control group established from the organization’s waitlist in Fall 2018; this control group was also assessed in same Pre and Post time periods but did not complete the 3- or 6-month follow-ups.

2.2 Participants

ASAP has an open application period during which veterans can apply to participate in the organization’s programs. In this time period, ASAP promotes its programs through a myriad of channels, including (a) flyers posted in local community venues (e.g., coffee shops, libraries), (b) paid and organic social media posts, (c) referrals from local Veteran Affairs medical centers, (d) referrals from local military bases, (e) referrals from local veteran-serving organizations, (f) referrals from student veteran coordinators at local colleges, and (g) word-of-mouth through their engaged alumni community. Interested applicants apply via an online form, and selected by the ASAP program team based on an established evaluation rubric. The rubric only assesses prospective participants’ capacity to fully engage in the program, interests in program participation, and personal goals. ASAP is a community-based arts nonprofit open to all veterans, not a clinical organization dedicated to those with diagnosed mental health issues. As such, applicants are not asked about their mental health backgrounds in the application process. After being accepted to the program or being placed on the waitlist, all participants were invited to opt-in to the program evaluation.

We analyzed data provided by participants who (1) personally served in the military[3] and (2) completed all four surveys (two in the case of the waiting control group) from ASAP’s 2018 program impact evaluation that were either in the Comedy Bootcamp class (n = 41) or the waiting list control group (n = 31).[4] Both groups were comparable in their demographics (each approximately 60% male, 63% White, 70% over 35 years old). The majority of participants served active duty as either enlisted or officer capacities in the Army and/or Navy. For both groups of participants, approximately 80% served at least 6 years, and approximately 65% served at least part of their service after September 11, 2001 (i.e., “Post-9/11 Era”). See Table 1 for the full demographics of each group.

Table 1:

Demographics for Comedy Bootcamp (n = 41) and waiting control group (n = 31).

Comedy Bootcamp Waiting list
Male 23 19
Female 18 12
Other 0 0
18–24 2 0
25–34 11 8
35–44 9 11
45–54 10 4
55–64 9 8
65+ 0 0
White, non-Hispanic 31 17
Black or African-American 5 10
Latino/a 1 1
American Indian or Alaskan Native 0 1
Asian 2 3
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 0 0
Other 2 3
Active duty
Yes 35 30
No 6 1
Service component
Enlisted 24 17
Officer 11 13
Missing 6 1
Years of service
1–5 years 9 6
6–10 years 9 12
11–15 years 4 3
16–20 years 5 4
21+ years 8 5
Missing 6 1
Army 15 14
Navy 17 6
Air force 4 7
Marines 3 4
Coast Guard 2 0
National Guard 2 0
Service dates
September 2001 or later 27 24
August 1990 to August 2001 (includes Persian Gulf War) 16 12
May 1975 to July 1990 7 7
Vietnam era (August 1964 to April 1975) 1 1
  1. The items for race, branch, and service dates allowed for multiple response. All other demographics in this table allowed participants to select only one response.

2.3 Procedure

Prior to the first day of class, ASAP staff informed participants about the program evaluation, inviting them to complete the Pre-survey after giving electronic consent. After class ended, participants completed the Post-survey within two weeks of their graduation performance. Comedy Bootcamp participants completed follow-up surveys 3 and 6 months after graduation and were compensated with gift cards for completing both surveys. All surveys were delivered via email and completed on participants’ own time through Qualtrics. The control group participants completed their Pre- and Post-surveys in the same time period as the Fall 2018 Comedy Bootcamp participants completed their surveys in exchange for guaranteed enrollment in the Spring 2019 classes.

2.4 Measures

All participants completed the following measures[5] in the order presented in both the Pre- and Post-surveys. Additionally, the Post-survey collected demographic information (all participants) and program feedback (Comedy Bootcamp participants). Comedy Bootcamp participants completed the same measures in the 3-month and 6-month follow-up surveys, along with two items thereafter assessing whether or not they have (1) continued engaging in the arts upon graduation, and (2) maintained contact with someone they met through ASAP (participants responded to these items with either “Yes” or “No”).

2.4.1 Dispositional resilience scale (DRS-15)

We used the DRS-15 (Bartone 1999, 2007) to assess participants’ psychological hardiness, a construct closely related to resilience and defined as a set of attitudes that influence people’s perceptions of the world and their experiences, particularly around disruption or stress. The DRS-15 is comprised of three 5-item subscales: commitment (the tendency to see life as interesting and meaningful; e.g., “Most of my life gets spent doing things that are meaningful”), control (the belief that one can control or influence events in their life; e.g., “By working hard you can nearly always achieve your goals”), and challenge (the preference to explore and try new things; e.g., “Changes in routine are interesting to me”). Participants indicate on a 4-point scale how true each statement is for them, ranging from 0 (Not at all true) to 3 (Completely true). Cronbach’s α (Pre/Post) was 0.75/0.85 for the overall measure of hardiness; for each subscale, Cronbach’s α was 0.84/0.84, 0.75/0.83, and 0.53/0.69 for commitment, control, and challenge,[6] respectively.

2.4.2 Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE)

We used Rosenberg’s (1965) 10-item measure of self-esteem (e.g., “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”). Participants responded to each item on a scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 4 (Strongly Agree). Cronbach’s α (Pre/Post) was 0.93/0.92.

2.4.3 Humor styles questionnaire (HSQ)

Martin et al.’s (2003) HSQ consists of four 8-item subscales assessing the extent to which one habitually practices affiliative humor (e.g., “I don’t have to work very hard at making other people laugh- I seem to be a naturally humorous person”), self-enhancing humor (“If I am feeling depressed, I can usually cheer myself up with humor”), aggressive humor (“If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it”) and self-defeating humor (“I let people laugh at me or make fun at my expense more than I should”). Participants indicated agreement with each item on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (Totally Disagree) to 7 (Totally Agree). Cronbach’s α (Pre/Post) was acceptable for affiliative humor (0.79/0.82), self-enhancing humor (0.84/0.90), aggressive humor (0.81/0.74), and self-defeating humor (0.85/0.85).

2.4.4 Depression, anxiety, and stress scales (DASS-21)

We used the three eponymous 7-item subscales of Lovibond and Lovibond’s (1995a, 1995b) DASS-21 measure to assess the degree participants experienced depression (e.g., “I couldn’t seem to experience any positive feeling at all”), anxiety (e.g., “I felt I was close to panic”), and stress (e.g., “I found it difficult to relax”). This measure has shown excellent reliability and validity in both clinical and nonclinical samples (Antony et al. 1998). Participants rated the extent to which each statement applied to them over the past week on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (Did not apply to me at all) to 4 (Applied to me very much, or most of the time). Cronbach’s α (Pre/Post) was 0.94/0.92 for the depression scale, 0.81/0.80 for the anxiety scale, and 0.84/0.84 for the stress scale.

2.4.5 Program feedback

At the end of the Post-survey, Comedy Bootcamp participants rated the course on a number of dimensions. Particularly relevant to this paper, participants reported (1) whether they had interest in participating in future ASAP-sponsored classes, workshops, and performances [Yes, No, Unsure], (2) whether they would recommend Comedy Bootcamp to others [Yes, No], (3) their rating of the Comedy Bootcamp curriculum, and (4) their rating of their overall experience with the course. To rate the curriculum, participants responded to 3 items developed by the authors on a scale ranging from 1 (Poor) to 5 (Outstanding); the items were “Helpfulness of the class materials,” “Strength of in-class activities (icebreakers, lessons, discussions),” and “Value of the workshopping sessions” (Cronbach’s α = 0.86). To rate their overall experience with the course, participants responded to 6 items developed by the authors on a scale ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 5 (Strongly agree); the items read “I felt comfortable sharing/creating with others in the classroom,” “The classroom environment was encouraging and safe,” “I found the class to be an enjoyable experience,” “By the time the graduation performance arrived, I felt prepared to perform on stage,” “I found the graduation show to be an enjoyable experience,” and “I plan on using the tools I learned in the class to continue pursuing the craft” (Cronbach’s α = 0.95). The survey concluded with an optional open-ended question for additional feedback.

3 Results

3.1 Overview

We first provide descriptive statistics and confirm the HSQ is an appropriate instrument for military populations. We then present hierarchical regression models testing the impact of Comedy Bootcamp on humor styles. Next, we describe a series of mediation analyses, using Hayes’ (2017) PROCESS macro, to test whether Comedy Bootcamp improves participants’ well-being as a result of improved humor styles. To examine the longevity of these impacts on humor styles and well-being, we report repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). Lastly, we describe program feedback from participants to explore whether the program was well-received by veterans. Post-hoc power analysis through G*Power (Faul et al. 2007) indicated we achieved at least 76% power for each statistical test.

3.2 Descriptive statistics and HSQ validation

Table 2 displays the means and standard deviations for each variable as assessed in the Pre- and Post-survey of each group. Additionally, Table 2 shows the correlations between humor styles and each well-being variable as assessed in the Pre-survey, collapsed across condition. The pattern of correlations mimics those found in previous HSQ research. For instance, the self-enhancing and affiliative humor styles are positively correlated, r = 0.63, p < 0.001, as are the aggressive and self-defeating humor styles, r = 0.42, p < 0.001 (e.g., Boerner et al., 2017; Martin et al. 2003). The self-enhancing humor style is positively correlated with self-esteem, r = 0.45, p < 0.001, and negatively with depression, r = −0.39, p = 0.001; consistent with previous research (e.g., Cann and Collette 2014; Martin et al. 2003), self-defeating humor style shows the opposite relationship (self-esteem: r = −0.43, p < 0.001; depression: r = 0.35, p = 0.003). Collectively, these results provide preliminary evidence that the HSQ is a valid instrument for veteran populations.

Table 2:

Correlations, means, and standard deviations (SD).

Comedy Bootcamp Waiting list
1. 2. 3. 4. Pre mean (SD) Post mean (SD) Pre mean (SD) Post mean (SD)
1. Self-enhancing HS 0.63** 0.23 0.09 5.58 (0.84) 5.90 (0.88) 5.17 (1.07) 5.23 (1.18)
2. Affiliative HS 0.63** 0.24* 0.17 5.95 (0.77) 6.13 (0.72) 5.74 (0.86) 5.73 (0.97)
3. Aggressive HS 0.23 0.24* 0.42** 3.65 (1.19) 3.43 (1.05) 3.18 (1.06) 2.98 (1.00)
4. Self-defeating HS 0.09 0.17 0.42** 4.17 (1.26) 4.08 (1.40) 3.67 (1.13) 3.83 (1.08)
5. Self-esteem 0.45** 0.20 −0.06 −0.43** 3.26 (0.55) 3.32 (0.54) 3.04 (0.82) 3.10 (0.75)
6. Overall resilience 0.33** 0.18 −0.09 −0.16 2.04 (0.36) 2.16 (0.42) 2.00 (0.31) 2.01 (0.36)
7. Commitment 0.17 −0.01 −0.13 −0.16 1.94 (0.56) 2.20 (0.54) 1.76 (0.63) 1.91 (0.56)
8. Control 0.33** 0.26* 0.00 −0.11 2.29 (0.47) 2.38 (0.50) 2.35 (0.40) 2.30 (0.50)
9. Challenge 0.18 0.14 0.06 0.03 1.98 (0.49) 1.90 (0.59) 1.91 (0.42) 1.81 (0.50)
10. Depression −0.39** −0.17 0.01 0.35** 1.54 (0.63) 1.51 (0.67) 1.87 (0.92) 1.74 (0.72)
11. Anxiety −0.07 0.01 0.13 0.07 1.51 (0.61) 1.56 (0.60) 1.35 (0.40) 1.55 (0.53)
12. Stress −0.26* −0.10 0.15 0.11 1.97 (0.66) 1.91 (0.65) 1.94 (0.75) 2.05 (0.71)
  1. Correlations are based on the pre-survey data collapsed across conditions (n = 72). *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01. Results of independent samples t-tests indicated no differences between the Comedy Bootcamp and waiting list participants on any pre-survey variables (all p-values > 0.08).

3.3 Humor styles

We first predicted that participation in Comedy Bootcamp would increase self-enhancing humor. To test this hypothesis, we regressed Post-survey self-enhancing humor style onto participation in Comedy Bootcamp (dummy-coded: 0 = Waiting List, 1 = Comedy Bootcamp) while controlling for Pre-self-enhancing humor style (see Table 3). Pre-survey self-enhancing humor style was entered in the first step of the model, and participation in Comedy Bootcamp was entered into the second step. The first step of the model accounted for 66.7% of the variance, R 2 = 0.667, F(1, 70) = 140.47, p < 0.001. Adding Comedy Bootcamp participation to the second step of the model accounted for an additional 2.2% of the variance, ΔR 2 = 0.022, F(2, 69) = 76.42, p < 0.001. In this second step, Comedy Bootcamp participation predicted significantly higher Post-survey self-enhancing humor style, b = 0.32 (SE = 0.15), β = 0.15, t(69) = 2.19, p = 0.032, 95% CI [0.03, 0.61], r = 0.25.

Table 3:

Regression analysis predicting post-survey humor styles.

95% CI for b r
b SE β t p Lower Upper
Step 1 (R 2 = 0.67)
Humor style (pre) 0.91 0.08 0.82 11.85 <0.001 0.75 1.06 0.82
Step 2 (R 2 = 0.69)
Humor style (pre) 0.87 0.08 0.79 11.43 <0.001 0.72 1.02 0.81
Class 0.32 0.15 0.15 2.19 0.032 0.03 0.61 0.25
Step 1 (R 2 = 0.50)
Humor style (pre) 0.75 0.09 0.71 8.41 <0.001 0.57 0.92 0.71
Step 2 (R 2 = 0.52)
Humor style (pre) 0.73 0.09 0.69 8.24 <0.001 0.55 0.90 0.70
Class 0.25 0.14 0.14 1.70 0.093 −0.04 0.53 0.20
Step 1 (R 2 = 0.58)
Humor style (pre) 0.69 0.07 0.76 9.80 <0.001 0.55 0.83 0.76
Step 2 (R 2 = 0.58)
Humor style (pre) 0.68 0.07 0.75 9.41 <0.001 0.53 0.82 0.75
Class 0.14 0.17 0.07 0.85 0.397 −0.19 0.47 0.10
Step 1 (R 2 = 0.59)
Humor style (pre) 0.80 0.08 0.77 10.01 <0.001 0.64 0.96 0.77
Step 2 (R 2 = 0.59)
Humor style (pre) 0.81 0.08 0.78 9.94 <0.001 0.65 0.97 0.77
Class −0.16 0.20 −0.06 −0.80 0.426 −0.56 0.24 0.10
  1. n = 72. Class is a dummy-coded variable, 0 = Waiting List, 1 = Comedy Bootcamp. Effect size r based on df = 70 in Step 1, df = 69 in Step 2.

We conducted the same analysis for affiliative humor style. The first step of the model accounted for 50.3% of the variance, R 2 = 0.503, F(1, 70) = 70.79, p < 0.001. However, adding Comedy Bootcamp participation to the second step of the model failed to statistically improve the model, ΔR 2 = 0.020, F(2, 69) = 37.80, p < 0.001. Comedy Bootcamp participation failed to significantly predict Post-survey affiliative humor style, b = 0.25 (SE = 0.14), β = 0.14, t(69) = 1.70, p = 0.093, 95% CI [−0.04, 0.53], r = 0.20. Exploratory analysis for the other two humor styles were not significant (see Table 3). Partially supporting our hypotheses, participation in Comedy Bootcamp promotes the self-enhancing humor style, but did not improve the affiliative humor style.

3.4 Mediation analysis

We hypothesized that an increase in self-enhancing humor style[7] mediates the effect of participation in Comedy Bootcamp on veterans’ self-esteem, resilience, depression, anxiety, and stress. For the analyses on each of these well-being variables, we used Hayes’ (2017) bootstrapping macro for SPSS (PROCESS v3.1, Model 4), computing bias-corrected 95% confidence intervals (with 5,000 resamples). The bootstrapping procedures determine if an effect is different from zero by providing a 95% confidence interval for the population value for that effect; if the confidence interval does not include zero, the effect is significant at p < 0.05. We conducted separate analyses for each well-being outcome, using a dummy-coded variable representing participation in Comedy Bootcamp (0 = Waiting List, 1 = Comedy Bootcamp) as the predictor variable, and post-survey self-enhancing humor style as the mediator variable. For each analysis, we treated pre-survey self-enhancing humor style and pre-survey levels of the outcome variable as covariates. In each model, the effect of Comedy Bootcamp on self-enhancing humor was significant, with b coefficients ranging between 0.32 and 0.37. Results are summarized in Table 4.

Table 4:

Direct and indirect effects of Comedy Bootcamp on well-being outcomes as mediated by self-enhancing humor style.

Path b (SE) 95% CI
Direct: X → M
Class → SE humor 0.32 (0.15) [0.03, 0.62]
Direct: M → Y
SE humor → self-esteem 0.22 (0.07) [0.08, 0.36]
SE humor → resilience (overall) 0.15 (0.06) [0.04, 0.27]
SE humor → commitment 0.24 (0.07) [0.10, 0.38]
SE humor → depression −0.28 (0.10) [−0.48, −0.09]
SE humor → anxiety −0.09 (0.08) [−0.26, 0.08]
SE humor → stress −0.32 (0.09) [−0.49, −0.13]
Direct: X → Y
Class → self-esteem −0.02 (0.09) [−0.20, 0.15]
Class → resilience (overall) 0.07 (0.07) [−0.06, 0.21]
Class → commitment 0.07 (0.09) [−0.11, 0.24]
Class → depression 0.06 (0.12) [−0.18, 0.31]
Class → anxiety −0.05 (0.11) [−0.26, 0.17]
Class → stress −0.05 (0.12) [−0.28, 0.18]
Indirect: X → M → Y
Self-esteem 0.07 (0.04) [0.01, 0.16]
Resilience (overall) 0.05 (0.03) [−0.00, 0.12]
Commitment 0.08 (0.05) [0.00, 0.18]
Depression −0.09 (0.06) [−0.22, −0.00]
Anxiety −0.03 (0.03) [−0.09, 0.02]
Stress −0.10 (0.06) [−0.22, −0.01]
  1. n = 72. Class is a dummy-coded variable, 0 = Waiting List, 1 = Comedy Bootcamp. The b(SE) column indicates unstandardized beta coefficients and standard error for direct effects, and boot coefficients and standard error for indirect effects. The 95% CI column indicates the confidence interval for the coefficient; an effect is statistically significant at p < 0.05 if the confidence interval does not contain zero.

3.4.1 Self-esteem

In line with our hypotheses, we found the indirect effect of Comedy Bootcamp on self-esteem through self-enhancing humor style was significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = 0.07, SE = 0.04, 95% CI [0.01, 0.16]. The direct effect of Comedy Bootcamp on self-esteem after controlling for the increase in self-enhancing humor style was not significant, b = −0.02, t(67) = −0.27, p = 0.785, 95% CI [−0.20, 0.15]. Collectively, these results support our hypothesis that participation in Comedy Bootcamp improves self-esteem by promoting the self-enhancing humor style.

3.4.2 Resilience

Concerning overall resilience, we found the indirect effect was not significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = 0.05, SE = 0.03, 95% CI [−0.00, 0.12]. The direct effect was also insignificant, b = 0.07, t(67) = 1.07, p = 0.289, 95% CI [−0.06, 0.21]. Contrary to our hypothesis, Comedy Bootcamp did not significantly improve participants’ overall resilience.

It is possible that the low Pre-survey internal reliability of the challenge subscale hindered our measure of overall resilience, or that not all components of resilience are affected by the intervention. Thus, exploratory paired samples t-tests examined each of the three subscales of the DRS-15 for Comedy Bootcamp participants. Results indicated that of the three subscales, only the commitment factor significantly improved from the Pre-survey to the Post-survey, t (40) = 3.76, p = 0.001. There was no significant change observed for control, t(40) = 1.35, p = 0.185, or for challenge, t(40) = −1.30, p = 0.201.

Based on these results, we replicated the mediation analysis above, replacing the overall resilience scores with the commitment scores. The indirect effect on commitment was significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = 0.08, SE = 0.05, 95% CI [0.00, 0.18]. The direct effect was not significant, b = 0.07, t(67) = 0.75, p = 0.454, 95% CI [−0.11, 0.24]. Thus, our hypothesis was partially supported; Comedy Bootcamp appears to improve only the commitment factor of resilience by promoting the self-enhancing humor style.

3.4.3 Depression

Also in line with hypotheses, we found the indirect effect of Comedy Bootcamp on depression through self-enhancing humor style was significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = −0.09, SE = 0.06, 95% CI [−0.22, −0.00]. The direct effect of Comedy Bootcamp on depression after controlling for the increase in self-enhancing humor style was not significant, b = 0.06, t(67) = 0.52, p = 0.91, 95% CI [−0.18, 0.31]. Collectively, these results support our hypotheses that participation in Comedy Bootcamp reduces depression in veterans by promoting the self-enhancing humor style.

3.4.4 Anxiety

Looking at anxiety, the indirect effect was not significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = −0.03, SE = 0.03, 95% CI [−0.09, 0.02]. The direct effect was also insignificant, b = −0.05, t(67) = −0.43, p = 0.668, 95% CI [−0.26, 0.17]. Contrary to our hypothesis, Comedy Bootcamp did not significantly improve participants’ anxiety.

Interestingly, however, exploratory paired samples t-tests revealed that the waiting control group participants experienced an increase in anxiety from the Pre-survey (M = 1.35, SD = 0.40) to the Post-survey (M = 1.55, SD = 0.53), t(30) = 2.90, p = 0.007. Meanwhile, there was no significant change in anxiety for Comedy Bootcamp participants, t(40) = 0.82, p = 0.420. While participation in Comedy Bootcamp does not improve anxiety, it may help prevent the exacerbation of anxiety.

3.4.5 Stress

Supporting our final mediation hypothesis, the indirect effect of Comedy Bootcamp on stress through self-enhancing humor style was significant, boot coefficient for the indirect effect = −0.10, SE = 0.06, 95% CI [−0.22, −0.01]. The direct effect of Comedy Bootcamp on stress after controlling for the increase in self-enhancing humor style was not significant, b = −0.05, t(67) = −0.40, p = 0.687, 95% CI [−0.28, 0.18]. Collectively, these results support our hypotheses that participation in Comedy Bootcamp reduces veterans’ stress by promoting the self-enhancing humor style.

3.5 Longitudinal analysis

We use the 3- and 6-month follow-up data to examine whether the observed effects lasted beyond the class’s completion. We performed repeated measures ANOVA on each variable that improved from the course (self-enhancing humor style, self-esteem, depression, stress, and commitment), using the assessment period (Post, 3-, 6-month) as a within-subjects factor; this was followed up with pairwise comparisons using the Bonferroni correction to test whether the 3- and 6-month scores were significantly different from the Post-survey scores. In order to control for participants’ improvement in self-enhancing humor style, we included Pre-survey and Post-survey self-enhancing humor style as covariates when analyzing the well-being outcomes. One participant was missing 6-month HSQ and DASS-21 data, so analyses of those variables in this section are based on 40 Comedy Bootcamp participants.

3.5.1 Self-enhancing humor style

The main effect of time was marginally significant, F(2, 78) = 3.10, p = 0.051, η p 2 = 0.07, a medium effect. Pairwise comparisons show that there was no significant change from the Post-survey (M = 5.88, SD = 0.88) to the 3-month survey (M = 5.80, SD = 0.88), p = 1.00. The change from post-survey to the 6-month survey (M = 5.65, SD = 0.97) was marginally significant, p = 0.056. Collectively, it is evident that the benefit of Comedy Bootcamp to self-enhancing humor style remains at least 3 months after course completion, but it is unclear whether it lasts through 6 months.

3.5.2 Self-esteem

The main effect of time was not significant, F(2, 76) = 1.33, p = 0.270, η p 2 = 0.03. There was no significant change from the Post-survey (M = 3.32, SD = 0.54) to the 3-month survey (M = 3.22, SD = 0.54), p = 0.239; there was also no significant change from the Post-survey to the 6-month survey (M = 3.29, SD = 0.52), p = 1.00. The benefit of Comedy Bootcamp for self-esteem remained through the 6-month follow-up.

3.5.3 Commitment

The main effect of time was not significant, F(2, 76) = 0.36, p = 0.697, η p 2 = 0.01. Participants retain their Post-survey levels of commitment through at least 6 months.

3.5.4 Depression

The main effect of time was not significant, F(2, 74) = 0.13, p = 0.879, η p 2 = 0.00. Participants retain their Post-survey levels of depression at 3 and 6 months after course completion.

3.5.5 Stress

The main effect of time was not significant, F(2, 74) = 1.71, p = 0.187, η p 2 = 0.04. Pairwise comparisons show no significant change from the Post-survey (M = 1.93, SD = 0.64) to the 3-month survey (M = 2.08, SD = 0.73), p = 0.238; nor was there a significant change from the Post-survey to the 6-month survey (M = 2.10, SD = 0.70), p = 0.092. Collectively, these results suggest the benefit of Comedy Bootcamp to stress lasts at least 6 months.

3.6 Program feedback

Frequency analyses revealed that at the time of Post-survey, all Comedy Bootcamp participants reported that they had interest in participating in future ASAP-sponsored programs and performance opportunities, and that they would recommend Comedy Bootcamp to other veterans. Furthermore, one-sample t-tests (comparing to the scales’ midpoint) indicate that participants rated the curriculum highly, M = 4.63, SD = 0.61, t(40) = 17.18, p < 0.001, as well as their overall experience, M = 4.66, SD = 0.73, t(40) = 14.51, p < 0.001. Collectively, these analyses indicate that the enrolled military veterans enjoyed the program.

4 Discussion

The results largely confirmed our hypotheses. Comedy Bootcamp participants increased in their self-enhancing (but not affiliative) humor style. Participants reported having greater self-esteem, less depression and stress (but not anxiety), and greater resilience (specifically commitment) upon the completion of the program. Further, participation in Comedy Bootcamp related to each of these improvements by promoting participants’ self-enhancing humor style. Lastly, all of these improvements were sustained at least 3 months after course completion, which is consistent with previous longitudinal 7HH research (Crawford and Caltabiano 2011; Ruch et al. 2018).

Contrary to hypotheses, participants did not report improved affiliative humor styles. One likely explanation for this is our sample. This particular sample (both the intervention and control groups) reported higher Pre-survey levels of affiliative humor than of self-enhancing humor (see Table 2); it may be that we encountered ceiling effects that limited statistical power to detect smaller improvements in this style that these participants already highly endorse. Future research should gather larger sample sizes to test this explanation prior to assuming such programs have no effect on affiliative humor style. However, given that stand-up comedy inherently and explicitly involves using humor to amuse others (i.e. affiliative humor’s main function), researchers may be hard-pressed to find aspiring comedians with a low enough initial affiliative humor style to test for such ceiling effects.

Also contrary to our hypotheses, there were no improvements in participants’ anxiety. However, it is worth noting that the waiting control group actually experienced increased anxiety; this could be the result of random error, or it might suggest that Comedy Bootcamp can mitigate anxiety among veterans that otherwise worsens over time. Interestingly, Table 2 shows anxiety was unrelated to any humor style, suggesting that such a mitigation effect is due to some non-humor mechanism (e.g., social support). These results conflict with Maiolino and Kuiper’s (2014) findings that college students’ self-enhancing humor styles predict reduced anxiety scores on the DASS-21. This may imply that military populations employ non-humor coping strategies in dealing with their anxiety, or that humor-based coping is ineffective for their anxiety (though it seems it is effective for their depression and stress). Future research should investigate the functions humor serves in veterans’ well-being, particularly given that humor-based coping is not uncommon among this population (Rice and Liu 2016).

This evaluation contributes to humor studies in a number of ways. First, this is the first formal investigation of a humor training intervention for military veterans. Second, this study documents the impacts of a stand-up comedy class on well-being. Previous studies have explored the humor styles (Greengross et al. 2012) and well-being of working stand-up comedians (Butler and Russell 2018). However, reports of how learning stand-up comedy impacts well-being are virtually nonexistent. The only exception from our literature search was a feasibility study of a 12-week long Skype-based stand-up comedy training (also culminating in a public performance) administered by a professional comedian (who was also a mental health counselor) for people with diagnosed mental illness, in adjunct with their standard care (Rudnick et al. 2014). Qualitative interviews indicated their participants perceived greater happiness and self-esteem from Rudnick et al.’s intervention. While it is unclear from their description how much their intervention overlaps with 7HH and other structured humor interventions, Rudnick et al.’s (2014) report complements the findings of the present study and supports the notion that stand-up comedy classes can promote well-being. Furthermore, the present study’s descriptive statistics (see Table 2) indicate our participants fell largely in the normal to moderate ranges of each of the DASS-21 subscales (as indicated by guidelines from Lovibond and Lovibond 1995b), whereas Rudnick et al.’s sample was comprised solely of those with mental health diagnoses. Because ASAP is a community arts program, rather than a clinical organization, we do not have data about our sample’s actual mental health diagnoses, as it is not considered in their application or evaluation processes. However, it seems likely from the sample characteristics of both Rudnick et al. and the present study that stand-up comedy training can be beneficial to the well-being of those with and without mental health diagnoses.

Although stand-up comedy’s benefits as a humor intervention are not commonly investigated, it should be noted that researchers have explored the well-being benefits of another humor-related arts intervention: improv. For example, Schwenke et al. (2021) found that a 6-week group-based improv course promoted participants’ creativity, self-esteem, and resilience. Morse et al. (2018) document the Humor Doesn’t Retire improv course from The Second City, showing improved mood, reduced stress and burden, and greater social support for elderly populations. Krueger et al. (2019) found similar results when using improv as an adjunct intervention for psychiatric patients. Future research might compare different artforms (and the techniques unique to them) to determine what drives these beneficial effects.

4.1 Limitations and future directions

One limitation to this study’s design is that the effects of humor and social support cannot be distinguished. It is possible that some or all of these results are driven at least in part by the social interactions threaded throughout the Comedy Bootcamp experience (e.g., learning and performing together with other veterans), rather than the actual humor training components. Indeed, 85% of participants reported maintaining relationships with people they met through their involvement six months after graduation. Previous research has shown that, like self-enhancing humor style in this study, social support is associated with greater self-esteem and resilience and decreased depression and stress (e.g., Bryan and Hernandez 2013; Wall and Lowe 2020). Moreover, having friends who understand the military experience is reported to benefit veterans’ well-being (Hinojosa and Hinojosa 2011). That said, Fritz (2020) reported that social support only partially mediated self-enhancing humor’s relationship with stress in a college sample, and Ward et al. (2021) found the use of coping humor predicted decreased PTSD symptoms in active-duty military populations even after accounting for the effects of unit cohesion (i.e. bonding and belonging with one’s unit); these findings suggest there is something about humor beyond the role of social support that benefits well-being. This is further supported in the present study, as Comedy Bootcamp failed to produce significant improvement in participants’ affiliative humor, the style most strongly associated with social support. If social support was the primary driver of our results, we would expect an accompanying increase in affiliative humor style rather than the self-enhancing humor style alone.

Notably, this is a recurring limitation throughout humor training research; although 7HH is designed for use “by yourself, with a partner or as part of a group that is meeting regularly,” (McGhee 2010, pp. xvi), the humor intervention occurs in a group setting for all studies discussed in this article’s introduction. Some studies have tried to navigate this limitation. Crawford and Caltabiano (2011) included a non-humor social group in their study to show the humor component provides additional benefits beyond that of the social component, but because their humor intervention was still delivered in a group format, we cannot conclude it is solely humor driving the well-being improvements. Similarly, Ruch et al. (2018) included their placebo humor group which had social interaction and unstructured exposure to humor, and showed only marginal and short-lived improvements to sense of humor and well-being; this illustrates that there is benefit from the structured 7HH approach, but again, the 7HH interventions were group-based. Future research should examine the effectiveness of self-administration or one-on-one instruction to determine whether humor training is effective in the absence of social support, or because of social support.[8] Such research would identify the exact role of humor in these interventions and could inform the design of new programs like Comedy Bootcamp (e.g., whether more time should be allotted to skill exercises or group activities).

Additionally, while we established in the introduction that each of the 7HH skills are present in some capacity within Comedy Bootcamp, this evaluation did not use the Sense of Humor Scale (SHS; McGhee 1999) that explicitly assesses each skill. Recent work demonstrates this measure is moderately correlated with the HSQ subscale for self-enhancing humor style utilized in this evaluation (Lydon and McDermut 2022). However, future research might employ the SHS to directly compare traditional 7HH humor training with stand-up comedy courses like Comedy Bootcamp and assess their respective impacts on each of the 7HH skills (and subsequently well-being). It may be that some skills are more important than others for bolstering well-being and the programs could be adjusted accordingly.

If such research were to show the programs are equivocal as humor interventions, this has implications for implementation. For instance, people’s motives for enrolling in these programs likely differ. By virtue of 7HH as a “sense of humor” training, an inherent prerequisite for enrollment is acknowledging that one has a subpar sense of humor. However, Kruger and Dunning (1999) demonstrate that people often greatly overestimate their sense of humor (particularly those in the lower quartiles); that is, the people who would benefit most from humor training are the least likely to seek out humor training programs like 7HH. In contrast, stand-up comedy classes do not share this prerequisite; people may enroll in such programs for any number of reasons. Certainly, these classes do appeal to those who think they’re funny and believe they can become professional comedians (whether warranted or not). But motives are not exclusive to pursuing a comedy career, and can be independent of humor altogether. For example, one participant commented at the end of the Post-survey “I don’t want to be a comedian, I wanted [Comedy Bootcamp] for the public speaking and to learn a little about the comedy world. Goals accomplished.” Others enrolled for the sake of meeting other people in the all-veteran environment, some had always wanted to try the craft at some point in their lives (i.e. as a bucket-list item), and many saw the experience as “something fun to do on weekends.” This plethora of additional motives allows stand-up comedy training to reach participants who would benefit the most from humor interventions that programs like 7HH may not attract. Knowing how to implement these skills in different mediums can help broaden the appeal and accessibility of humor training (e.g., 7HH, stand-up, improv).

Corresponding author: Andrew R. Olah, The Junkin Group, LLC, Philadelphia, PA, USA; and Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, USA, E-mail:

Funding source: Bob Woodruff Foundation

About the authors

Andrew R. Olah

Andrew R. Olah is a research consultant with The Junkin Group, LLC, providing quantitative and subject matter expertise to clients in the comedy and arts sectors. His research focuses on the applications and consequences of humor for psychological well-being and intergroup relations.

Janelle S. Junkin

Janelle S. Junkin, PhD, MT-BC is the founder and CEO of The Junkin Group, LLC, a woman-owned small business. Her areas of research include identity development (children, adolescents, veterans); community music therapy; conflict transformation. She is committed to community-driven research. She is an independent researcher, music therapist, and develops monitoring and evaluation systems for businesses and organizations globally; she has worked in 15 countries on 5 continents. She is published in the Journal of Applied Arts & Health, International Journal of Education & the Arts, International Journal for Doctoral Studies, Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, and has a book chapter in Arts in Healing.

Thomas E. Ford

Thomas E. Ford is a Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University. He is a co-editor of the 2021 book, Social Psychology of Humor, and a co-author of the 2018 edition of The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. His primary research interests address the impact of disparagement humor on prejudice and discrimination.

Sam Pressler

Sam Pressler is the Founder and former Executive Director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP). His grandma is very proud of him.


The program impact evaluation on which this paper is based on would not be possible without the contributions of everyone involved. The authors wish to thank, in no particular order: Ana Gonzalez, Dani Aron-Schiavone, Valeri Smith, Victoria De Hoyos, Rohan Crawley, Brian Jenkins, Grace Belizario, Terri Tanielian, all ASAP staff who contributed to this evaluation, all ASAP instructors, and all ASAP participants who provided their input throughout the evaluation. We’d also like to thank the Bob Woodruff Foundation for providing the funds to support this evaluation, and both the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation for providing funding support for the Comedy Bootcamp program.

  1. Research funding: This article reports on data collected in 2018 as part of a program impact evaluation. This evaluation was funded by a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation awarded to the Armed Services Arts Partnership in 2017.


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Received: 2021-10-01
Accepted: 2022-03-02
Published Online: 2022-04-26
Published in Print: 2022-10-26

© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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