Humour me, humour you – Rik Mets

Rik Mets

About the Author:

My name is Rik Mets, 27 years old and living in Spakenburg, The Netherlands. I have stuttered since I was a child and for the past five years I have worked as a history teacher. In my spare time I like to read, write, sing and play the guitar.

I have a severe stutter, but I cannot say I have a problem with it. 

No, I did not come up with this joke, although I use it on a frequent basis. It was written years ago by the Dutch comedian Herman Finkers who actually stutters in real life, yet who has never made stuttering a part of his shows. From an early age, Finkers has been a great inspiration in my life and to this day I can quote him on many an occasion, sometimes to the annoyance of others. 

Humour has always been an important part of my life. It started as a way to be heard. Picture this. A young child desperately wants to be heard for he has something to say, but as he stutters, his story takes too long and people lose interest as their attention span is limited. They lose focus, the child notices this and begins to stutter even more. In the end, he refrains from finishing his story. Next time, he might not even say anything. If you stutter yourself or if you know anyone in your circle who stutters, this might come across as recognisable. 

Now picture this. That same child still wants to say something. Knowing that it might take a long time, he wraps his story in a joke. Now people want to know the end, the climax of the joke, so they keep listening. The story ends, people laugh and the child is happy, for he has finally been heard. And next time, people might actually pay attention to him from the start, perhaps it will be as funny as last time. 

Later on, humour became a coping mechanism for me. When tragedy struck, as it does in all of our lives, telling jokes was a method of not having to talk about my feelings. Hide it behind a smile and make people laugh, so they won’t ask any further questions about your state of mind. Humour became a shield, an armour, behind which I could hide from what I did not want to think about. In a way, it still is to this very day. 

But what has any of this to do with this year’s ISAD theme, ‘speak the change you wish to see?’ Up to this point, not very much actually. Hiding from real life behind a façade of jokes is not something I wish more people would do. Quite the opposite actually. If you have faced hardship in your life, and I do hope this is not the case, then I would suggest talking about it to friends and loved ones, not burying it. I did bury it. It did not work out. 

The meaning of humour has changed for me over the last few years. During my time as a student, I would not talk about my stuttering very often. As I said, I used to hide it behind a joke. But when I started my first job, that did not work anymore as I found out after a few tries. I became a history teacher, which meant having to talk. Quite a lot. Every day. To a few hundred teenagers and colleagues. And they had questions about it. Why did I stutter, why did I not get therapy, was I born with it, et cetera. But more importantly, they had doubts about me. Doubts I did not have about myself. I knew I could be a good teacher. At least I knew enough about history, believe me. But since both my students and colleagues were not used to having a person who stutters in their midst, they had reservations and preconceptions about my capabilities. 

But it wasn’t just the preconceptions people had about my stuttering. I noticed how difficult both students and colleagues found it to talk to me about it. It was palpable to me that they did not want to address the elephant in the room, even though it was so clearly there every time I opened my mouth to speak. In order to become accepted, I had to break down that wall. And so, I used jokes again. 

‘Sure, I can introduce myself. How much time do I have?’

‘I am about to give a ten-minute lecture, so I will be talking for approximately thirty minutes. If you have any trouble keeping up with your notes, just let me know, so I can stutter a bit more.’

An important part of accepting my stuttering has been to be open about it and using jokes has helped me greatly. Not just professionally, where my colleagues have accepted my stuttering as something that is there, that is a part of who I am. No, it works on a more personal level as well. To give an example, my bio on a dating website read ‘I stutter, so if you like long conversations, you have come to the right place.’ Someone responded saying: ‘That joke is so terrible, it made me laugh.’ Two years later, she is now my wife and I get to annoy her every day with terrible jokes and bad puns. According to her, I make a lot of dad-jokes. Which is funny, since we don’t have any children yet. Imagine how bad my jokes are going to get once I actually become a dad! 

So when we say ‘speak the change you wish to see,’ this is what I do. It is easy to say – ‘Well I stutter, so I won’t do this or that, it is too hard.’ Or you pick up the gauntlet and accept the challenges life throws in your way. For me, the way to do it is with a joke. That does not mean that my stuttering has gone away. It is still there, every day, in every sentence I speak. But using humour makes it easier to deal with, not just for myself but for others as well. I show them that I can make fun of myself and in doing so, I can open up to them and they can open up to me.

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Comments

Humour me, humour you – Rik Mets — 27 Comments

  1. I love this aspect of using HUMOR! I have been passionate about doing IMPROV myself because I have found humor helps us develop so much self confidence and really find our voice so I love how you have really tapped into this humor to make it a part of you and part of your stuttering journey as well.

    How do you feel when your jokes dont land?

  2. I smiled all the way through this article. Thank-you Rik, for this gift of joy. I am now stepping out to face the rest of my day feeling a little more bouyant.

  3. Rik,
    Wonderful story. I worked in a high school for many years and always found it tough when kids would giggle or smirk. So I decided to use humor when I could and make very light comments about my stuttering that made people laugh, not at me, but with me.

    Once, I was leading a group of honors students in a ceremony. Lots of parents were in the audience and I was nervous. They had to take a pledge and I led them by reading a line and they were to “repeat after me”. So I said, repeat after me, but not the stutters please. And the kids chuckled and so did the parents in the audience. I relaxed immediately and got through it. Did I still stutter? Yep, but making light of it let people know I stuttered in an easy lighthearted way, and then the parents knew how to respond.

    Humor lightens the load and makes anxious situations much more comfortable.

    Thanks for sharing this piece.

    Pam

  4. Thank you for making me see a change that I would like to see in myself :-), and which I now know I can calmly aspire to. Stuttering made me very serious, the fear of the bullie’s laughter, before the time, before I finished the joke, closed me off from among other things telling jokes, I had to connect to humor in unusual ways, sometimes even using it against me which is not healthy at all, today I see. But at other times in a beautiful and creative way I want to want it. I’ve been away from my genuine laugh for a while. In my stuttering journey, I sometimes drift away from there, but I am now seeing it as a really good sign of how far I am or not from the healthy path. Rick, Your article made me laugh and want to connect there again. Thanks

    Pedro

  5. Hi Rik!
    I loved reading about your experience. I enjoyed learning how you used humor to allow your stuttering to no longer be the elephant in the room but to show it’s not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of.
    Thank you so much for sharing this. It brought a smile to my face!

  6. Hi Rik!
    It is so interesting to see how humor can be used in many different techniques to help people and others feel more comfortable. I appreciated how you said not to hide your stutter behind humor but rather embrace it and use humor almsot as an accessory to your stutter. What other techniques did you try before humor or have you always turned to humor to make you feel more comfortable? Also, because you are a teacher, does speaking everyday all day help with your stutter or make it worse in some cases? I know talking a lot is either good practice or makes it ever harder for someone who has a stutter. Great article!

    • Hi, thanks for your questions!
      Before turning to humor, I had some speech therapy at primary school, which obviously did not work 😉 My main ‘technique’ before that was just not to talk unless I felt really comfortable and avoiding any situations where I might stutter.
      I can’t say teaching decreases my stuttering, but when I have been talking for a whole day, I notice it less and less. So for me personally, it does help. I still stutter, but I am not bothered by it. That is always a bit worse on days when I don’t talk as much. Then when I say something, the stuttering is more noticible to me.

  7. I loved reading about your experience and love that you have begin to use your humor as a resource rather than something you can hide behind! I am currently studying to be a speech and language pathologist and am seeking a bit of advice.
    I have read a few cases where people who stutter also use humor as a coping mechanism. When working with future clients, how would you advise I ensure my clients are using humor as a resource as you do now rather than as a place to hide as you said you would advise against?

    • Oef, that is quite a difficult question to be honest. I think it very much depends on the personality of the client. When I was using jokes as a coping mechanism, the jokes were mostly NOT about me personally. When jokes became a resource, I placed myself in the forefront, especially my stuttering. Also, are the jokes coming from inside someone (because he or she just is very funny and loves telling jokes?) or are they told in a more forced way, so the person is trying to be funny or be accepted? This you can only find out in a face-to-face situation. Other than that, I am really not sure, sorry. I hope this was helpful anyway!

  8. Hey Rik,

    Thank you for sharing your ideas about humor and stuttering this is defiantly a fun way to approach it. It is awesome that you are using humor as a resource and a way to communicate rather than using it as a coping mechanism or something that you hide behind. Would you say that this strategy of communication works more often than not in the workplace? would you recommend trying it to someone else?

    • Thanks for your question! Sure, I use humor a lot in the workplace, but in everyday life as well. To the annoyance of my wife at times 😉 However, in a situation with family, friends or loved ones, it’s less of communication strategy. For me, using humor was a mechanism to find my way in a more competative setting (i.e. the workplace). But outside of that, I’m always telling jokes.

  9. Hi Rik,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! As an SLP student, it was very enlightening to read about how you used humor to overcome feelings of anxiety. You mention that you used to hide behind jokes, but now, you use humor as an empowering tool. How has your use of humor changed and do you have any advice on positive ways to use humor to overcome bad feelings associated with stuttering?

    • Dear Courtney,

      Thank you so much for your comment. To answer your question, I think the change in my humor stems from myself having changed. As I got older, I started to accept my stuttering, but I still had al these jokes I wanted to tell. So instead hiding behind them, I just started telling jokes and found that it was a way to make stuttering ‘acceptable’.
      I think the key when it comes to using humor, is that you use whatever it is that’s inside of you. Comedy = tragedy + time. So if you have bad feelings, try to turn them into something you can laugh about. Self-mockery is my favorite kind of humor. This of course does not mean that you shouldn’t take bad feeling seriously, but you can use humor to open up a conversation about it.

      I hope this has been helpful. Best of luck!
      Rik

  10. Rik,
    I loved your story and how you found humor as an important part to accepting your stutter. You show that stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of and rather it is part of who you are. Thank you!
    – Maddie

  11. Rik,
    I love how you turned such a important part of yourself into something you and others may laugh about, rather than laugh at. Do you ever find yourself hiding behind the jokes? I am naturally a talkative person, but some days I don’t want to talk. Does the humor ever feel that way for you?

  12. Hi!
    Yeah, I think it’s only natural to sometimes not want to make jokes (or talk for that matter). We each have our good and bad days. On a bad day, I prefer not to talk about stuttering or make jokes about it. For me it’s always a good indicator if I’m really not feeling well. If I don’t make jokes or laugh for a couple of days, something is wrong and I have to find out what. Luckily, it’s been a while since that last happened 😉

  13. Hi! loved your idea of using humor! When you encounter strangers in public, do you tend to use humor with them as well?
    I see in your bio that you like to sing. Do you feel like singing helps with your stutter?

    • Hi, thanks for you comment! No, I wouldn’t say singing helps with stuttering. I just love to sing, that’s why I do it. However, singing does help me to relax and strenghten my voice, which makes me more comfortable when speaking. It doesn’t mean I stutter less, but it does make speaking overall easier.

  14. Good evening! I love your use of humor in every day life. I feel like it’s such a delight, I have a husband that brings that same joy! He often uses his humor as a way to hide his true feelings.. what are some ways you felt you were able to distinguish between your actual humorous personality, and using humor to avoid difficult daily situations? Thanks!
    Kennedi

    • Hi Kennedy! That’s actually a good question. I think it grew when I started to accept my stuttering. I didn’t have to hide behind humor anymore, but I still used it. Then I came to the understanding that I also like telling jokes just for the fun of it 😉

  15. Hello!
    I love the way you use humor to help yourself in every day life as a person who stutters. Its great that you use jokes to address “the elephant in the room” instead of appearing to be ashamed of your stutter. It also shows that you have a pretty good sense of self and that is admirable in any person.
    As a PWS, what inspired you to become a teacher, and did you have any fears beginning a job that consisted of talking majority of the day?

    • Hi, thanks for your comment!
      What inspired me to become a teacher was firstly my love for history. Becoming a teacher was a way to make my hobby my job 🙂 Also I come from a family with a lot of educators, so I was brought up with it. For sure I had some fears, at first about my stuttering. But I soon found out that when I was open about it and didn’t make an issue out of it, colleagues and students accepted it fairly quickly. The fears were there, but they were resolved by just doing it.

  16. Hello!

    I love the way you use humor to help yourself in every day life as a person who stutters. Its great that you use jokes to address “the elephant in the room” instead of appearing to be ashamed of your stutter. It also shows that you have a pretty good sense of self and that is admirable in any person.
    As a PWS, what inspired you to become a teacher, and did you have any fears beginning a job that consisted of talking majority of the day?

  17. Hello!

    I loved reading your story about how you use humor as a resource and not hiding behind your stutter but rather embracing it! That is such a good and lighthearted way of making other people that may stutter feel comfortable to talk and ask questions so they can be more aware and understanding. What would you say was the hardest obstacle you faced when you started teaching?

    • Hi, thanks for your comment! To be honest, the hardest obstacle was my own prejudice. A PWS can’t be a teacher, I thought for years. Until I actually started teaching, then I found out it wasn’t that much of a problem. At the risk of coming of too philosopical, oftentimes it’s our own prejudices that hold us back. But tackling them head on, you can overcome them 🙂

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