You want to make the story/character more interesting. The best way is to use Slavic and Hargaden’s “Invisibles,” which gives students a way to drive the C.I. bus. What kids think is funny, interesting, etc is always funnier than what we teachers think is funny or interesting.
BUT…if your class story needs a boost, you can try these 😄. Take something normalish, and do any of the following. The key to surrealism is to take one or two weird things and add them into something otherwise prosaic, and deliver it enthusiastically but also deadpan straight-face. As Spike Jonze says, “when you replace a C-sharp with a gunshot, it has to be a C-sharp gunshot or it sounds awful.”
1. Character has an unusual number of normal possessions (eg 39 cats).
2. Character has a part-possession (eg Ravneet has half a boyfriend; Dave has 1.5 cars). Even more fun if you draw them.
3. Character does a normal activity in a weird place (eg Suhail cooks in the shower; Mr Stolz marks Spanish stories whilst scuba diving).
4. People or objects have unusual colours or textures etc (eg the boy had a hard pillow; the girl has a green girlfriend but wants a blue one; the French fries were delicious because they were sweet).
5. Unusual place names are always fun. I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy a pizza in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania?
6. Normal places do unusual things (eg a school teaches flirting, a shooting range only allows waterguns, a wedding chapel only marries penguins).
7. Normal things have unusual functions (eg Mr Stolz swims with a mandolin, Mandeep cooks with an iPhone).
8. Try a surrealism generator from this list.
9. Use a stock story– fairy tale, movie, fable– and modernise it. Eg Cinderella, but the protagonist is a boy and he wins a ticket to a show through Instagram, where the rapper sees him and falls in love with him.
10. Use a stock story but change the ending. Eg in “The Three Little Pigs,” the pig who builds the brick house dies of exhaustion and the wolf comes and eats him, while his brothers vacation in the Bahamas.
11. Repurpose well-known brands, stores etc. Eg the man owns a Pringles car and a Ferrari bicycle.
12. Transfer human qualities to animals (eg the Blaine Ray story where a horse in school studies Math, History and Horse. These are often student favorites.
13. Retell a stock story/film etc using animals, toys etc.
14. Celebrities have superpowers and/or weaknesses (eg Chance the Rapper is scared of cats; Lil Pump can eat thirty pounds of spinach). Even better: find something real and socially cool but not obvious that a celebrity does (eg Barack Obama likes craft beer).
15. Your student/the character/you the teacher beats a world record (actually look them up). The world record is factual; the in-class achievement is not. Eg Mr Stolz deadlifted 1200 lb (word record is 1020 lb or so); Mandeep skied from the Moon to Earth (world record is from top of Everest).
Variation: the world record is ridiculous. Eg John has lost the most toy cars; Mr Smith has forgotten to mark the most assignments; Suzie has slept in the longest.
16. Ironic inversion: flip ONE element of a world around (there was a cat who had three pet boys and a snake who had a pet Spanish teacher). For a brilliant take on this, read Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow or his Heavy Water short stories).
17. Things take the wrong amount of time, quantity, effort, etc (eg the boy drove from Alaska to Hawaii; the girl became a doctor in 97 years; the monkey easily ate 497 bananas).
18. Language (an idea from Blaine Ray and Karen Rowan): John speaks English, Miguel speaks Spanish, but their dog speaks Dog. This is a problem, because John does not speak Dog.
19. Brand name changes. Your characters don’t play Fortnite and Call of Duty…they play Nortfite and Call of Shooting, and they buy it at Mal-Wart, to which they drive in a Fard Mastong. Great for some decommodification!
20. Name changes #2: switch first and last names. My student Gaurav wanted to name a female character Nicholas Cage. I said, Nicholas Cage is a man, so Gaurav said, fine: Cage Nicholas 🤣🤣. So we now have Cage Nicholas, Rapper the Chance, Pump Lil and so on.
21. Ethnicity jokes that kids are OK with (ie not racist etc). Eg in my class, lots of kids speak Punjabi. So we sometimes do stories where a Punjabi kid (one who looks Punjabi, has a Punjabi name, etc) eg does not speak Punjabi, while eg a white kid is fluent in it but speaks no English. Kids have very funny observations about their (and others’) cultures. Indeed, I am often reminded of Korean-American comedienne Margaret Cho’s references to her Korean mother, and Canadian Russell Peters’ hilarious riffing on his Indian father (see this– the whole thing is good but the parenting bit at 39:15 is brilliant).
You have to tread carefully here but it is a lot of fun: most of us have heard or experienced ethnic “humour” as racism. Doing it for surreal purposes can make for great stories. Above all, if any remotely privileged teacher (eg me: white, able-bodied, cis, het etc Canadian male) is going to play around with this, we must first ask anybody of a different ethnicity, language etc if it’s OK. And we never want to make any religious, ethnic etc references which show or hint at oppressive power structures unless we are visibly critical of those power structures.
22. Similar to 21, reverse-stereotype humor can be lots of fun. Eg: the male sacaplatas who just wants a sugar-mama, the “wigga” (white kid who thinks he/she’s a rapper from the ‘hood), the straight white guy who loves to dance, the football player who loves ballet, etc. Humour is a great way to let all of us see how absurd most stereotypes and roles are.
23. Blaine Ray has experimented with “teacher-as-character” and I love this. I make myself 70% real– eg when school ends, I ride my bike home, climb, mark etc– and 30% surreal. For example, my girlfriend comes from L.A. to Surrey for dinner in her Farreri in 28 minutes because there is good Indian food here (true). The mix of truth and total fabrication is where the fun really is.
24. Bizarre contracts. A kid once said how can I raise my mark? and I said a B is $750 and an A is $1000. Cash. No crypto. Now, I make this kind of joke all the time. Class, Ella is going to drive me to Mal-Wart, and I’m going to give her a C-
Another fun one with the grade-grubbers is to pretend to lower their marks. Eg Class, Ella is soooooo mean to me, I’m going to give her 72.4% in Spanish (this is .1% below a B).
25. Bizarre social setups. My Italian-Punjabi-Canadian student Kai’s parents cook Italian-Punjabi food. So I asked Kai, would your parents adopt me? Yes? Class, Kai is now my student AND my brother! I also regularly say things like Class, Heaven has 19 children and they are all in this class.