Who doesn’t love the feeling of a good belly laugh that lifts our spirits and spreads through a group of people? Humor has been a part of the aerial adventure world from the beginning. Look no further than manufacturers’ belay device naming schemes, such as Black Diamond’s ATC (Air Traffic Controller) or Hugh Banner’s Sheriff, which “arrests” your fall. Even our early adventure activities carry names like Pamper Pole (because you may want to be wearing a diaper up there). Facilitators and guides have been peppering their course introductions and safety talks with corny jokes to lighten the mood in a potentially stressful situation since the industry began.
Does laughter really help the participants in our aerial adventure programs? On the challenge course, is laughter really the best medicine? The science says yes. A study on the website of the National Institutes of Health declares, “From ancient times, laughter has been used to influence cognitive behavior to improve and establish healthy physical, psychological, and social relationships.”
In other words, those corny jokes not only help lighten a stressful mood, but they also create a social bond between the participants and the leader.
What is an amygdala? I’m not sure, but for some reason, I feel strongly about it.
Humans are hardwired for the fight or flight response. When we sense things in our environment, the almond-shaped part of our brain called the amygdala scans for danger. When faced with a potentially scary or dangerous experience, the amygdala hijacks the body, preparing us to either fight or flee.
But the amygdala is not a one trick pony. It also helps us process other emotions. Research shows the brain’s limbic system—which contains the amygdala—is also activated when we see or hear something funny. When we tell jokes or make our participants laugh, we are firing positive emotional responses that tamp down encroaching nervousness in the amygdala.
Further, when you laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your mental load—it also induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can literally relieve stress responses in the body and relax a tense situation. So, when you see signs of fear creeping into your guests, hit them with some humor. It will help your participants have an enjoyable experience and not end up frozen on a zip platform.
What do you call a stressed Tyrannosaurus? A nervous Rex.
Humor is also a bonding agent. Facilitators and guides have long used humor to help build connections with their participants. When we share a laugh (laughter, like fear, is contagious), our brains release hormones that help us feel bonded with others. Shared laughter helps develop feelings of closeness and trust.
As a 30-year veteran of the aerial adventure world, my professional advice is often “master your technical skills” or “build up your repertoire of initiatives.” Looks like you need to take that improv class as well.
How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice.
Have You Heard These?
To help you build your repertoire of humor, Adventure Park Insider asked readers for their go-to jokes and icebreakers. Here’s a roundup of some of the best, plus a few from our team. Feel free to adopt them as your own. [Note: attributions are names as they appear on social media.]
“It’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.” —Sam Ebert
“Thanks for hanging out today.” —Andy Brash
“What did the tree do when the bank closed?” “It started its own branch.” —API staff
“This next element is kind of a mix between a bridge and a ladder. We call it the bladder.” —John Long
We have two slanted trees near each other and one has a lopped-off top. I like to introduce people to them as “Ben” and “Ilene.” I then say, “Don’t look at Ilene, though, she’s topless.” —Reece Phillips
“We like the ‘Bluetooth challenge,’ it’s hands free.” —Bogue Andrew
(At the repel) “We’ve reached the part that’s a huge let-down.” —Bogue Andrew
“If you’re not on belay, you’ll be laying on the ground.” —Chris Foust
When a guest points out power lines visible through the trees and asks if those are zip lines—“Yep, we call that one Old Sparky.” —Bee Jean Lacy
“This is a can-not-pee tour as well as a canopy tour, so please use the restroom prior to gearing up.” —Mike Zeber
Part of our tour involves a hike on a fairly busy trail, so we tell guests, “Please don’t wander off the trail. If you do, there are snakes, ticks, bears, and cougars. The last are the worst because they’ll break your heart.” —Nichalas Neid
“What is a tree’s least favorite month?” “Sep-timber.” —API staff
“If you’re going to lean off the edge of the deck, make sure your clips are directly in front of you. If they’re not, they can suddenly shift, which may cause you to shift your pants.” —Ivan Burford
When I am about to go on the first zip I like to tell guests, “See you on the other side when you cross over.” —Reece Phillips
“For fungi to grow, you must give it as mushroom as possible.” —API staff
“Would anyone else like to know more information about the tree we’re currently standing in, or are you sycamore tree jokes?” —Rachel Hailey
“Did you guys know that Saturday and Sunday are the strongest days?” “The rest are weekdays.” —API staff
We would zip into a very photogenic spot and say something about “papara-trees” as we took their [guests’] picture. Then hit ’em with “Betty White-Oak,” “Miley Cypress,” “Keanu Leaves,” “Snoop Log” and so on. —Ben-Jammin Seidman
In addition: “Dwayne the Rock Oak Johnson.” —Rachel Hailey
“What do you call a zip line guide with an eyepatch? A pirate of the carabinerrrrrr.” —Ron Betts
At our first zip on the course, the guide tells a joke, and then before zipping away says, “Well, if you didn’t like that joke, then much like our zip lines, it’s all downhill from here.” —Sarah Elizabeth Wilson
Guest asks, “How do you like being a zip line tour guide?” I reply, “There’s highs and lows of the job; overall it’s pretty great, though.” —Logan Buehrer
“Did you know that Speedy Gonzales was a ropes course facilitator? He was always saying, ‘On belay, On belay, On belay!’” —Michelle Cummings
When guests ask how many bridges there are, we reply, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” —Janelle Berning
“Make sure you do [insert safety action here]or you’ll end up with ‘summer teeth.’ Summer in your mouth, summer on the ground…” —Hannah Kate Mulanax Grobin
“This zip cable is more stable than any man I have ever dated.” —Celeste Ellison
“How do birds learn to fly?” “They wing it.” —API staff
Learned this from my first WFR instructor: “How many [outdoor professionals]does it take to screw in a lightbulb? (Pause) Ha! We can’t afford electricity!” —Mark Suroviec
A variation: “How many [facilitators]does it take to screw in a light bulb? (Pause) Five. One to do it and the other four to tell you how they do it on their course.” —Michelle Cummings
“All my jokes about zip lining are pretty straightforward.” —Haskell Anderson
“I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.” —API staff
[participant unable to recover on an element]“I’ll be there soon to help you—just hang out.” —Andy Brash
And, from The Adventure Park at Sandy Springs staff:
There is an element on our course that spins, and anytime someone slips on it, I say, “Hey, those spin,” after they’ve already found out the hard way.
When people ask if they really have to tie their hair back, I say, “Only if you want to keep it.”
Whenever I take pictures for folks after they’ve climbed, instead of “cheese,” I have them say, “We survived!”
When people ask what happens if they open the D ring, I say, ”You’ll explode.”
A guest was on our highest, hardest, and longest trail. The guest could not even see the end of the element she had just started. She called over to a staff member and asked where it finished. His reply: “Narnia.”
When taking guest photos, I always say, “Say trees!”