ASU humor scholars receive lifetime achievement award

Alleen and Don Nilsen

Laughter can take on many forms, and for a pair of humor scholars, it has come in the shape of a national award.

Arizona State University instructors Alleen and Don Nilsen are recipients of the 2014 Doug Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award for their significant contribution, understanding and application of humor over an entire career. They received the award from the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) earlier this May at the Red Skelton Museum in Vincennes, Indiana.

The Nilsens retired from full-time teaching in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of English in May 2011. However, they have continued teaching a class in humor across the disciplines at ASU.

“The AATH Lifetime Award is extremely important to Alleen and me because we have always stressed the relationship between those humor scholars who stress theory, and those who explored application,” says Don Nilsen. “Humor can often be used effectively by professors as a teaching tool when applied properly. Linguists can teach about humor and language play. Sociologists can teach how humor can be used for social bonding, as well as exclusion. Psychologists can teach how humor can be used as an ego defense mechanism. Business people can teach about the effectiveness of humorous advertisements. The possibilities are endless.”

The Nilsens met in undergraduate school at Brigham Young University and later embarked on careers as English teachers that brought them to ASU in the 1970s. Their interest in humor developed out of a desire to make their grammar lessons more interesting.

They founded the International Society for Humor Studies in the 1980s, and have held conferences around the world in countries including Japan, Spain, France, England, Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, China and Poland. The conferences include university professors from around the world who discuss humor in their various disciplines: linguistics, literature, sociology, anthropology, psychology, medicine and gender studies.

The Doug Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award has been presented annually since 1998 and is sponsored by the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, a nonprofit organization based in West Hartford, Connecticut.

The award is presented to members and non-members in recognition of their service to the association and application and understanding of humor through speaking, teaching, training, research or professional practice.

The award is named after the late Doug Fletcher, a nurse, therapeutic humor advocate, Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor member and the publisher of Journal of Nursing Jocularity. The journal, which had several thousand subscribers, promoted humor in the health care profession by publishing articles and cartoons from nurses throughout the country.

Fletcher died in a fatal car accident on May 1, 1998. The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor created an award to recognize and honor both Fletcher and those whose work followed in this tradition.