ROY -- A dozen or so couples walked into a classroom at Weber State West Center.
If it sounds a bit like the set up for a joke, it's not. It was actually the set up for hundreds of jokes and improvised comedy bits at last Friday's WSU date night. The event was aimed at couples who wanted to have fun while they learned about the healing power humor can have in a relationship.
"There's been a lot of research that supports humor and playfulness in creating healthy relationships," said Jacque Alderet, a Utah State University graduate student who co-taught the workshop. "Humor helps reduce stress."
Naomi Brower, workshop teacher and USU extension service associate professor, said humor improves communication.
"When times get tough, they have better conflict-resolution skills because they are on the same page," Brower said. "Humor reminds them why they are together in the first place. Having a positive emotional and bonding experience helps you connect, because life can pull you apart."
As an ice-breaker, Brower conducted a warm-up exercise, asking each couple to share a funny, embarrassing moment.
A wife recalled taking goofy cellphone pictures of herself with her husband, and using them for years as fillers for family gift frames, only to have the joke pictures displayed prominently in numerous relatives' homes.
A wife confessed to the habit of pressing her cold nose against the warm skin of her then-fiance. One in-car incident got the couple pulled over, sirens blaring. The officer figured out he knew the groom's mom and was invited to the upcoming nuptials. Not getting a ticket was the couple's first wedding gift.
With everyone relaxed and laughing, it was time for games, selected from those featured on the improvisational comedy show, "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?"
Class members got slips of paper that assigned them a party-guest identity, which the party host then had to identify. Hosts found themselves mystified as people arrived at the imaginary door, acting a lot like a charging bull, a moody "American Idol" contestant, a game show host and a trapped, frantic bird who mistook every human for an open window.
Funny stories that evolve into family legends work as glue in a relationship, Brower told her students. Recalling comical situations with humor, rather than sarcasm or negativity, teaches positive coping skills.
Couples were challenged next to select something odd from a prop box and use it in as many funny ways as possible. A pair of sports rackets became Dumbo ears, fairy wings and an electric guitar, among other things. A vacuum hose turned into a long head scarf, a dental suction device, a snake and a variety of medical instruments.
Pleasant View couple Ryan and Laura Summerill, 36 and 27 respectively, were responsible for the Dumbo ears and electric guitar (him) and the fairy wings (her).
"Ryan and I both thought it was really fun," Laura Summerill said. "It was a great night to get away from the baby and be together, to enjoy each other and just have fun."
The lure of doing comedy with other couples was too much to resist, she said.
"I was nervous at first, but it was pretty fun. If they have another, I will go back. If you are able to laugh and have fun, it brings you closer."
The hardest game seemed to be one that required every answer be a question. Routinely, contestants would freeze, laugh and go to the back of the line.
"It was nice to loosen up," said Becky Linford, 52, of Ogden. "I'm normally kind of shy around strangers, so it was nice to let loose and see what happened."
Linford turned the vacuum hose into medical devices. Husband Joe, 53, used it as a head wrap.
"We've gone to these Weber State marriage and relationship classes before, and we like them," he said. "It's cheap, and it's fun. We had a good time, we had fun together, and we had fun with other couples. I tend to be too serious about things, and this let me put my hair down and be a child again. And it's a good reminder to use more humor with the kids."
Trina Busch, 26, attended with husband John, 29. Son Everett, three weeks, tagged along with the Roy couple.
"My husband and I laugh a lot, but it's always good to have a refresher," Trina Busch said. "You have to be able to put yourself out there, and be willing to look silly. When you're in a stressful situation, humor can keep you from stressing out. It works in marriage, and it works in life."
To check on future classes at the WSU West Center, visit www.weber.edu/west and click on "community workshops." For USU Extension Service classes, visit http://extension.usu.edu, then click on "calendar," and select your county for listings. A site on just relationship classes is http://strongermarriage.org.