Yes, it's true — at MIT you can be funded for being funny.
The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is inviting MIT students, faculty and staff to apply for grants from the de Florez Fund for Humor, which sponsors projects that share the virtues of humor, especially with students.
“We’re encouraging a big initiative in the realm of humor — large-scale efforts that will have campus-wide impact,” says historian Christopher Capozzola, acting associate dean of the school and chair of the de Florez Fund for Humor Committee, which is composed of both faculty members and students.
MIT community members are encouraged to seek grants of any amount to support such activities as class trips or campus performances and events, and may also request grants for larger-scale projects. “The funds can be used for programming and events," Capozzola says, "and it’s definitely a priority for us to sponsor projects that integrate humor into the classroom — whether by making classes funnier or by creating classes about humor.”
This is no joke
Applications for major grants will be accepted four times each year. The next deadline is April 27; anyone interested can apply online. Those seeking smaller grants, for under $500, may apply at any time throughout the year.
To date, the Fund for Humor has been somewhat underutilized, Capozzola says. Although monies were once used to support the Peter de Florez Chair for Humor, that position is now defunct. In each of the past few years, only a handful of grants were awarded — typically for under $1,000 each. “We’ve developed the new "Think you're funny?" campaign," Capozzola says, "to draw attention to the fund and to encourage applications, including some ambitious things for the whole campus community that will honor the spirit of the donor’s vision."
Previous grants have been used to support student events such as Thirsty Ear comedy nights, Music and Theater Arts performances, and occasionally, coursework — for example, funding guest speakers for a class in screenwriting. The Fund for Humor also regularly helps sponsor MIT's legendary Latke-Hamentashen Debate, an annual forum for arguing the relative merits of two beloved Jewish foods.
“The debate is a fun event, kind of silly [Editor's note: she means "profoundly significant"], and it’s a good event for bringing together people of different backgrounds; there’s some Jewish content, but you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it,” says sophomore Sharone Small, treasurer for Hillel, the student group that organizes the event. “The de Florez Humor Fund has been a large part of what makes it possible and so successful.”
The fund also welcomes submissions from the MIT community for amusing images for the de Florez Fund web slideshow. Images, which can be submitted completely independently of grant applications, must be original works to which the person submitting owns the rights. Send to: email@example.com.
What was de Florez thinking?
Established in 1988, the Fund for Humor was created by Peter de Florez ’38, a successful manufacturer who enjoyed hot air ballooning and scuba diving. Known as a character, he once fired an air gun from the roof of his student living quarters — a stunt that, while harmless, landed him in court.
“Peter de Florez was a quirky guy, but no more so than his father, Admiral Luiz de Florez, who was famous for having landed a seaplane on the Charles River,” said Jay Keyser, professor of linguistics emeritus — and noted connoisseur of MIT hacks, who held the Peter de Florez Chair for Humor until his retirement in 1998. (In fairness, Admiral de Florez ’11, was also justly famous for his pioneering work in flight simulation experiments, for advancing aviation safety, and for receiving the U.S. Legion of Merit award.)
Notably, when Peter de Florez made his donation to MIT for the Humor Fund, he made a point to stipulate that all funded projects must be “contributions to innocent humor at MIT, including activities that do not involve risk of damage to persons or property, or embarrassment to others.”
The bottom line, according to Linda Mar in the Office of Resource Development, is that de Florez established the fund because he felt MIT deserved more humor. "He felt positively about his educational experience at MIT," she says, and knowing that MIT's educational environment can be stressful, he wanted to encourage a good dose of levity.
As Keyser, who is currently special assistant to the chancellor, says, “A sense of humor is to an MIT student what the magic lasso is to Wonder Woman. You can survive without it, but boy does it come in handy.”