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Billy Peden and Tom Sherman turn laughter into learning

Local teacher and inventor’s “U.S. History is a Joke” blends jokes and facts
May 14, 2020

What is a cross between between a teacher, a comedian and a U.S. history textbook? An educational joke book that is factually funny.

Local educator Billy Peden and inventor Tom Sherman spent the past two years creating just that while researching and writing their book “U.S. History is a Joke,” which was released in April on Amazon.com.

The writing duo first met in 2015 through a local stand-up comedy nonprofit program, MoonCat Comedy Club’s open mic night, where they both performed and volunteered. Wanting to collaborate on a side project together, the pair decided to blend their comedic talents with other shared passions: history and education.

“Billy approached me to do something creative and humorous, and after some brainstorming, we chose to write a historically accurate joke book,” said Sherman. “Things are often funnier when they’re true. So viewing history through the lens of a joke makes it funnier, more accessible, and easier to remember.”

Peden, a certified elementary school teacher, says the idea was intriguing not only because social studies is often neglected in favor of core subjects like math and English, but also, it had the potential to change the paradigm of education by using humor to engage learners who might otherwise be uninterested in the topic. Jokes can serve as mnemonic devices, tools that increase students’ ability to retain new information.

“M​nemonic strategies are proven to work. Jokes are like songs in that the best get stuck in your head,” said Peden. “The joke sparks interest in the subject matter or historical individual and invites the student to further explore the subject matter on their own.”

The first volume of the book spans the time period from Christopher Columbus to the beginnings of the Civil War. Each joke comes with a corresponding paragraph of historical facts. The explanations give context to what the joke was based on, and they have their own fair share of tongue-in-cheek moments. Although written with students in mind, the book can be enjoyed by anyone interested in comedy or American history.

“I love laughing and I love learning, so this is the sort of book I would’ve enjoyed as a kid, in college, or even today,” said Sherman. “It’s easy to read, but to get the joke you might need to learn the history first, which is worth it. Telling jokes is definitely a more fun way to learn than flash cards or dry nonfiction books.”

Although they did not plan to publish the book in the midst of a pandemic, with the newfound emphasis put on remote learning, the creators think it might be as good a time as any to unveil their lampoonery on parents and educators who find themselves searching for unique ways to reach young learners.

“Laughter is the best medicine, right? Anyone who wants to share their love of history with their friends or family but needs a way to get their attention can use our book,” said Peden. “These aren’t your same old dad jokes; they’re original, factually funny jokes that can be enjoyed by all ages.”

Peden and Sherman’s “U.S. History is a Joke” is available in paperback and eBook on www.Amazon.com.

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