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OHIO Expert

Photo of Mark Shatz

Mark Shatz, Ph.D.

Areas of Expertise:
Classroom and Instructional Humor, Comedy, Communication, Death and Dying, Humor, Humor Writing, Physician Communication, Psychology

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Humor works! As a coauthor of the top-selling humor writing book  Comedy Writing Secrets, (2ed), Dr. Shatz teaches others how to think, write and apply fun.

"Humor is a life defibrillator - it enhances communication, health and relationships," he says.

As a psychology professor at the university's Zanesville campus, Shatz researches and teaches humor. With fellow psychology professor Frank LoSchavio, Shatz published the first empirical study of humor incorporated into online instruction. He believes that whether it's a traditional or virtual classroom, humor makes learning more interesting, memorable and fun.

Shatz shows educators how to incorporate humor into instruction. Whether it's K-12 teachers, professors or Ohio State Supreme Court Judicial College faculty, Shatz's goals remain the same.

"I remind teachers that effective learning is also fun learning," he says. "The idea is not to turn teachers into jokesters, but when humor is used, students are active and engaged."

Shatz uses the same methods as well, teaching an undergraduate humor writing course with a somewhat infamous final exam -  a stand-up performance before a live audience.

"Stand-up comedy is the most demanding, concise form of humor writing," he says. "The final forces students to learn and apply the principles of humor writing."

Shatz's other specialty area seems polar opposite to his humor work - death and dying. For over 25 years, he has taught numerous death and dying classes, including classes at the Ohio University Hong Kong campus. He has worked with hospice, served on hospital ethics committees and worked on school crisis teams.

"Obviously, there's nothing funny about death, dying or grief. Yet, the main lesson of death is life is finite and that we must live now," he says. "I view humor as a gift, a tool for getting the most out of life."

Shatz frequently works with professionals, such as teachers and physicians, to help them communicate more effectively and deal with death.

Why can't physicians say the "D" words, death and dying? According to Shatz, it's a reflection of cultural attitudes. Shatz notes that "Death and dying are taboo subjects in our society, and we keep death at arm's length. Just consider recent trends - shortening of visitations, drive-thru funeral homes and online funeral services. Medical practices simply mimic cultural habits."

Shatz is devoted to breaking the medical "conspiracy of silence." Studies show that physicians avoid real words and use phrases like "The cancer has metastasized and there is no known protocol."

"It's understandable that physicians use ‘medical speak’ and avoid the ‘D’ words - they're afraid patients might stop listening and give up," Shatz says. "However, patients have the right to know, in plain English, what is happening. My job is to teach physicians how to effectively communicate unsettling news."

As part of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine geriatric series, Shatz helps medical students and staff understand the effects of death avoidance.

"Physicians excel at curing. Dying is a lonely journey, and the dying don't need curing. They need our companionship, support, and love during their final trip," he says.

Shatz' Media Placements include:

  • Reader's Digest Canada
  • Columbus Dispatch
  • Zanesville Times-Recorder
  • Google News

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