Don and Alleen Nilsen on Humor Studies

Don and Allen Nilsen Humor Studies


"I'm a lucky son-of-a-gun. I work eight hours. I sleep eight hours. I have eight hours for fun."

Don L. F. Nilsen - Alleen Pace Nilsen
Assistant Dean, Division of the Humanities
ASU Emeritus College

Don and Alleen Nilsen are the pioneers of Humor Studies, they have been in regular touch with Modlingua for quite many years. They share their success story with great excitement, adding humor to it.


Don and Alleen Nilsen are joined at the hip. What we mean by that is that they always do things together. Don is the Assistant Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and Alleen is the Editor of Emeritus Voices. Before they were emeritus, Don was a linguist, and Alleen was the Director of English Education. But the important thing is that Alleen and Don always do things together.

Alleen has become a linguist and a humor scholar and together they have published Pronunciation Contrasts in English (Waveland, 2010) and Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor (Greenwood, 2000). In 2000, their encyclopedia was selected as an Outstanding Academic Book by Choice, and in 2001 it was chosen as an Outstanding Reference Source by the American Library Association. Don has become a scholar in the field of Names and in the field of Young Adult Literature, and together they have published Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature (Scarecrow, 2007), and the ninth edition of Literature for Today's Young Adults (Pearson, 2013).

Since their retirement, Don and Alleen have also been teaching courses together. In Arizona State University's Honors College they team-taught "Humor across the Disciplines," and in ASU's English Department they team-taught "Digital Humor across the Disciplines." They have also team-taught a number of short courses at Mesa Community College for New Frontiers, and at Gilbert Community College for New Adventures in Learning. They are also often asked to do humor presentations around the Phoenix Valley. They love talking about Humor, Irony, Satire, Sarcasm, Parody, and Paradox. They have developed interactive PowerPoints on the following subjects: "Humor and Translation," "Digital Humor," "Humor and Health," "Humor and Gender Issues," "Humor and Aging Issues," "Humor and Psychology," "Humor and Social Issues," "International Humor," "Linguistic Humor and Language Play," and "Humor and Politics." Because they learn so much from their students, the Nilsens do drastic revisions of their PowerPoints after each presentation.

The Nilsens point out that everybody realizes that the work ethic is very important. Everybody also realizes how important sleep is. But the Nilsens are concentrating on the third basic need—The Play Ethic. So every day their lives follow the lyrics of a song they once heard: "Lucky, Lucky, Lucky me. I'm a lucky son-of-a-gun. I work eight hours. I sleep eight hours. I have eight hours for fun."

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