Use of Appropriate Humor

by Barry Neal


feature article


By Barry Neal

Although humor is universal, and something that can bring diverse people together, jokes can also be very divisive and at times, completely inappropriate.  Comedy is not a victimless art form.


 Every joke has a victim.  It is up to the storyteller to make sure that the victim of the joke is an appropriate target.  Many times the funny stories that we tell have ourselves as the butt of the joke.  In these cases, it is almost always appropriate because we are making fun of ourselves, and not someone else.             


Every comedy you see at the movies tries to make sure the victims of the jokes are people who deserve it. 


In the classic movie Animal House, do you think anybody shed a tear that the snotty fraternity and the corrupt Dean of the school got their comeuppance in the end?  Of course not. 


We were all rooting for the Delta House.  Would Revenge of The Nerds been successful if, in the end, the jock fraternity beat the nerds?  Of course not.  We enjoy watching comedies where the mean people get paid back by the lovable protagonist.  If you make fun of your dear old grandmother in your joke, then you probably have chosen the wrong victim and won’t get a positive response from your story.


Anytime you’re in the workplace and trying to use humor, you must be careful not to offend.  What may be an appropriate story at the bar, may not be appropriate at your sales meeting. 


Using inappropriate humor in the workplace can offend others, as well as bringing negative feelings to your employees towards the joke teller and the people who find this offensive humor funny.          


Almost every joke that has racial, gender or religious components is a no-no.  Often these jokes rely on stereotypes that are negative, and will fragment your staff rather than unite them. 


When telling a story that does have stereotypes, the only way to get away with telling it is to be the same stereotype of the people who are the butt of the joke.  It is easier to accept a joke about women when the joke teller is a woman.


If a man tells that same joke about women, it will come off as sexist and inappropriate.  People who use inappropriate humor are often trying to make themselves feel better by putting other people down. This is what psychologists call “leveling”, and cannot be tolerated in the workplace.  Companies run more efficiently when employees are united for the common good, and not splintered off into factions.


It is imperative that you let people know if a joke is offensive to you.  Everyone has their own sense of political correctness, and the offender may not realize that the joke is inappropriate or not appreciated by everyone.


If the joke teller doesn’t acknowledge or respect your rights, then you must go to the higher ups in the company, and allow the corporation to take care of the situation. 


Nobody has the right to make the workplace uncomfortable by telling racist or sexist jokes.


A lot of companies have purchased a joke a day that goes into everyone’s e-mail.  A comedian started a company that sells funny non-offensive jokes to companies for $365 a year or one joke a day.          


Companies love it because it makes the employees happy to start the day off with a smile, and happy employees are more efficient employees. 


In conclusion, humor in the workplace can definitely improve employee conditions. 


However,  the humor must be non-offensive and appropriate or you could at the very least be looking at hurt feelings, and possibly even lawsuits regarding discrimination over offensive material,