When Humor Mis-Fires (Part Three)

I was ready to deliver an Observational Humor line at a meeting, following another speaker.  The other speaker had shared a quote, ” Find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.”  Great advice for people who want to be creative and competitive.

I decided to twist the line and felt the humor was safe, because the speaker was one of my best friends and I was sure he would know “I was just kidding.”  Here’s the line:

“The previous speaker suggested that we find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.  I like the way he walks his talk.  He noticed that everyone here has been getting better at using humor…so he hasn’t.”  It had never occurred to me that this joke could mis-fire.  It got a good laugh, but as soon as I returned to my seat, I had second thoughts about using the line.

I wouldn’t use a joke targeted to someone I didn’t know well.  You can’t intelligently guess how it will be received.

And I wouldn’t use a joke targeted to someone I knew well but who I thought could be offended.

But when it comes to one of your best friends, it’s easy to get lazy in your judgment of how the joke will be received.  I knew the line was not coming from truth.  Not everyone in the club had been getting better at humor.  And my friend was one of the most eloquent speakers in the group and skilled at humor.  In fact that evening, he delivered a humorous observation that was the most repeated line of the meeting.  So neither the set-up nor the punchline were true.  But just because I understand that doesn’t mean that someone else will also know that.

Maybe I was initially less aware of the possibilities of the joke being off target because the speaker was one of my best friends.  But another factor to consider is that a joke, which has some bite to it, may make the audience uncomfortable.

We think that just because WE wouldn’t be offended, THEY won’t be.

And if the target of the joke is our best friend, we know that he or she wouldn’t normally be offended, but we don’t know how their day is going.

If I’m not sure how a line will be received, I’ll almost always leave it out.  But after doing the line, I had this funny feeling that it wasn’t right.  Nobody had said anything.  Maybe it was just me.  Anyway, after the meeting, I sent an Email to my friend apologizing for a “mis-firing joke”

And then again, sometimes we beat our self up.  Maybe the email apology was just for me.  As it turned out, my friend didn’t need it.  We had lunch a week later and he said it wasn’t a problem.  In fact, he didn’t even remember it.  It looked like the issue was all in MY head!

As a result of this experience, I started thinking it might be possible to take a joke about another person and twist the joke to make it about ME.  I could have done that, but it never occurred to me.  “I love the advice ‘Find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.’  I noticed that everyone in the club was getting better at humor…so I haven’t.”  Like the first joke, also not true.  It’s a good joke.  But for sure, it’s much less risky, since it’s about me.

Sometimes the funniest material comes from going to the edge.  But the important thing is that you’re able to see the red flags before you fall off the cliff.  And always err on the side of caution. But occasionally you won’t see the warning flags.  And when you make a mistake…apologize. And don’t kick yourself around the block more than once!