Health

So this guy walks into a bar...


A few years ago, I managed a couple of health care publications. These were newsletters geared toward people with specific chronic illnesses. We offered the latest scientific research, personal stories, and coping strategies. I was contacted by a medical doctor/stand-up comedian (wait, it gets scarier) who wanted to write a column about the healing effects of laughter and how to bring humor into your life. His sample column was a diagrammed, how-to exercise in how to be funny.

Could there have been any suggestion more doomed to failure? As far as self-help information went, this was the pits.

Don't get me wrong, humor works wonders. Used effectively, it can be a godsend in the workplace. It can defuse tense issues or put a convoluted issue into much-needed perspective. If you have a sense of humor, you can face situations differently, and sometimes ease the stress you place on yourself.

But I don't think "experts" shouldn't be out there recklessly encouraging people to learn "how to be funny in three easy steps." In the wrong hands, humor can be dangerous. There's the distinct possibility that someone is going to say something offensive.

A sense of humor is not about just knowing how to tell a joke. It's a way of looking at life. Some people just don't have that inborn instinct for humor, just as others might be born with a "tin ear." But if a bunch of people hear that humor could aid their careers or their relations with co-workers, what you'll end up with is some guy leading his chart-laden PowerPoint presentation with "So there are three nuns in a rowboat..." Can you say cringe?

As for my erstwhile contributor, I think he was misguided in thinking that an instinct can be taught. (And not to mention, he himself was actually one of dullest people I've ever met.) It's like examining something to the point where you strip it of its charm.

Have you ever been in a meeting where people are casually volleying funny comments back and forth and some poor humor-impaired person pops in with an attempt that just falls flat? The "tennis game" screeches to a stop and everyone just gets uncomfortable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a serious person. What is wrong is when people try to be something they're not.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

50 comments
georger457
georger457

I am a paramedic in a 911 emergency system. I often use humor as a tool when treating patients, as it has a number of beneficial effects, including lowering the patient's (and family members') stress level, distracting them from their pain, and letting them know that their problem isn't as serious as they believe. Naturally, I have a talent for humor, which is not shared by everyone. I can't remember jokes or funny stories, but I have the ability to make amusing observations and quick, funny replies to almost any statement or situation. I have several funny one-liners that I use on a regular basis, for a specific purpose. One I use to check suspected stroke or head injury victims is holding up my hands with all 5 digits extended, and asking them to count how many fingers I am holding up. Most people say "5", to which I reply, "No, sorry, 4 fingers and a thumb. Good try though.", This usually elicits a smile, which allows me to do a quick neuro exam for facial drooping, which could indicate a stroke or other brain lesion. (My partner and the firemen sometimes encourage me to get new material, but this isn't humor for their entertainment, it is an effective tool that I have used for more than 20 years.) As with any medical tool, practice or procedure, humor used inappropriately can be dangerous. No one can prove that I have ever had anyone die laughing... but if they do, at least I'm there to resuscitate them!

royhayward
royhayward

We have all had a lot of fun tossing in our mostly lame jokes on this thread, but the real question of this article was. "Can humor be taught?" I think the answer is "yes." And sometimes "no." (not trying to be funny here) Yes there are those with the "tin" ear for humor, but mostly that is just a lack of application. The joke about the four fingers and a thumb works well for George, but it wouldn't work well in my occupation. But other paramedics, and medical practitioners in the urgent care arena could probably adopt this technique without having to do stand up on the weekends. I think learning to use humor professionally, (not as a professional comic), can be learned by most of us if we find it useful. But doing this won't turn us into funny people. And some won't want to, will have more difficulty than others, or just not see the value. This is ok, it is just like many of us that don't want to become managers because we don't want to develop those skills. That is ok too. (But it can be done.)

Absolutely
Absolutely

Toni: [i]A sense of humor is not about just knowing how to tell a joke. It???s a way of looking at life. Some people just don???t have that inborn instinct for humor, just as others might be born with a "tin ear."[/i] You have instincts? What species are you? Phrases like "tin ear" can be amusing when employed to describe non-musical performances, vocal and/or instrumental, by people who did not first choose to put forth sufficient effort in practice to attain a high enough level of proficiency to make pretty music. The concept that any talent is "latent" is the funniest thing I've read all day. Keep them coming, Toni!

hds3onlineaccts
hds3onlineaccts

I could be wrong, but it seems to me your response to Toni is a perfect example of what she is saying.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. says to the barman - Got any bread? The barman says - No, this is a bar we dont sell bread. Next day the duck walks into the bar, says - Got any bread? Barman - I told you yesterday, this is a bar we dont sell bread. Next day the duck walks into the bar - Got any bread? Barman - I am not telling you again, this is a bar, we dont sell bread and if you ask again I'll nail your beak to the bar. Next day the duck walks into the bar - Got any nails? NO! Got any bread? Les.

Absolutely
Absolutely

les is more That was more funny than the other less-funny jokes.

Absolutely
Absolutely

You used an "extra" "i," and there is no "e" in "patrol." Seriously, if we're going to quibble about a correct name of the latter, it ought to be "octane" for the primary chemical ingredient. The different spellings of words like aluminium, and even colour, I'll agree, add complication to international communications, with no added convenience in local communications, except that most of us are accustomed to whichever we use. C'est la vie! [ducks blunt virtual objects sure to be thrown soon]

krose
krose

which is really dumb because you'd think that the second one would have seen the first one hit the bar. (apologies to Howie Mandel, from whom I stole this.)

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Most N.Americans can't even pronounce Aluminium LeZ. Or Petrol, come to think of it ..

Absolutely
Absolutely

Leslie in Seattle prefers to be called "Lez." Survey of "most N.Americans" incomplete, but preliminary results indicate that more N.Americans are correctly pronouncing "less," and not saying "Les" -- or "Lez" -- at all.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. but as is the case with most N.Americans you are pronouncing Les incorrectly .. try saying Lez. Leslie.

thomas.peterson
thomas.peterson

Background: Working as a IT Project Auditor in a very diverse and progressive company. Looking to grow our team with a new member. We had interviewed a large number of candidates and a couple stick out in particular. One of our team members has a sharp wit and funny bone so his favorite interview question is, "Can you give us an example of your sense of humor?" Which I think is a great question if you are building a team that is going to be 'gellin' So one guy tells a joke: "In the 1800s a frigate full of mayonaise set sail from New England down to Mexico and all the Mexicans were dying to try out this spread on their tortillas. Upon entering the Mexican harbor strong winds drove the frigate into some shoals and ripped the sides off it spilling its cargo. The Mexicans were so saddened that they remember this event and we know it best as 'Cinco de Mayo'." If we had been in a bar, doing shots of Tequilla, this probably would have floated as 'cute and witty' but in a hiring interview? Another candidate told us that her idea of funny is to get into the office early and rearrange her coworkers desks. When we didn't respond, she said she only likes to do little things that would annoy them and let them know 'she was there'...she started laughing out loud...by herself. BTW: Mr. Cinco was hired, not by our recommendation, seems mgmt liked him more than the team he was going to be working on....

cjohn1
cjohn1

Calling humor an instinct is rediculous - it is as much an instinct as intelligence or voice control - even for those with great inherited strengths, both require a lot of learning and practice to perfect. The only problem with humor in the work place is that the work place is so diversified that it is *much* harder to be humorous without offending someone.

MikeGall
MikeGall

Must be the democrat party, but that wouldn't quite work would it ;) Seriously though, it is good to see diversity, whether any of them would be able to get a majority though is an open question.

Fregeus
Fregeus

to me anyways, a mixture of timing, settings, delivery and state of being. If you think all four are present, then by all means, go for it. The problem is knowing when they are present. Timing is knowing when a joke would be in good taste. If you just met everyone, you are not in a position to really know if they have a sense of humor or not. Keep it in. Setting is knowing when it calls to be serious or not. Don't pull a joke if your telling someone you he/she is about to die. Or if you are negociating a multi million dollar contract. Delivery is knowing how to deliver a joke, a really funny joke can totally bomb if you don't deliver it correctly, just ask any comedian. State of being is knowing if the croud you are with are in a joking mood. If the mood is solem, keep it in. Telling jokes about the deceased at a wake is generally not a good way to lighten the mood. That's my take anyways TCB Edited for an error

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

And I'm on the corner, wearing my leather This dude comes up and he's, like, "hey, punk!" I'm, like, "yeah, whatever!"

spike913
spike913

MY United States of whatever

Tig2
Tig2

Don't care what he thinks- when you are in crisis, the humor takes care of itself. I've been to the end of the pier. There was nothing funny about it. What WAS genuinely funny was the odd or stupid sounding situations that went with it. Like this- a new woman to the chemo couch was talking about how she was doing all these things to insure that she wouldn't lose her hair. Her audience was bald women. To make a point she ran her fingers through her hair... and came out with a mass in her hand. One of the women said, "Don't worry. You'll be one of the girls in a day or so." Why was that funny? Because the speaker had been that woman a couple of weeks earlier. Okay, I admit- twisted humor. But it worked for the audience. And it proves my point. People going through times like that don't have to be taught how to be human. They don't have to be taught how to be funny. They don't need someone telling them to laugh 15 minutes a day to better health. Funny is a subjective thing. I have rolled in laughter at something that had me in tears the next day. You don't teach funny. You live it. P.S. Don't believe me? God has a sense of humor too!

nyabdns
nyabdns

A bunch of us veterans (we'd been there a while) took a new couple out to eat and while we were cutting up the wife said "I have to call my mom and tell her these cancer people are FUN!" You do have to find humor no matter where you are.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I've been on the pier too. When I was 19 my mom died. After the service at the cemetery our family crowded into the limo for the ride back to the funeral home to get our cars. For some reason, the driver was in a bit of a hurry and was pressing the pedal to the metal! When he turned corners, we literally were tossed around like rag dolls. We looked at each other and just burst into laughter. Lowest moment in our lives, but what a foray into the bizarre. The laughter wasn't disrepectful, just a release, and my mom would have laughed harder than all of us.

RipVan
RipVan

When my grams was in the process of passing in the hospital (that's passing AWAY for anyone tempted...), my mom finally took a break away from the bediside after two weeks. Grandma finally let go, and my sisters were all weepy and teary eyed, each had a tissue as some dabbed their eyes, others dabbed their noses. My mom returned just after the grams passed, having missed the very end after her long vigil. She started to get teary eyed and needed to blow her nose. All eyes were on her as she reached into a box and put the item up to her nose. Being teary eyed, she didn't realize she had reached into a box of rubber gloves and was just about to blow into it!!! The sis's all started laughing, and so did mom. As we left that night, I reached into the box and took one with me. I anticipated that at the funeral, there would be more tears. As the graveside services were breaking up, so was the family. So I went to each one who had been at the hospital and did one of those "Oh, here..." things as I reached into my blazer pocket and pretended to pull out a tissue. Each one got a last laugh as they took it and prepared to dab with it, remembering that similar moment just a few days before. It got us through...

JamesRL
JamesRL

I'm sure my grandmother would have take pleasure in kicking my butt if I been too weapy at her funeral. My families funerals, and I have a big family and there have been lots of them, may start somber at the service, but usually end up as a wake, with lots of alcohol and yes even laughter. There have been exceptions. One of the funniest moments was my next door neighbour's funeral. Nan came orginally from Scotland, had worked selling cosmetics to department stores, had a wry sense of humour and loved to entertain. She enjoyed a wee dram on a regular basis. One of her sons became a Mormon. He had lived with his Mom after his divorce (over religion) but she never approved of his choices. One of her grandaughters also lived there for some time - but not at the same time as the son. Even though she wasn't a Mormon, when Nan died the son insisted on a funeral at the Mormon temple. The Grandaughter gave the eulogy and did a fine job capturing the essense of this fine woman. Her references to Nan's partying and drinking made the Mormon pastor and the Mormon son more and more uncomfortable. At the end of the eulogy, the grandaughter pulled out a bottle of scotch, opened it up and offered a toast. The Mormons were horrified, many of us laughed and smiled. It was such a fitting way to remember her. I'm sure god will forgive us for mocking those Mormons but the look on those faces was priceless. Personally I'd like to set aside some money in my will for a grand wake(and cab rides home for some). You are all invited of course. James

JamesRL
JamesRL

I'm sure my grandmother would have take pleasure in kicking my butt if I been too weapy at her funeral. My families funerals, and I have a big family and there have been lots of them, may start somber at the service, but usually end up as a wake, with lots of alcohol and yes even laughter. There have been exceptions. One of the funniest moments was my next door neighbour's funeral. Nan came orginally from Scotland, had worked selling cosmetics to department stores, had a wry sense of humour and loved to entertain. She enjoyed a wee dram on a regular basis. One of her sons became a Mormon. He had lived with his Mom after his divorce (over religion) but she never approved of his choices. One of her grandaughters also lived there for some time - but not at the same time as the son. Even though she wasn't a Mormon, when Nan died the son insisted on a funeral at the Mormon temple. The Grandaughter gave the eulogy and did a fine job capturing the essense of this fine woman. Her references to Nan's partying and drinking made the Mormon pastor and the Mormon son more and more uncomfortable. At the end of the eulogy, the grandaughter pulled out a bottle of scotch, opened it up and offered a toast. The Mormons were horrified, many of us laughed and smiled. It was such a fitting way to remember her. I'm sure god will forgive us for mocking those Mormons but the look on those faces was priceless. James

Tig2
Tig2

When we live fully, we are allowed those moments that remind us of our humanity. Treasure the gift of dancing like no one is watching. Or singing like no one can hear. It is in those moments that we are the most alive. Sorry, Toni. Didn't mean to blow this off topic.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Humor is very much situational and gallows humor is very often the funniest and least transferable form of humor. The comment that earns a rebuke in one context can be the funniest thing you've ever heard in another. And I know all about God's sense of humor; I've seen a platypus on dry land.

Tig2
Tig2

Saw the title and was a tad concerned.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The bartender looks up and asks, "What is this, somebody's idea of a joke?"

critch
critch

walked into a bar... ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ....... (I was amazed at how many people have no idea what a lemming is ....) ouch!

SlappyMcnasty
SlappyMcnasty

sits on a stool and asks, "is the bar tender here?"

maecuff
maecuff

The bartender says "we have a drink named after you." The grasshopper says "You have a drink named Steve"?

wilson_ty
wilson_ty

Little wonder why we're considered 'geeks'... :)

maecuff
maecuff

the bartender looks at him and says "Why the long face"? A penguin walks into a bar and asks the bartender "Have you seen my brother"? The bartenders says "I don't know, what does he look like"?

catpro-54
catpro-54

I've had similar experience with a salesperson trying to be funny while "hardselling" equipment. Not appreciated! I especially dislike off-color jokes when I do NOT even know the person--who is trying to get my business!

JamesRL
JamesRL

...and gets thrown out for being rowdy. He comes back with a pistol, waves it around and everbody ducks. He fires a few randown shots around, not aiming at anyone. One of the shots goes through the bar and hits the bartender. Is that attempted murder or aggravated assault? According to an Ontario judge, its agrravated assault. Which makes no sense to me. You ought to know that "random" shots might find their mark. Stupid judge. James

deepsand
deepsand

Absent a "mark," or "target," there is clearly no intent to "hit the mark," or "hit a target," and therefore no intent to kill, hence no murder, attempted or otherwise. It's just a simple matter of simple logic. That is why, at Law, the difference between "Homicide" and "Murder." While all Murders are Homicides, not all Homicides are Murders.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Separate thread. "Off-topic" doesn't mean "willy-nilly."

Absolutely
Absolutely

I merely expressed my opinion of your post, and its location. I did not press the spam button or ask The Management to edit out your un-funny post. You have been acting like the forum police by whining that I should not call your post "willy nilly" and "not funny." I just called you on it. You had many ways to state your opinions that weren't officious. You came across like I shouldn't post mine at all. Well sorry to tell you it doesn't work like that here. You are just as guilty as officious posts as I am. And I don't care if your post was "exactly about 'a guy comes into a bar'," I didn't say it wasn't. But it isn't my job to withhold opinions about humor or its lack, or whether I like your posts, or even your alias. I have every bit as much right to mouth off as you have to dump horror stories in a humor thread. not James

JamesRL
JamesRL

You were acting like the forum police by calling by post off topic and willy nilly and not funny. I just called you on it. You had many ways to state your opinions that weren't officious. You came across like I shouldn't post it at all. Well sorry to tell you it doesn't work like that here. You are just as guilty as off topic posts as I am. And my post was exactly about " a guy comes into a bar", it just wasn't about humour. James

Absolutely
Absolutely

Are you in e-cuffs? Did I read you e-Miranda rights? I stated my opinion of your message, and its relation to the thread in which you posted it. " What are you the forum police? If you are, better find a different line of work. you are the pot calling the kettle black..." Well done, you just exemplified your own complaints.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If you are, better find a different line of work. you are the pot calling the kettle black... James

lewiskauffman
lewiskauffman

This discussion is one of the best I have read in weeks. Maybe humor is the universal language.

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