Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

Humor at Work: Laughing WITH or AT People?

Laughing With or At?

As we near April Fool’s day I thought I’d touch on the topic

of safe humor. Safe humor, of course, being humor wherein no

one in your workplace gets fired. Or maimed. Or killed. Or

deeply offended. The first three are extremely rare occurrences,

but they do, believe it or not, happen. The last issue, offensive

humor, is the most common and the trickiest issue to deal with.

After all, as Melvin Helitzer said, “In matters of humor, what is

appealing to one person is appalling to another.”

In the book “Beyond a Joke, The Limits of Humor,” Sharon Lockyer

points out that even when it comes to what we might think of as

humor that is obviously satirical in nature (a la Borat or

Archie Bunker in All in the Family), some folks don’t get the

intended target of the humor. Studies suggest that bigots enjoyed

Archie Bunker’s rants because they thought he was speaking the

truth, whereas non-bigots understood the humor was meant to

skewer bigots. Ditto for fans of the Colbert Report. “Liberals”

think Stephen Colbert is laughing AT “conservatives”, whereas

conservatives think Stephen Colbert is laugh WITH conservatives.

In a workplace setting it’s unlikely that such biting, satirical

humor would be used, however this is a good reminder that there

are people who won’t always “get” your humor, or, even if they do,

may not get which side of the issue you are really on. But as

I’ve said before, rather than fearing all use of subversive humor

in the workplace, you should be listening to it for the real

truths being spoken around contentious workplace issues. And if

you try some edgy, satirical humor at work to make a point, just

make sure you think long and hard about how the humor will be

actually received by everyone around you.


Mike’s Fun at Work Tip

This Saturday, March 26, is “Make Up Your Own Holiday” day, so

hold a contest in your workplace and award a prize for whoever

comes up with the most creative holiday that ties into your

workplace in a fun, thematic way. Of course, if you’re really

keen you could go ahead and turn it into a holiday or, at the

very least, a fun theme day that promotes your business.


Quote of the Week

“Anything worth taking seriously, is worth making fun of.” Tom Lehrer


It’s a Wacky World

Some actual quotes taken from British school exams:

– “Monotony means being married to the same person for the

rest of your life.”

– “I’ve said good-bye to boyhood, now I’m looking forward to


– “Momentum – what you give a person when they are going away.”

– “To keep milk from turning sour keep it in the cow.”


Copyright Michael Kerr, 2011

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