Those of you who know me, understand that I have a – shall we say, “unique” sense of humor. Everything and anything is fair game and fuel for jokes – a little (lot!) more difficult in this current social climate, but we’ll leave that topic for another day. As my mom would say, “if you can’t say something nice…”
But I digress. We were talking about my sense of humor. One of my favorite jokes is to pretend to be stupid and misuse a word. For example – I’ll say, “I just seem to know things in advance! I’m – what do you call it – psychotic!” Most people laugh.
I did that joke on my then-boss one day, all wide-eyed, exaggerated, innocence. Then I kind of laughed, to reinforce that I was just kidding. Because he didn’t join in the laughter. Tough audience, I thought. After all, he was an intelligent man and should have understood that I was joking. Right?
He didn’t. Instead, he looked at me with some concern and said (lowering his voice so others wouldn’t hear him correcting me) – “I think you mean psychic.” Of course I felt bad when people in the vicinity laughed at him. He was being kind, after all. And that’s when I learned – not all people, intelligent or otherwise, have a sense of humor.
This man was an excellent boss and an accomplished public speaker. He was one of those guys who would tell a joke to “warm up the audience”. It would be one of those jokes he’d found online when he researched “jokes to use when giving a speech.” He was a researcher, a highly logical thinker. But he was never just – silly. I felt sorry for him. And I realized – humor is a gift. Like being able to sing (on key), not everyone is born with it.
I’ve always tried to make people laugh. I have done it to lessen tense situations. Like the time I was sitting in a room full of job applicants. No one spoke. We were all there for the same job. But everyone was furtively checking out their competition. It was awkward. And I hate awkward silences. I just have to break them. It’s like an obsession. So I smiled and uttered one of my stock lines – “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you all here today…”
The response was – mixed. Some people laughed and relaxed. Some people stared at me nervously, wondering if I was the interviewer and had been observing them for the last 15 minutes. Some people just stared at me for a second, then went back to pretending to be interested in reading a magazine or fiddling with their phones. As for me, I laughed and said, “just kidding! Doesn’t the suspense make you nervous?” Again, there were mixed reactions. But no one really relaxed enough to just sit and chat.
I’ve tried that same line on other groups of people. It had a totally different reaction among a group of people who were waiting for a training class. We were all there for the same reason. And we weren’t competing for a job. Big difference in the reactions. We were all still a bit nervous, starting a new position. But we were already members of a team. So the atmosphere was a lot different. Both situations were interesting studies of human nature.
When I was a retail manager, I frequently used humor to help my team relax and feel comfortable with each other. It’s a powerful tool. I also used humor to bond with co-workers and help them relax and feel comfortable with me.
One day, a co-worker asked me for the spelling of a word. They knew I was a writer and automatically assumed that comes with a built-in dictionary and grammar text (oh, if they only knew!). The woman asked me, “how do you spell psychotic?” (it was a customer service job which, if you’ve ever worked one, should need no explanation. But again, that’s a topic for another day.)
What did I say? My response should come as no surprise….I said – “C-R-A-Z-Y”. And we all laughed.