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Feb 23

The Pitfalls of Joke Stories at Work

I’ve written before that I have a love hate relationship with joke stories or, street jokes. Let me clarify the sort of thing I am talking about:

Two campers are walking through the woods. A huge brown bear appears just ahead of them. The first guy drops his backpack and digs out a pair of trainers. The second guy goes: “you’ll never be able to outrun a bear.” So the first guy says: “I don’t need to be able to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you”.

With jokes like this, one’s that have a bit of a story, there’s always a fictional element to them. There’s an extraordinary situation that people find themselves in, or unusual combination of people. I love fantastic nature that some of them have.

It’s also the same reason why I hate them. I grew up during a time when comedy was going through a transition in England. I watched the old school comedians who had acts predominantly comprised of joke stories. We also had more and more new school comedians who also tell stories and have routines, but we often learn more about their world and their lives.

Even though with a comedian like Eddie Izzard who talks bollocks (in his own words) we do get his opinion on subjects and see the world through his eyes. Whereas with the joke-tellers of yesteryear, whilst they still exist, the joke stories were completely inter-changeable.

I was also never any good at writing joke stories, so I ended up having to learn to be funny without them. I do love hearing them and telling them, but they can be very cumbersome and for all the time and effort you put into telling them you’re often only likely to get one laugh.

Many people are now trying to infuse the workplace with humour, whilst it’s a positive move to make what could potentially be eight hours of dullness a bit more interesting; you could end up in hot water.

There was an article in the Metro today about a group of British Telecom employees who could be fired after circulating an Irish joke via internal email. Whilst said joke, in my mind at least, is not as offensive as some jokes it is seen, by some, as being racist.

Regardless of whether I think these types of joke stories are offensive or not, we have to be very careful about this type of content.

It is absolutely admirable to send round little funnies to try and brighten your fellow workers’ day. I’m all for that. But you have to be really careful of your immediate audience and your potential audience.

The same advice that I’ve given about the appropriate humour targets when you’re giving a funny presentation, should apply when you’re sending round a joke story or pinning one up on a noticeboard. Here’s a quick rogue’s gallery of topics you want to avoid.

1) Racist or minority material
2) Sexist (male or female) material
3) Disability
4) Off colour humour
5) Political humour

For me these topics are obvious, I mean why would you want to potentially run the risk of upsetting anybody that you have to spend 37 hours a week working next to? It’s just not worth it and highly inappropriate.

There’s plenty of material out there for you to source that it not potentially going to damage to yourself or other people at work.

However, there are certain joke stories that seem harmless as they don’t obviously fall into the above categories. Immediately I’d have to say Irish jokes, as seen in the aforementioned article. Old by an Irishman is fine, told by anybody else… not good.

Any sort of joke that involves a group of people being targeted is probably best avoided. So we’d have to also include Newfoundland jokes, Polish jokes, blonde jokes, Essex girl jokes and so on. You’re beginning to get the idea. Although, that said, I think lawyers are pretty much fair game for everybody.

By now you might be thinking: “by not using these topics you’re taking all the fun out of telling jokes.” Look, I’ll level with you, I love a dirty joke as much as the next man. I sat in awe of the improvisation skill displayed in the telling the old Aristocrats joke in the documentary of the same name. But in terms of work and, more specifically, delivering a joke to a wide bunch of people you wouldn’t find me delivering a dirty one.

Even if you know the person very well and know that the joke will be taken as such, you can’t run the risk of either someone else overhearing the joke and getting offended or the joke being re-told to someone and the new listener getting offended.

If you have to tell dirty joke stories then save it for your mates down a pub in the comfort of your own home.

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