Joke – Something said or done by a person or group of people with the objective of eliciting laughter from the spectator or audience.
Most of us have heard that laughter is the best medicine. This is completely true in my opinion. The problem however, is making the right joke. What any person considers funny varies depending on the person’s interests and surrounding environment. But one common thing that we can find is the object of interest. This object of interest is normally a person who is put in a particular scenario. In other words, it is very difficult to make a joke without hurting someone’s feelings.
We have heard our parents say – “Make sure your friends laugh with you and not at you”. This is a feat that is impossible to accomplish because we have also been told not to torture a person for the amusement of others. Those statements contradict each other. We frequently choose to ignore the latter while latching on to the former with zeal. We always try to make fun of others while trying to someone laugh. Any simple joke we make about a person is an attempt to ridicule them. This includes everything from the way someone talks to racial stereotyping. But why is this still being done?
We need to learn how to laugh at ourselves. When we laugh at our mistakes, we have dealt with the fact that it was a mistake and we have also learned from it to the extent of making it sound silly. There are still jokes that involve harsh stereotyping of people; racial, gender, sexual, financial, religious and so on. The list is endless. When we consider this, a few questions come up:
- How can we laugh at something that is part of our identity?
- Does that mean it is alright to make fun of people’s characteristics?
- What is the limit to making fun? Are there any boundaries?
Don’t laugh at something that is part of your identity, which you value a lot. If someone makes a joke about it, tolerate it once and communicate it to that person that you are not comfortable making jokes about it. If they still continue, avoid engaging in conversation with them. If it is not possible to avoid them on account of them being your business acquaintance or similar, try to keep the conversation to the point and professional. Casual conversation might not be something that might ever work out if they are too rigid. Another option which I have found that works for me is a come back. This shows the person that you tolerated the joke they made and also that you were not comfortable with it. Hence you responded with a joke of your own. Unfortunately, not everyone is as witty as Jerry Seinfeld or George Carlin.
Moving on to the next question, it is never appropriate to ridicule people based on their characteristics. But if the person takes the joke in stride and doesn’t feel offended it might be tolerated for a few times. A general rule of thumb that I follow is that if I make a joke about a person’s characteristic I prepare myself for a joke that will be made on one of my own. It doesn’t always work because the comfort level of people towards various topics varies vastly.
The last and most important question is about where to draw boundaries. This is something that should be remembered by everyone. Don’t take a joke to a point where it becomes humiliating. If the person you’re making a joke about is not laughing when the others are, it is generally an indication to stop. Everyone likes a funny person. But not everyone can take being made fun of. To this I say, “Know your audience”. Some examples are : Don’t make fun of vegetarians at a Jain household. You can expect trouble if you make fun of religion in a place of worship and so on.
Finally I would like to say one thing about making jokes. There is a time and place for everything. Know this and you are good to go. Keep laughing and stay healthy! Cheers!
PS : I wrote this post because of a conversation that I recently had with a close friend. I also write this post to symbolize my long overdue return to blogging. It’s good to be back.