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Using Humor to Lighten Up Your Workplace

A six-step guide to making funny, work appropriate jokes

CC Public Domain / FEMA Photo Library
Source: CC Public Domain / FEMA Photo Library

As a funny female business speaker, I gotta say-- Corporate America has truly become humor impaired. You know how it is; you’re in a meeting or hanging out in the office chatting with a co-worker. He makes a joke about an STD, which you find absolutely hysterical. And then, PANIC. What if his playful joke offended Susie Q from HR and you’re accused of workplace harassment and then you’ll get fired and your family will starve and you’ll all die!!! All because of this one joke!

As a humorist and corporate speaker, I punch up speeches that aren't going to be performed at a comedy club, but rather, at an 8 AM sobriety meeting. Goodbye swear words, references to God, and nipples.

Here are the rules for joking in the workplace without getting HR on your… derriere.

1. Don’t joke about other people’s religion, race, ethnicity, or sexuality. In other words, if your joke begins with, “A Jew, African American, and a gay man walk into a bar…” stop talking ASAP!

2. If somebody sends you a funny video that begins with NSFW— stop watching ASAP! It’s labeled ‘Not Safe For Work’ for a reason. Others can see the Game of Boobs video and will complain.

3. Play it safe and joke about yourself! Everybody else is already doing it, so join in on the self-mocking fun. That’s not a receding hairline – that’s a punch line. Although, careful not to poke fun at your muffin top while standing next to your overweight boss. She just might not appreciate it.

4. Be a "clean comedian." If you want to tell a few jokes while chatting to your coworkers in the break room, do have a collection of clean jokes memorized. That way, you won’t recite the joke you heard last night at the bar… “So there was this stripper and this pole and…” Be sure to keep your jokes short. People are busy.

5. When you mess up or make a mistake and someone criticizes you, don’t get mad… get funny. How? By validating just how big of a jerk you are. You'll get laughs and keep your job. A former student of mine recently wrote me that she used this very technique when a client criticized her work: “After reading this report your wrote, I can tell you're a complete idiot.” My student retorted, "Oh my God ('Gosh' in South Carolina), you're so smart! You figured out I was an idiot in just one minute! It usually takes people three months to figure that out!” The client laughed. Tension gone. Account saved.

6. But, do have snappy retorts when people say or do stupid things. Sometimes a great punch line is the best defense for an office heckler. For example, if someone is talking to me and staring at my chest, I'm going to say, "Hey buddy, if they talk back you can have them!" Zing! It makes the point without having to make it even weirder.

Want to be funnier? Grab a copy of The Comedy Bible or check out Judy's blog.

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About the Author
Judy Carter

Judy Carter, is the author of The Message of You and The Comedy Bible. She speaks and writes on finding happiness when you're stressed and broke.