How Much Humour is Too Much? has been edited by Editorial Board.
I’ve just moved to a new place and so, I am still in the process of getting to know many people around me. Many of my friends have spoken to me about an annoying problem, which I face as well. When you meet someone new or are in the process of making a friend, how much do you say? How playfully ‘mean’ can you be? Now, of course, I don’t mean when you’ve literally just met someone five minutes ago and you’re making small talk with them because the answer to that is obvious – don’t be an asshole and be nice. In fact, I suppose many would even say be boring if you must. Better to be boring than offensive. But how about after a week in? A few weeks in? A month in?
After a month, provided you spent a lot of that time together, you pretty much know each other well enough to call yourselves friends but not good friends. At this point, how much do you say and how much do you hold back? Here I’ve debated a list of pros and cons and some random gibberish about peanut butter sandwiches.
Okay, so arguing for holding back, I know there are loads of people that would say, just generally, don’t be an asshole. Be nice, if you have any thoughts or jokes that may come across as even mildly offensive, then don’t say it. And I live in England, so the support for boring old bland politeness is overwhelming. I’d like to note here, by the way – I should have said this at the beginning, I’m mainly talking about jokes and frivolous banter here. Not serious opinionated discussions.
If you’re in a heated debate with a new friend about serious social issues and you actually believe something that is genuinely offensive, kindly do not voice your opinion. You will not have that friend anymore and moreover – why do you have offensive opinions anyway?
Anyway, back to the point. As I was saying, most people would say, don’t make offensive jokes, more so in my country. However, we’re going to do an exercise now. I’d like you to think of a joke, one that doesn’t offend anyone, even mildly in any way whatsoever. Take your time, think hard. Google it if you will. But it cannot be even mildly offensive, even to an animal.
I Googled some and they were all offensive to either someone or were just very bad. The point is that the secret to a successful joke is that the person on the other end should take it in good humour. And that’s just what we’re never certain of. I mean, this must be the never-ending career hazard slash life problem of stand-up comedians! That’s also why different people prefer different comedians – because what is offensive to one may be funny to another.
Most of the jokes we crack with our best friends are usually offensive, probably even to ourselves, but we laugh about them anyway because we know that they are in good humour and usually in a specific context. So, how do you know with a new friend? Can you crack a joke that’s completely unoffensive? Well, that is clearly impossible unless it’s a terrible joke which is even worse than an offensive joke. At least an offensive joke is funny.
So then, should you just dive straight in and let your personality shine with all your default inappropriateness and blunt force? Well, needless to say, that may really cause a lot of damage. I just had a conversation with a bunch of people yesterday and I’m pretty sure everyone’s feelings were hurt at some point during the conversation but no one else noticed. But what is funny is that it wasn’t even a serious conversation. It was just a half an hour of silly jokes with absolutely nothing more to it. Just a bunch of friends hanging out. But everyone struck a raw nerve at some point. We all went away thinking ‘it was a funny conversation but I feel kinda strange about it’.
You see, the problem is that when you meet people, as adults, you have to realise that those people have lived many years of life before that point, have been through several things, some good experiences and some bad, have been scarred in ways you cannot guess and also loved the same.
The person you are meeting is the summation of all those past events – events you may never know about. And till you know their past, you will never actually know the person themselves.
So regardless of how long you’ve been talking to someone, you may have no idea that they actually came from poverty or their parents died when they were young or that they are battling illness or carrying the scars of bullying or heartbreak or even just are extremely innocent and naive because this is the first time they’ve come away from home. So, I guess you can’t just say whatever you want because you might end up opening a bad wound as an attempt at humour.
What is the solution then? I guess I don’t know. Just Google it. But I’m glad I talked to you about it anyway. Also, how disgusting are peanut butter sandwiches?
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