13
Feb
09

The art of the joke

Not everyone is a good joke teller. Nor is everyone a good prankster. Hell, some people don’t even have a sense of humor.

I bring this up because of an incident at work. A long — no, strike that — an almost never-ending attempt at a prank/joke that left me ready to just scream. I mean, what the joke was about was unfunny to begin with (it started with an argument over punctuation — hey, I work with writers and editors, grammar arguments abound), and to hear the groundwork being laid, how funny it would be to do what they were going to do with meticulous planning — dear God I cannot describe the pure pain that ensued.

You know how some geeks used to talk about how great a party was going to be because they were gonna do some incredibly lame thing like play “Simon” all night, and how it would make the party the absolute best thing on the planet? Well, think that enthusiasm — channeled into an unfunny joke.

Now, see, I am a snarky comment kind of guy. I can (and do) wield sarcasm with reckless abandon. I don’t really tell jokes or “play” jokes on people — that’s just not my schtick. However, I do know people that do, and have seen some good ones. So while I may not be the master in those styles, I got a good handling on how they should work.

Now, the key to every joke is timing. Even those of us on the “snark side” have to have impeccable timing — comments have to come quickly, but not with a sense of urgency. Picture some old west gun slingers squared off — it’s not the guy who shoots first who wins — it’s the guy who can quickly and calmly delivers the shot on target. That’s what you want — that’s the ideal.

In the practical joke world, the delivery doesn’t need a lot of groundwork. In fact, it’s best if you just slip it in to the normal routine. For example, don’t talk about whoopee cushions and how funny farting noises are all day, and then stick one a coworker’s seat when he gets up to use the restroom. What makes it really funny is when it catches the victim completely off guard. So, coworker gets up to use the restroom, slip a whoopee cushion on the seat, blammo, good times about.

But these folks completely violated this basic rule by prepping the field with all kinds of faux punctuation jokes. Literally, I jammed earplugs into my ears to ease my pain. And it went on, and on, and on.

When the punchline was finally delivered (a humorless manager was talked into participating and delivered an e-mail about how punctuation should be [incorrectly] used), the victim laughed, the jokesters were proud and I was curled in the fetal position under my desk, just wanting it all to stop. It could have had so much more impact if it was seen as incidental — maybe it could have even regarded as clever.

But no. Now it’s been relegated to the world of mediocrity — kinda like that smart kid who smacked his head really hard and now has to wear a helmet all the time and drools a lot. Tons of potential, wasted. And the worst part is that I had to sit and watch him smack his head.

Please, leave the jokes to the professionals. And if you absolutely must try, do it at home. Thanks.

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