A funny thing happened at work

How not to be Michael Scott at The Office or in your office.
0421 Leadershipinsight Issue 1

Several years ago, I was a performer in a local comedy show. So, when a co-worker asked me to help write jokes for our CEO, I was surprised and a little bummed to learn that I was terrible at it.

The humor I knew relied on irreverence, and the CEO needed a keynote address free of off-color snark. As seven painful seasons of the television show The Office taught us, inappropriate jokes didn’t work for boss Michael Scott, the fictional character portrayed by Steve Carell, either.

But there’s a place in the office (and The Office) for laughter. After all, a Robert Half survey revealed that 91% of execs believe humor is important for advancing a career. Try these tips for injecting a little levity into those awkward, in-person staff meetings (when they return) or those Zoom calls:

Punch up

Don’t be Michael Scott: “Dwight, you ignorant … ”

If you need someone to be the butt of your jokes, shoot for the rich, the powerful, and the curiously famous. In other words, Jeff Bezos is fair game; Jeff the awkward intern isn’t.

Don’t hate, self-deprecate

Don’t be Michael Scott: “I’m not usually the butt of the joke. I’m usually the face of the joke.”

You are your own best candidate for gentle mocking. Having a sense of humor about your own shortcomings demonstrates humility and relatability. And if you do offend yourself, you know where to go for the apology.

Find a common enemy

Don’t be Michael Scott: “I tried to talk to Toby and be his friend, but that is like trying to be friends with an evil snail.”

Humor can bring people together by poking fun at the stuff that gets under everyone’s skin. Endless email chains, suspicious calls about your Google business listing, and the queso dip that’s been decomposing in the office fridge since Cinco de Mayo 2019 are all fair game.

Humor isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card

Don’t be Michael Scott: “There are certain topics that are off-limits to comedians. JFK, AIDS, and the Holocaust. The Lincoln assassination just recently became funny.”

Got something to say about someone’s religion, ethnicity, age, or ability? Dressing it up as “just kidding” won’t make it OK. If you wouldn’t say it with a straight face, it’s likely not appropriate joke material either.

The good imitate, the great steal

Don’t be Michael Scott: “That’s what she said.”

Not everyone is a professional joke writer. Let the experts do some of the heavy lifting. For example, throw a sarcastic comic strip into your PowerPoint, share a John Mulaney joke, or play a Michael Scott clip. Even if someone else thought of the bit, you’ll get the laugh.

Matt Solomon is a writer at Monkeemind and a contributing writer at The Onion, Cracked, and other funny-ish publications.

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