Do you ever make yourself laugh? You know, you’re just sitting there having an internal dialogue and suddenly you’re laughing out loud? Strangers (or your business partner) look at you and go, “What?” It’s rarely as funny if you try to explain it, so they just say “Oh” and go back to working or drinking their coffee or whatever.
This is because, as you probably have heard, humor is very personal. What one person thinks is funny, someone else might think is not funny or even offensive.
However, done right, nothing works quite like humor to diffuse a difficult client situation or sell a pair of running shoes. But how is it done right? I don’t know. I’m not sure wit is something you can learn. But one thing is for sure: It has a lot to do with the element of surprise.
That’s why a joke loses its punch the second time you hear it and witticisms fizzle as soon as they’re common enough to acquire an “ism.” Since I’m a woman, I don’t know any good jokes.* However, I can tell you the workplace is rife with overused witticisms, as anyone with a “case of the Mondays” knows.
In Literally, the Best Language Book Ever, author Paul Yeager devotes an entire chapter to this subject under the aptly named heading, “You Thought You Were Clever But … Phrases That May Have Been Witty the First Time They Were Used.”
Here are a few fingernails-on-chalkboard examples …
- Are we having fun yet?
- Are you working hard or hardly working?
- Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
- If you believe that one, I have some land in Florida/a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
- Kids, don’t try this at home.
- No pun intended.
- That’s what she said. (Only Michael Scott can keep saying this.)
- Whatever floats your boat.
- Wouldn’t you like to know?
- I can forecast the weather, too; I just look out my window.
Feel free to nominate your own, then let’s all make a pact to stop saying them.
* Yeager also suggests eliminating sexist humor all together. And, actually, I do know one good joke.