Telling Jokes


I'm very careful about telling jokes when I write.

I learned this from a program director in radio. He told us not to talk about ourself - always talk about the audience - and he told us not to tell jokes.

The woman who worked in the afternoons hated the first rule so she'd make fun of it by saying "We layed out in the sun all afternoon and got a great tan." She still talked about herself but "I" became "we" and "me" became "us".

I'm not afraid of talking about myself in my writing. Obviously, you can see that there's "I" all over my writing. "We" stands for me and the reader and "you" refers to the reader.

I hate when a book says, "in the last chapter we learned...". The author didn't learn that in the last chapter the reader did. I don't mind, "in the last example we saw..." as that could be true.

But why not tell jokes?

The problem is that sometimes when you're trying to be funny, it comes across as mean. You don't intend to be making fun of a certain group or the listener or someone who can't do something - but the person reading or hearing the joke doesn't understand your tone or context and thinks you're being condescending or insulting.

I tell a joke now and then but I try to be careful. I eliminate most of the jokes I write into my books before publishing.

I told a joke in my keynote last night. It's a small potentially offensive joke that I may eliminate in future talks. It sets up a light ending to my talk but it's not needed.

I didn't realize it could be seen as offensive until last night an audience member came up after my keynote to tell me a joke he'd been working on.

He was playing with the same word that I was but there was no subtlety in his joke. His joke combined programming and sex in a way that I didn't find funny. It felt like a slap in the face.

That wasn't the joke tellers intention. He was young and it was something that he might say to his friends and they would have the context to know what he meant and didn't mean. I didn't have that context.

You can be funny without telling a joke. Be very careful telling jokes.