There is nothing better than a good joke. And who doesn't love the ole slip-on-a-banana-peel gag every once in a while?
The trouble with humor is that it can be divisive. Humor forces you to choose a side. You are either on the side of the guy falling on the banana peel (in which case you feel concern) or you are against him (in which case you laugh). In the moment you are observing that person slipping, humor will be a relative thing. If it is your child who has made the unfortunate contact with said banana peel and you are worried about his safety, his painful descent to the floor might not be the least bit funny. To a casual observer with no concern for the feelings of the banana peel, that slip is probably going to be funny.
When I took stand-up comedy training, one of the rules shared by the amazing instructor, Jeff Justice, was that you can't make fun of people who are in a position below yours. The president of a company, for example, shouldn't poke fun at the mail room clerk. It might be seen as offensive. If that same company president makes fun of the Chairman of the Board, however, everyone is likely to enjoy the joke.
It's easier than you think to offend someone.
When I use humor, I try to aim the jokes at myself, so no one can be offended. I also have some self-imposed style restrictions: I avoid off-color jokes and four letter words. There are still cases when the thing that makes me laugh hurts someone else's feelings.
That is a risk you have to be willing to take if you want to use humor. You have to go for the moment and be willing to face the consequences. You have to take a stand (and grab the mike) or go home. You have to draw a line in the sand.
Some of the best humor comes from people like Don Rickles, Lewis Black, and Chris Rock who provide a no- holds-barred kind of humor. They are funny precisely because they alienate some people. I wish I could be that brave.
I can't stop guffawing when I read Greg Kyte's writing precisely because he is willing to go for broke. In my opinion, his stuff is not only smart, but absolutely hilarious.
I bet it's a conscious decision. Greg knows when he writes for Going Concern not everyone is going to like his choice of words or his imagery. But here's the payoff - the people who end up listening to him are precisely the kind of people he wants to reach. The readers of Going Concern magazine know exactly what they are in for when he writes and they can't get enough.
I bet Greg isn't staying up late at night worrying about who likes him.
That would be me with the nightlight still on obsessing over that one negative evaluation I got. And I am also worrying about one of my children slipping on that darn banana peel.
Photo via Roland on Flickr