Not everyone is good at jokes. Unfortunately, it’s always the least funny people who are angry if you don’t laugh. How best to diffuse the situation? Editors Jennifer Wright and Ashley Cardiff discuss.
Jennifer: So, I hesitated on whether to make this “how to tell men they aren’t funny” or how to tell an ambiguous “someone” (by someone, I meant people with ladybits) that they are not funny. And I think, in my experience, this is more something I feel a need to do with men because women aren’t really expected to be terribly funny. With so many articles about how “women aren’t funny!” it seems remarkable if a woman is funny at all. However, it seems that having to assure men that they are funny is like having to assure women that they are beautiful, except much more irritating because it is harder to lie.
Ashley: Wow. There’s really a lot to parse there. Let’s set women being funny aside because the whole morass of expectations and society and comedy being an infamous boy’s club and oh my god Christopher Hitchens. That is a black hole and this debate will just devolve into us screaming at each other and pratfalling urgently. I don’t have near enough banana peels for that. So, let’s talk about men who aren’t funny. Why don’t you begin?
Jennifer: Well, look, I’ve known a few men who I’ve thought were genuinely gut-burstingly hilarious. I’ve also known some who have pleasant, normal sense of humor. And I’ve known some that really aren’t terribly funny – to my mind! The problem is that every single one of these men thinks that he is gut burstingly hilarious. And I have a very hard time faking laughter.
Ashley: Oh man, things are about to get real normative.
Jennifer: I feel like quite often men will deliver a joke on the street. I will smile politely if it is… you know, not something I find that funny. Then, often, they will try to workshop the joke a bit, repeating it in various different ways. By this time my smile will have taken on a death-mask like quality. And then, finally, they will say “that was a joke.” At which point I always have to stop myself from responding either “no, it was an attempt at one” or “if you make a funny one, I will laugh, as one does at things they find funny.” I don’t know what the “that was a joke” is supposed to accomplish. I mean, I knew. It was a bad joke. That is why the laughs were not coming out of me.
Ashley: Why are you hanging out with all these lame dudes who expect you to laugh at their shitty jokes, is perhaps a better question. “Why is Jen Friends With Lame Dudes?”
Jennifer: hahahahaha LAUGHS COMING OUT OF ME. YOUR CURRENCY WAS EFFECTIVE IN THE LAUGH MACHINE. No, no, I don’t think it’s any shittier than a woman wanting to be reassured that she’s pretty. Society puts a lot of pressure on dudes in that way. I just don’t have a polite response to you know “I made a joke, why are you malfunctioning, laugh machine?”
Ashley: Whereas, if a woman’s prettiness is malfunctioning, she needs to go to a doctor or perhaps glue factory.
Jennifer: It’s possible that you have spoiled me for normal people with normal senses of humor. But, really, seriously, what do you say? You cannot, for the record, say “you’re very funny” Men somehow get huffy if you imply they need reassurance.
Ashley: You’re very right.
Jennifer: And wait, listen to me laugh when there’s nothing to laugh about. I wish we could record it.
[Jen turns to Ashley and laughs]
Ashley: Whoa, That is dreadful. Okay, so you’re asking, with complete sincerity, what do you say when someone’s joke falls flat?
Jennifer: Yes. How do you handle that politely? Without making 20 jokes about their inadequacy. And laughing as you do so. Real, human laughter.
Ashley: As someone whose C material far outweighs her A’s, I can say when I make a joke that falls flat, I’m grateful if people just kind of smile and acknowledge that it happened. The worst is definitely stone silence or eyes darting in different directions.
Jennifer: Yes! Me too! But I don’t somehow assume the other person did not realize a joke was occurring. What seems odd is when men find it to be YOUR error that you’re not laughing.
Ashley: Actually, no, the absolutely worst thing you can do when a joke falls flat is go, “b’dum chhhh”–the drum punchline noise. But that has nothing to do with my bad joke and everything to do with that person sucking. That person and the people who say, “Houston, we have a problem” out loud at movie theaters can die in a hole.
Jennifer: Oh, god, I’m going to do that now. B’dum chhhh. All the time. So many people make jokes I don’t find funny.
Ashley: I do not do that. I just get really quiet and embarrassed. I know I fucked up.
Jennifer: I am going to become the b’dum chhhh machine. I am going to have no friends, but I’m going to be true to myself.
Ashley: And you will have a kind of happiness. Or contentedness, moreso.
Jennifer: I will live in a cave because I will be exiled from the human race. Like that hilarious guy in Shakespeare. I believe I mean… Caliban?
Ashley: Caliban makes me sad.
Jennifer: Caliban’s problems really started when he began telling people they weren’t that funny.
Ashley: Caliban’s problems probably began when he was born to spider hag monster on a deserted island. Anyway, when someone makes a joke that I don’t find funny, but he/she is a nice person, I smile! I’ve been there, I’ve told such bad jokes! I love puns! I am the worst! But if a shitty person tells a bad joke–and, especially, if they’re shitty because they expect me to laugh–I just look at them flatly. As if to say, “Yeah. Hear that silence? Chew on it for a minute.”
Jennifer: Oh, come now, you don’t really do that. All that time alone made Caliban GREAT with puns.
Ashley: No, I don’t. Because I instantly feel sympathy whenever anyone tells a bad joke. Because I do. All the time.
Jennifer: Me too! I just wish there was a way to get out of it without it being my fault that I’m not laughing.
Ashley: Why are you so heartless?
Jennifer: I’ve – to be perfectly honest – found the correct response to be “sorry, I’m a little out of it.” But I’m not. Or, if I am, I’m thinking about hilarious things – like drunken Shakespearean sea monsters – that just aren’t that person’s joke.
Ashley: That’s a really good angle.
Jennifer: Yes, but Ashley, you say it enough and people begin to get the impression that you are doped up on enough Valium to kill a horse. Would a better response not be “I hang out with funny people all day, I’m a tough audience?”
Ashley: But that’s part of your WASP persona. How else are you going to eat mayonnaise salad with walnuts and grapes floating in it if you aren’t doped to Woodstock and back on benzodiazepine?
Jennifer: That’s true. It’s a little known fact that if you buy enough Valium they give you a free Chanel jacket and a recipe on how to properly rim martini glasses with tears.
Ashley: Tears because mommy was distant.
Jennifer: Tears because men expect you to be the laugh machine! I will not function for faulty currency! I reject you, Sacagawea dollars!
Ashley: Okay, look, men who resent you for not laughing at their jokes are either 1) a little butthurt because they’re trying to impress you and your reaction confirms they’re not or 2) they are fucking emotionally unhinged, this desperation for your approval is the first slip of the mask and they will almost certainly kill you with an axe.
Jennifer: Look, I’m not going to move to a deserted island, become a sea hag, and birth a troll fathered by a warlock. I’m just not. I know you are Shakespeare are trying to sell me on that all the time, but I’d like to interact politely with human males and not be a bitch. But also, not let my face distort in the weird way it does when I am trying to pretend something I don’t find funny is funny.
Ashley: Fine. Me and Caliban are gonna go test some material on Stefano and Trinculo; those motherfuckers are drunks and they will laugh at anything. You can keep hanging out with lame dudes and maybe get axe-murdered.
Jennifer: hahhahahahaahaha what a brave new world.
Ashley: Problem play? More like solution play. …See? That was terrible.
Jennifer: You’re going to the glue factory.