Joke telling

People will pay more to be entertained than educated.

Steve Allen

Humour in the workplace is not just about telling jokes. But it’s a good place to start. Shared laughter will build morale, rapport and a sense of team. It can provide a break in a stressful day and re-energise an office.

The BUT in telling jokes...

Increased diversity means different tastes are in play. Jokes are subjective and run a huge risk of offending. Therefore, in the workplace, it is best that they not be superfluous or gratuitous. A joke just for the sake of being funny does have its place: the pub.

Strategic choice

Risk is minimised and the punchline pay off is maximised by choosing the right joke.

What’s the value add? Firstly, it should make a point.


A financial consultant was asked to explain Enron:

Old MacDonald had a farm and on this farm he had a donkey. But the donkey died. What do you do with a dead donkey? The farmer thought he would sell it. Knowing no one would want a dead donkey, the farmer decided to raffle it. At £2 a ticket, no one questioned the state of the donkey. Old Macdonald easily sold 500 tickets. That’s a grand for a dead donkey that would have fetched £250 alive. The prize was drawn and the winner discovered the donkey was dead. He complained. So Old McDonald gave him back his two quid!!!

E i e i o!

A complex concept easily explained through the use of humour.

The tale of the farmer also illustrates the second point in choosing a joke...

Tell a joke or tell a story?

The act of relating, telling, recounting should be funny in itself. There is often more potential laughter from a funny story than from a classic punch line joke.

A punch line is expected to be funny, therefore the audience may have too much power. If they don’t laugh, the joke dies.

Stories, on the other hand, can reap laughter throughout. The teller can shape them depending on the reaction. If something is particularly funny, they might milk it. If they don’t strike oil in two minutes, they can stop boring people and sprint to the finish. The audience is never the wiser that they were trying to be funny. The jokester is safe.

Feeling safe, secure, confident?

Safety is paramount. Fear stops many a potential humorist; the fear of foolishness. So great is this fear that we use the expression, ‘I was so embarrassed I thought I would die.’ Modern society equates being laughed at with death.

A joker wants to be laughed with, not at. The fear of foolishness can be overcome by being the first one to laugh. When people laugh at themselves, anyone else who laughs is laughing with them.

Self deprecation is best served in small doses. To poke a little fun at oneself is a sign of confidence. To be continually laughing at oneself, on the other hand, can be a mask put up either to disguise a lack of self confidence or to evade learning.

Knowing which is which is really a matter of common sense. Part of the leadership skill set of a successful manager is to be aware of the following:

  • When it is necessary to take the lead and establish a sense of your authority and when it is appropriate to use self-directed humour to put people at their ease and encourage participation and team spirit (for example, at a training session or a brain-storming meeting)
  • When to allow a self-deprecating joke from a team member and when and how to move them on.

Punch line or moral?

Sometimes, having a funny moral to the story is a better alternative than a punch line. It will always raise a big smile, if not a loud laugh.


This was executed beautifully by a woman CEO speaking at a national conference for her industry. Rather than the cliché ‘win them over with a joke’, she began with a personal anecdote. She told of her misadventure at a corporate networking event.

She had fallen head long into a ditch. Not just a ditch, but a moat. She regaled the audience with her attempts to get out, her head barely reaching ground level. The story was winning rapport by showing her human side. She was showing it is human to err, without being too self deprecating. She told of her ruined dress now hiked up around her ears. She asked the audience to imagine it. Here she played with sexual double entendre. This endowed the audience with trust to ‘take it as she meant it’.

The story finished with her climbing out and straightening her dress. Then, to much laughter, she declared the moral ‘What goes up will come down’. This became the teaching point of her talk: complacency has no place in a successful company.

Are YOU sitting comfortably?

Of course, the most important question when choosing a joke is

  • Do you think it is funny?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the content?

Self trust and confidence in your material will simplify the delivery. If you are comfortable, odds are your audience will be too.

Who’s your audience?

Lastly, you must ask yourself this: will your audience find it funny? The more you know about your audience, the more likely you are to choose appropriate material. Yes, you need to find it funny, but don’t be self indulgent and forget the listeners’ tastes.

Have you heard the one...?

Once storytelling has been explored and content is sorted, the real skill begins.


If a musician listens, and a painter sees, then a joker laughs. If you want to learn to be funny, begin by finding things funny. Engage all the senses to hone the sense of humour. It is an important step to identify your own sense of humour. Decide whose style of joke telling to model. Then listen to their funny tapes, watch the sitcoms, enjoy your kind of comedian.

Cognitive awareness will help identify what is funny and why it’s funny. Unconscious immersion will allow natural comic rhythms to surface. This will help you get into a humorous state, which is more important than having a clever turn of phrase.

A sense of humour is a two-way street – the ability to be funny and also to find fun.


It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.

Unlock the funny

The key to being funny is delivery.

The key to delivery is timing.

To master timing takes practice, but it can be quite simple. Timing in comedy is about rhythm and repetition, but the easiest tool is the pause. Play the pause. Pause for effect. You will create focus and suspense.

The pause will also give your colleagues time to laugh. The success of joke telling in the workplace lies partly in making sure workers know they have permission to laugh.

Key point

In a healthy, happy workplace, the expression

  • You make me laugh!


  • You let me laugh.