You aren’t funny (and that’s OK)

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a friend-turned-client (who I still consider a friend first).

She told me that introducing herself is stressful because she’s busy trying to remember all the things she wants to say and trying to make sure she fits in a joke. First of all, introducing yourself is hard. It’s hard to find the right story, it’s hard to know enough about your audience, it’s terrifying on top of that. But trying to be funny as well?

“If you have to plan the joke,” I told her, “you are not funny.”

Funny is not an asset, it’s a character trait. You know funny people. They’re the ones who say the unexpected and make you laugh because the thing they say is unexpected, maybe a little witty, possibly close to a truth people don’t say out loud in polite company. It comes from their heart and their twisted little minds.

Stand-up acts aside, scripted jokes are not the way to go in public. They come across as forced and inauthentic.

I say all this with some confidence because I think of myself as a funny person. So bold, you’re thinking, but it’s true. I have bits on the Dutch eating french fries, my arguably useless humanities education, and more. In fact, the realization I’ve had of late (since I’m sharing) is that I want to make my writing less serious so that it sounds more like the me you’ll meet if we get to have a one-on-one conversation. I won’t be planning any jokes, but I may break out into a conversation-inappropriate grin and it will because the joke popped into my head and demanded attention. It’s actually pretty bad. Last week I giggled through a good bit of a deep tissue massage because I couldn’t stop thinking about how funny it is to spend money on seeing someone who essentially checks my body for flaws and then hurts me…. for 45 minutes.

People want to be funny because we perceive laughter as bonding and relaxing. In truth, a lot of laughter in social situations is the result of nerves on both sides of the conversation. We laugh to break tension. It is a way of trying to communicate that everything is alright.

This friend, she isn’t someone I think of as funny. Yet, I adore spending time with her because she is earnest and honest and smart and lifts me up every single time we talk. She does hard work, diversity and inclusion work. She does it as a white woman and as one of the few white women I’ve run into who does diversity work with humility. She is so keenly aware of what she doesn’t know, the experiences she’ll never have, and the emotions she’ll never have to deal with that it makes her efforts even more impressive. I recommend her without reservation to work with people and I do it because she is marvelous. She just isn’t funny.

We talked about why she wants to be funny and she said it’s because her work is serious and hard and she wants to make it lighter.

Friends, what would you do if you were up for heart surgery and got a jokey cardiac surgeon? Would that boost your confidence? Make you feel better about the experience? Or would it plant just a tiny, super insidious seed of doubt?

Some of us do hard work. When I do diversity work and anti-racism work, it is hard, hard work. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for the people I’m working with. Is there room for humor? Yes. Is there a need for humor? No. Sometimes, we don’t have to worry about other people being comfortable. Sometimes, we have to worry about doing our work and doing it well.

When you introduce yourself, above all things, be authentic. Be yourself. Be as boldly you as you dare. You won’t get another chance and anything else is frankly dishonest. You’re a unique and interesting human being. Don’t worry about adding funny to the list to impress people or to comfort yourself with their laughter. You do you and the rest will follow.

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