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📓 Jokes and Appropriate Humor

This lesson is part of our regular Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum.

A good joke can make people laugh, alleviate stress, and foster a sense of community. We could go on and on about the benefits of laughing and humor — but that's not the purpose of this lesson.

Jokes can be a double-edged sword. A joke can make others feel bad just as easily as it can make others feel good — especially if the joke is making fun of others or is otherwise offensive. Even though people sometimes laugh when they are uncomfortable, that doesn't mean they think a hurtful joke is funny.

In this lesson, we'll go over some important ground rules for humor at Epicodus and in the workplace. This piece from Harper's Bazaar by Jennifer Wright explains this issue well. While this article focuses on the effects of hurtful jokes on women, the general principles apply to other groups, too. Here's an excerpt from the article:

A good joke's first job is to make people feel a little better, and that's great in itself, but they're more important than that. Jokes are the sword otherwise powerless people can use to puncture pomposity. That's why it's so important that comedians try to punch upwards. Punching at the less powerful is just cruelty. (Which is to say, it's generally funny when a janitor makes fun of a CEO, and generally gross when a CEO makes fun of a janitor.)

At their very best, jokes are the opposite of gas-lighting. When someone says exactly what you're thinking, it's a validation that you are not crazy.

Which is why when people tell an offensive joke, and then gaslight anyone annoyed by exclaiming, "Hey, it was just a joke! Take a joke!" it is infuriating.

Because look, when it comes to jokes, the onus is never on the listener to be amused. People don't have to find anything that comes out of your mouth funny just because you thought it would be. If you tell a joke to someone and they did not find it amusing, that's not their fault. It just means that you probably told a bad joke and you should make better ones in the future...

If you upset people, it's okay to say you're sorry. You may not have meant to, but you still did. Because again, the onus was not on the listener to be amused. No one is making you tell jokes.

Here are some key tips to consider when it comes to humor at Epicodus, in the workplace, and elsewhere:

  • Keep it professional. If you're in a professional setting (which includes Epicodus), keep it professional. You can still tell jokes — but keep them "safe for work."
  • Don't tell offensive or otherwise hurtful jokes. If you think it's even possible that a joke could be offensive, steer clear.
  • Don't tell jokes about members of underrepresented groups. This is an extension of the above point but it's important to emphasize. Underrepresented groups include but are not limited to women, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as many other groups.
  • If you accidentally offend someone, apologize. There's no need to get worked up — just apologize if your joke landed the wrong way.

Ready to Write Your Reflection?

There is a reflective assignment for this lesson. If you are ready to write your reflection, head on over to Epicenter to find the prompt. If you are logged in to Epicenter, you can access the prompt by navigating to this link:

Reflection Prompt: Jokes and Appropriate Humor

Otherwise, you can find detailed instructions on accessing the reflection prompts in the DEI Reflective Assignments lesson.

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