What's the right way to make fun of my friends?

click to enlarge What's the right way to make fun of my friends?
Ask Hole asks local experts to answer Halifax’s most pressing social dilemmas. This week, comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann explores how to tease without torturing our friends.

Dear Ask Hole,
I’ve always thought that a little gentle ribbing was endearing. But, recently one of my jokes didn’t go over so well. My friend “Julie” is a textile artist, and when she asked if I’d be at her opening, I joked that “If I wanted to see some old afghans, I’d go to my grandmother’s nursing home.” I thought I was being funny, but “Julie” was pretty PO’d. I know artists are sensitive about their craft, but can’t she take a joke? What’s the right way to make fun of someone? How can I razz my friends without seeming mean? 
—Jerk, Or So Hilarious? I Need Guidance!

It’s true that jokes are a delicate business. I once told a “Why did the chicken cross the road” joke to a group of children, and one of them cried for 20 minutes because her grampy had just gone “to the other side.” Tough crowd. Still, if I could offer some general rules for “ribbing,” as you call it, I would start with this: Before you make fun of someone else, you have to be able to laugh at yourself. There are a lot of jokers out there who can dish it out, but can’t take it. So, before you lampoon someone else, take a long, hard look in the mirror and find out what it is that makes you the stupid little baby you are. Huh, JOSHING? What is it? Perhaps it is your tiny baby hands, or the fact that your eyes look less like the windows to the soul and more like the windows of a for-lease Chuck-E-Cheese. One gets the sense that there should be magic in them, but there is only dusty vacancy.

Just joking!

See what I did there? This is another classic means of letting people know that you’re not a jerk, you’re just a fun joker! If you had added “just joking” to the end of your comment, Julie would have known that you weren’t trying to dismiss her life’s work. She would have seen that you were just being a Silly Willy!
Tone can also help with this. Smile as you suggest you think treating art as a profession is inane within a capitalist society. Open up your body as you casually imply your friend should enter a workforce that will consume her very soul.

You could also try an improv class to encourage positivity in your comedy. The “yes, and” mantra of improvisation could really help you here. If Julie says, “You’re a jerk,” you will be well equipped to respond:

Yes, and I am also full of self-loathing. Just joking!”

In short, JOSHING, if you’re worried that you’re being an ass, you probably are. Perhaps the problem is not with your friend’s ability to “take a joke,” but with your ability to tell one. Jokes are great. They can bring people together; they can open up dialogues about important issues. But they can also hurt people. And, if a friend is hurt by one of your jokes, apologize and back off. Getting defensive will leave you both upset. As a general rule, a good friendship is more important than a good joke. 🙂


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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