The Guide to Being Funny at the Office

Making your way in the gnarly world of office politics is tough. A little laugher can go a long way. But mastering cubicle comedy is not so easy.

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Making your way in the gnarly world of office politics is tough. From avoiding land mines like fish-based lunches to mastering the art of the email signature, the day in the life of the average American office worker is rife with trivial challenges that could have tremendous repercussions, such as not being invited to Friday drinks — or, who knows, something worse.

Among the trickiest of arts is office humor, a topic today's The Wall Street Journal examines in all its intricacies. Because while we all want a laugh on a Tuesday afternoon, many are hesitant to try a joke that could fall flat with one's colleagues and lead to awkward silences or lawsuits.

"If you are funny and putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable, and people don't respond? That hurts," an office jokester told The Journal's Sue Shellenbarger. "[T]he office can be a comedic minefield. Making colleagues laugh takes timing, self-confidence—and the ability to rebound from a blooper," Shellenbarger explains.

So, as a public service, here is the Journal-inspired guide to being a successful office jokester, one who doesn't get his or her company sued:

  • Make fun of office equipment. If the sound system crashes during a presentation, for example, the speaker might say, "Was it something I said?" Also, nothing is funnier than Excel. There's even a webpage of spreadsheet humor. We're not kidding.
  • Make fun of corporate jargon. As one office comedian told The Journal, "[W]e'd joke about having a three-hour strategy session to do a SWAT analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Subway vs. McDonald's, considering how we could all get into alignment and move forward together as a team." Corporate speak is always hilarious.
  • Minibar jokes. "A boss might joke with an employee about spending $80 on a hotel minibar during a business trip, making a point while also getting a laugh, he says." (This approach shouldn't be used in more serious situations that might affect someone's performance record or compensation.)" Shellenbarger's aside is actually funnier than the joke itself. Also, minibars are sort of going away, so this brand of joke may actually make you seem out-of-touch.
  • Office videos. For example, there was this video of a HarperCollins meeting devolving into the Harlem Shake. Even though the video probably took significant time to make, it may have increased office morale.
  • Self-effacing humor. "I find it really hard to be perfect at everything," a jokester told Shellanbarger. The danger with this type of humor is that, unless your timing is impeccable, you might just come off as arrogant.
  • Answering the phone in a way you normally wouldn't. "This is Beth, Office Ray of Sunshine" is a way someone answered the phone once, somewhere, and reportedly elicited a chuckle. Strikes us as a little Office Space-ish, to be honest.

And if all else fails, there's this repository of clean humor. Did you hear the one about the bad speller? Hilarious.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.