The Skill of Humor: Andrew Tarvin at TEDxTAMU (Transcript)

Because I did not take this picture. I did not go to Sri Lanka. I do not know this shepherd or any of these goats. I found it on Flickr under a Creative Commons license and shared it with all of you, because I enjoyed it.

But even if you’re not ready to create humor, and you don’t think that you can find something interesting on the Internet, you can still use humor if you know how to smile.

Because when we see someone else smile, we are primed to mirror that behavior with mirror neurons in our brain. And when we smile, they smile: we create a human connection. Other people are like, ”But what if no one laughs? What if I try humor, and there’s an awkward silence?”

Well, it’s really only awkward if you spend time on it, if you dwell on it. And the reality is that no one has ever been fired because of a bad joke. An inappropriate one, maybe, but not a bad joke.

Because a bad joke is something like, “I once had to miss class because of hypothermia, I was too cool for school.” That’s a bad joke.

An inappropriate joke is one that has an inappropriate subject, has an inappropriate target or comes at an inappropriate time. But as long as we are positive and inclusive, we’ll be okay.

Because then if no one laughs at our joke, it’s just now a positive and inclusive statement.

Finally, people are like ”What if no one takes me seriously? ‘What if people think of me as a jester or a clown?”

If you’re going to use humor at work, recognize that humor doesn’t replace the work. Humor is like the salt of a meal. You wouldn’t eat an entire meal of salt, would you? Because that would make you a horse. Do you want to be a horse? I say nay.

But you can still use humor as long as you’re making it more productive. Managers actually want it, because they know you’re going to be more engaged and get better results.

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But let’s say you work for an organization that says no fun whatsoever. The reality is that no one can control how you think. No one can prevent you from listening to a comedy podcast on your way home from work so that you relieve stress and show up more present for your family.

No one can stop you from creating a Twitter account to write puns. No one can keep you from coming up with chemistry raps while you’re working. The reality is that job satisfaction, your outlook, your way of managing stress is entirely your responsibility and is the choice that you make. And this is a skill of humor.

It starts by sharing your point of view, and then we explore and heighten that point of view. And we yes — and both our work and our life, and finally we practice, perform and repeat, because that’s how we get better.

And people can take an improv class, or you can try stand-up comedy, but we can also just be more aware of how we create humor every single day. And anyone can do these things.

I’ll tell you, the funniest person I know is my grandmother, the one that texts me. And she’s elevated her game from texting to Facebook. She’s now on Facebook and she comments on every single one of my status updates.

And I can’t tell if my grandmother is the nicest, most sincere grandmother in the world, or if she is secretly trolling me.

A couple of months ago, I posted, ”I’m trying to decide if I should become an athlete or a criminal, so I made a list of pros and cons.”

My grandmother’s response was one word: ”Funny.”

I was like, “I don’t know.

Does she think it’s funny, or is she messing with me?”

A couple weeks later, I posted, ”I think a cozy bar that serves figs would make for a plum date spot.”

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My grandmother’s response was, ”Ha, ha.”

And I was like, “There’s something about the comma.”

And I’m like, “She’s messing with me.”

Then a couple weeks ago, I posted, ”Converting the numbers 51, 6 and 500 to Roman numerals makes me LIVID.”

My grandmother’s response was, ”Hey, this one is actually good.”

Trolled by my own grandmother.

It doesn’t matter, your age, your income, your perspective, your personality assessment, your senior superlative or your celebrity doppelganger. Anyone can learn to be funnier. And it all starts with a choice, a choice to try to find ways to use humor, a choice to be like my grandmother, to look at the world around you and think, “WTF – Wow, that’s fun.”

Thank you.


Resources for Further Reading:

Transcript: Andrew Tarvin on Humor at Work @ TEDxOhioStateUniversity

Humor, Survival, and Somali Pirates: Michael Scott Moore at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Dr. Shimi Kang: What One Skill = An Awesome Life? at TEDxKelowna (Transcript)

The Funny Side of Fear – Conquering Anxiety Through Comedy: Daniel Hardman at TEDxDouglas (Transcript)

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