Another example of someone who wisely
decided to lighten up instead of tighten up is Joseph Heller. He said,
"When I read something saying I've not written anything as good as
Catch-22, I'm tempted to reply, 'Who has?" Good for Heller. Heller's
Catch-22 was a masterpiece that generated a phrase that became a
password of our time and a symbol for bureaucratic ineffectiveness.
Only a handful of authors have achieved that type of enduring impact on
popular culture. Whether he liked it or not, his follow-up books would
all be compared (probably unfavorably) to this once-in-a-lifetime
novel. It was smart of him to anticipate this public reaction and
handle it with aplomb rather than affront.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join In
"Blessed are they who can laugh at
themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused." -Anonymous
A man named Art who was "follicly
challenged" said he agreed with my friend's decision to not take herself
so seriously. He explained, "I started losing my hair when I was only
thirty-five years old. I went the 'rug' route and should have taken out
stock in Rogaine. After about five years of sinking thousands of
dollars into hair plugs and everything else on the market, I realized I
was fighting a losing battle (so to speak) and decided I might as well
learn to live with and laugh at my baldness. If someone tries to make a
joke at my expense, I come right back at 'em with a joke of my own like,
"I'm not losing my hair, I'm gaining face." Sometimes I say, "I'm not
bald, I'm a man of scalp." or "I'm not bald, I'm a hair donor." Once
people realize I'm not self-conscious about it, it takes the fun out of
it for them and they usually drop it."
Art had a good point. When teasers
discover their goads don't get our goat, they go elsewhere. Their goal
is to make us feel embarrassed. If we're not bothered by their verbal
arrows, they'll stop slinging them because they're pointless.
Quip Pro Quo
"Humor is just another defense against the universe." - Mel Brooks,
American film director
A lot of articles and books tell you to
"use humor" to defuse verbal grenades, they just don't tell you how.
What exactly are we supposed to say when bullies zero in on our
emotional sore spots? How can we keep the cat from getting our tongue?
I wanted to put my "funny" where my mouth is, so I've provided a variety
of Quip Pro Quo's (wise cracks) you can use to defend yourself the next
time someone tries to step on your mental toes.
Divorce: "Why did you get a divorce?"
"Let's just put it this way. We had five years of happy marriage; but
we were married for fifteen." - Bob Thomas
Single: "Why isn't a cute young thing like you married? "I think,
therefore I'm single." - Liz Winstead
Age: "How old are you anyway?"
"Let's just say my back goes out more than I do." - Phyllis Diller
Fitness: "Why don't you work out?"
"I'm pushing 60; that's enough exercise for me." - Mark Twain
Education: "What's your degree in?" "I have a ND - No Degree!" "Well, I
pursued my degree at Berkeley, but I never caught it."
Weight: "Wow, you've really packed on the pounds."
"I resemble that remark." - Groucho Marx
Unsolicited Advice: "You know what you should have done?"
"When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." - Madonna
Pregnant: "Are you having a baby?" (and you're not pregnant)
"Yea, I'm having twins. I'm naming them Ben & Jerry." - Rosie
Bad memory: "Are you getting senile or something?" "No, I'm suffering
from déjà vu amnesia. I think I've forgotten this before." - Roseanne
Put Your Funny Where Your Mouth Is
"I don't think being funny is anyone's first choice." - Woody Allen
Being funny with someone who's crossed
the courtesy line may not be our first choice, however it's worth a try
if everything else we've tried has failed. "The sound of laughter has
always seemed to me," observed Peter Ustinov," the most civilized music
in the universe." Sometimes humor is a civilized yet effective way to
get through to someone who's not listening.
This was demonstrated by a veterinarian's
assistant who told me about her boss's clever handling of a client who
would not take "no" for an answer. This client was a well-known
cheap-skate who was always questioning her bill. She had called the
vet's office because her dog "Fifi" had hurt her paw and the owner was
trying to figure out whether it was serious enough to bring her in.
Actually, she was trying to get free advice so she could treat the
injury herself instead of having to pay a visit to the clinic.
After ten frustrating minutes of
back-and-forth Q & A, the vet finally said, "Mabel, put down the phone,
go get Fifi, and bring her to the phone." "What?!" squawked Mabel.
"Just do it," the doctor ordered. So, Mabel put down the phone, found
Fifi, and brought her back to the phone.
The vet said, "Now, hold Fifi up so I can
look at her paw and see how bad it is." Mabel protested, "You can't see
Fifi's paw over the phone!" The doctor pounced. "That's right, I can't
see Fifi's paw over the phone. Now bring her in so I can make a proper
diagnosis and we can get this treated." Bravo!
"It was so quiet you could hear a pun drop." Anonymous
A friend from Maui shared another
marvelous example of someone who had perfected what I call Pun Fu! (a
Tongue Fu! technique of handling hassles with humor instead of harsh
words.) This woman said, "I was on a packed flight from Hawaii to Los
Angeles. Every single seat was full so we were all crammed together,
elbow to elbow. There was a little boy, probably about five years old,
wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots running up and down the aisles
pretending to shoot passengers with his straw. We all kept looking at
the mother, waiting for her to do something about her son. The mother
had a baby on her lap and was so busy taking care of her infant, she had
obviously given up on the cowboy."
"Finally, the senior flight attendant
walked over, hunkered down on the little sharpshooter's level, put her
hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, 'Would you like
to play outside?'"
"Deer in headlights. The little boy's
eyes got this big. He scurried back to his seat, and there he sat for
the rest of the flight."
Have You Got Jest Lag?
"Your humor never fails to abuse me." - The Lion King
Are you thinking, "But I'm not funny" or
"My sense of humor never shows up until it's too late?" Understand the
key to thinking on your feet is to brainstorm sensitive scenarios
beforehand so you don't go brain dead when they happen. What are you
touchy about? Is there a particular question or comment you dread?
If someone is going for the jugular vein
instead of the jocular vein, check out the
www.humorproject.com website run by Dr. Joel Goodman and Margie
Ingram, Directors of the Humor Project in Saratoga Springs, NY. This
couple believes humor is supposed to be amusing instead of abusing and
they have conferences, seminars, and a warehouse of newsletters, books,
and videos that all prove Robin William's philosophy that humor is
"acting out optimism." Their annual International Conference on Humor
and Creativity brings people from all over the world to learn how to
laugh with each other instead of at each other.
Live Happily Ever Laughter
"He laughs best whose laugh lasts." - Laurence J. Peter
Understand you don't have to re-invent
the laughter wheel all by yourself. Ask people in similar situations
what they say when their sore subject is brought up. Check out the
humor books at your local library, bookstore, or comedy website. By
researching and acquiring (be sure to attribute and give credit where
credit is due) a repertoire of wise cracks in advance, you need never
again worry about being tongue-tied when someone's trying to have fun at
Action Plan and Discussion Questions
What is something you're sensitive
What do you say if someone brings this up? Are you tongue-tied or do
you let loose the retort on the tip of your tongue?
Can you think of any funny Quip Pro Quo's
you've heard? Do you know someone who has a clever wise-crack in
response to an often-asked question? Who is that and what do they say?
What punch-lines are you going to develop so you can handle "zaps" with
poise instead of panic?
Have you witnessed a situation where someone used humor instead of harsh
words (Pun Fu)? What happened?
Summary of Beat 'Em to the Punch . . .
about sore spots "I'm embarrassed
that my memory isn't what it used to be."
humor about sore spots "Okay, I
can be frustrated by it or I can have fun with it."
"Oh, I forgot her name again.
This is humiliating."
"I must be suffering from mental
- pause. What is your name?"
Can't Beat 'Em
"How many times am I going to have
to remind you of my name?!"
"Until I get it right??"
us as their verbal punching bag
"You must be getting senile or something."
bullies to the punch . . .line with quip pro quo's
"Yea, I forget three things. Names,
birthdays, and I can't remember the third." - Henny
"I Should Have Said Syndrome" "I
don't know how I can face her again."
sensitive situations and prepare Fun Fu! responses
"I have a photographic memory.
I just haven't developed it yet." - Henny Youngman