How do I stop being the butt of all the jokes?
September 17, 2008 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Grr, how to stop being the butt of all the jokes and defend... it's getting annoying!

To explain the situation: I've always been the one in a group to get the mickey taken out of.

I do make a good target though: being quite ditzy, slow, and lacking wittiness to respond to jokes directed at me. The group clown as you will. Pretty sure you all know what I'm on about :) Also, in group conversations, I tend not to say much, usually letting the rest of the group do the talking. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite comfortable with speaking - this is not about confidence. It's just since I can't "control" the conversation as well, the jokes tend to targeted more towards me. Lastly, I'm Asian, so usual racist "token" banter is present on top of everything. lol.

This usually doesn't really bother me too much, but I'm not spending the rest of my life being steamrollered by everyone else. Also, ever noticed that generally, the alpha(s) (fe)male(s) [aka the leader] in the group don't get any of this crap? They somehow turn the few they do get thrown at them against the guy who pitched the joke, usually with style to boot. I want to know how they do that.

So to sum it up:

1. How to stop being the clown? How do the alphas deal with it? What's the secret here?

2. Okay, everyone is going to get the mickey taken out of them at some point. How do I say: "Enough crap. Cut it out!" in a friendly manner? Key word here being friendly. I mean, being aggressive results in profanity, which alienates people. So how do you do it?

3. BONUS: How do you learn to be more witty so that you can turn the tables?
posted by dragontail to Human Relations (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How do I say: "Enough crap. Cut it out!" in a friendly manner?

Just say it with a smile.
posted by ian1977 at 3:17 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm not an 'alpha', and I always get vaguely uncomfortable around that word, but something I've noticed is that guys will make fun of people more if they give the reaction that they want. If you don't give that reaction, they'll stop it.

There's a concept in improv comedy called 'yes and'. That is, someone says something, and you agree and make it bigger. For example, I had a conversation yesterday (not improv related, but the idea is there):

GUY: "Well, the instructor likes me more."
ME: "That's just because you send him naked pictures of yourself."
GUY: "Hey, man, that was just that one time!"

That's maybe not the best example, but that's 'yes and'. The guy says the instructor just likes him more. I agree -- the instructor likes you more, but this is because you send him naked pictures. He agrees -- he sends naked pictures, but it was only that one time ... the point is that nobody is taking this seriously, and nobody is getting overexcited.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:21 PM on September 17, 2008 [13 favorites]

You say you usually don't talk much, so observe the witty exchanges between your friends and analyze them. Pay attention, and you'll learn a lot. For come-backs, do your friends usually use put-downs? Friendly threats? The best types of comebacks are puns, so try to twist the words they use when tease you. Also, sometimes I'll think of a witty comeback to something another person said after the conversation has moved on/ended. Think about what someone said to you and try to construct a response to it. Practice makes perfect. And your delivery matters just as much as what you say, so hone that skill, too. Good luck!
posted by asras at 3:32 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding ian1977. I think I might be one of those alphas you're talking about. There are people who really, really annoy me in my life, and try to joke around with me (sometimes a little insultingly). Oftentimes, these people are not that bright, and the things I can get away with saying back to them -- always with a smile -- sometimes astound me. Note: as a woman, this usually works better with men than women. Sometimes the result is that they don't get you're actually insulting them, and they just keep doing what they're doing. Other times, everyone else around you will understand precisely what you have just done, and will keep it in mind for the future.

(I tell the people I like that if I'm a bitch to them, it means I'm comfortable with them and like them. It's the people I'm always smiling to that need to look out...)

Actually, like you, I was always the comic relief in my group of friends throughout high school and middle school. I was pretty quiet and was more concerned with group harmony than anything else. Now, well, I'm an alpha bitch with what I've been told is very good comedic timing. I just learned it along the way. (And the group of friends changed several times as I moved around -- being able to reinvent yourself for a new social group is helpful)

And finally, never underestimate the occasional value of a good "your mom" or "that's what she said!" If it's awkward and you really want to come back at them, it's sometimes useful to whip out something totally cliched and dumb to deflect the laugh. Just don't overuse it.
posted by olinerd at 3:34 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Don't worry so much about not alienating people. You have to break the Eggs of Politeness to bake the Cake of Respect, so to speak. You have qualities that they like other than rolling with their punches, I'm sure, so don't worry about be a little bit nasty. Also, it could be that they've noticed that you are eager to not offend at all costs that makes you the easy target.

As for turning the target back to someone that's ribbing you a little too much, it is kind of hard to explain how that's done in a general way, but here's a specific trick that usually works, as juvenile as it is: Suggest that they're obsessed with teasing you only because they're so attracted to you, whether they're male or female. That generally puts the ribber off-balance. If they try to keep going after you've started that, you just keep on going with it. "Oh! More secret flirting? You must really want to get in my pants?"

About for the racist stuff, there's probably clever and specific ways to counter it, but without knowing anything about the people saying it, I'd just say, "Oh, I see it's the racist propaganda hour! Well, a good Heil Hitler to you, too!" Then, I'd give them the Sieg Heil sign and throughout the rest of the day, wink and goosestep around them a few times. If they can dish it out, they should be able to take it.

I think that once you treat them with the same amount of respect with which they treat you, things will even out.
posted by ignignokt at 3:44 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I do make a good target though: being quite ditzy, slow, and lacking wittiness

First and foremost, stop thinking about yourself in those terms!
posted by milarepa at 3:50 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience, the "alpha" never avoids the joking unless the whole group's seriously intimidated by them (and if that's your case, you should probably look into getting some new friends). It's just that they know how to turn the focus away from them so that a one-liner doesn't turn into a whole conversation of joke after joke building on the same premise. Look for the the "yes, and..." premise that comrade_robot talks about and I think you'll see the "alpha" uses it a lot.

When I get teased about things the biggest thing I do is make the joke first. My friends have some pretty embarrassing stories about things I've done drunk, and if they knew I was sensitive about them the stories would come up every other week instead of every six months and the pictures would go up on Facebook instead of sitting forgotten on their cameras. When one of my friends says "Remember that time when lilac girl ran into a glass door??" I let them giggle about it for a second and then say something like "That nose print was on my back door for months!" Sometimes it develops into a whole conversation and sometimes that stops it and we move on, but if I was to blush and not say anything it would encourage them because they got a reaction from me and also because I'm not giving them anything else to focus on. I'd just be letting that horribly embarrassing story sit there and they'd keep building on it and it'd turn into a whole big thing. And then the next time it comes up they'll remember what fun they had talking about it and they'll want to talk about it again. If I own the jokes, though, I can at least somewhat control how the conversation goes.
posted by lilac girl at 3:59 PM on September 17, 2008

I work on a team that has a quiet, Asian person on it. Very quiet. So much so that we call him a ninja (which could be interpreted as a racial stereotype, but really it's about him being so quiet), and it's not unusual for us to make jokes that are, on the surface, at his expense.

However, it comes from a place of support; he's quiet, sure, but he's also very intelligent, very nice, and we all like him very much. So we try to draw him into the conversation, but it's difficult to do that directly when he won't respond, even to direct questions, with more than a shrug.

So we'll throw a joke out here and there, in hopes that we can involve him in our camaraderie indirectly. The jokes are never mean-spirited, though, they're more like references to his silent ninja skills and such. Usually it'll at least get a smile out of him, and occasionally a verbal response.

In lieu of your post here, however, I find myself doubting whether this is making him feel like more of an outsider rather than like a part of the team (although I do try to drop sincere, valid compliments whenever I can, as well.) I can say this: if he came to me and said "it kind of bothers me when you guys make jokes", I'd respect that, and I'd probably ask him if he prefers to just hover on the fringe of the conversation, or whether he wishes he could be more a part of it, and I'd express to him that the jokes are us trying to draw him out and make him feel as liked as he is.

So perhaps you should stop thinking of these conversations as battles or confrontations with alpha males and such, and instead think of them as conversations between people who want to talk to each other, where joking is an expression of camaraderie rather than aggression. THat means you don't need to "turn the tables" or anything like that, too.

And of course, if you truly feel these people are being openly hostile, you need to hang out with a better class of people.
posted by davejay at 4:12 PM on September 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

In lieu of your post here, however, I find myself doubting whether this is making him feel like more of an outsider rather than like a part of the team

That was worded incorrectly; make that "In ileu of your post here, however, I find myself thinking that this might be making him feel like more of an outsider..."
posted by davejay at 4:15 PM on September 17, 2008

You may miss this once you've grown up and separated from high school friends. If you broaden your social circle now, you'll find the new people won't do this, which may give some relief.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:02 PM on September 17, 2008

Any group of three or more people has a scapegoat. You're it. Sorry. You need to add a friend to your group, and begin teasing him instead. Actually, convincing the alpha to tease him would be more effective.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:02 PM on September 17, 2008

They're doing it to get a rise out of you. Tell them, "I understand you guys are just trying to joke around, but sometimes it's hard not to take this stuff personally so I'd like it if you could ease it up a bit." And most importantly, don't laugh when you're offended. People laugh when they're nervous. It's instinctual, especially when everyone else is laughing. If they see you laughing, they'll continue making jokes because they'll realize you've given in.

Honestly, if they know you're offended and continue poking fun, then the jokes are mean spirited and you should find some better friends. It's one thing to stand up for yourself, but being a mature adult involves respecting the boundaries that others have set so we don't have to worry about douchebags. If you ask me, this whole alpha male social dynamic bullshit should have died in middle school.

Oh and also, I don't think being witty is the best solution. If you play their game, they'll come up with better jokes. And it's easy to tell when someone's making a nervous joke to hide their true feelings, or at least that's my experience. Good luck.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 5:18 PM on September 17, 2008

They sound like fucking assholes. I have a lot of friends, and while we would joke around, no one was ever the sole butt of it. Because, you know, we're friends. I have to disagree with BitterOldPunk on this one.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:34 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I once worked at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. On my last day there, the guys tackled me and threw me into the water.

"Wow," one of my friends said. "They must have really liked you."

"How do you figure that?" I asked. "They threw me over the railing and into the bay!"

"Well, you laughed didn't you?"

"Yeah, but..."

"If they didn't like you and didn't think you would laugh, they wouldn't have done it."

So, I always remembered that.

How do I say: "Enough crap. Cut it out!" in a friendly manner?

First, realize they're doing it because they like you. Now turn the tables in a fun way.

"Hardy har har, let's all make fun of the ditzy, slow one. Heh. I know you guys tease because you love. Which is why I want to smother you all. With love. But still. I will smother all of you. With a pillow. While you sleep. It will be a loving pillow, though."

Then buy them drinks and appetizers and laugh at all the jokes, no matter who they're aimed at.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm with optimus chyme on this one. If they are making you uncomfortable find friends who will treat you with respect. There is joking and shit talking, but if it is relentless it becomes abusive. I've had groups of pals that consisted largely of the male arm punching humor, but there is always a mutual respect at the core. If you aren't getting that, find some new people to associate with, it is a big big world with billions of people less douchey than that lot.
posted by Ponderance at 5:48 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by jejune at 5:56 PM on September 17, 2008

When someone makes a racist joke aimed at you, you deal with this by punching them in the face.

It's allowed in those situations. Trust me, I'm asian too.
posted by cazoo at 6:00 PM on September 17, 2008 [7 favorites]

look people in the eye with an obviously fake smile, until they break eye contact.
posted by spacefire at 6:09 PM on September 17, 2008

I was always picked on as a kid because I took everything literally and was extremely oversensitive and gave people the reactions they wanted. I still take things literally and don't realize when people are kidding sometimes-- if this is what is making them target you, it might help to become more aware of social cues that someone is joking. It is way less fun to target someone if they don't always play "straight man" accidentally.

the truth is, however, if people are doing that, they are not really "targeting" you-- they don't mean to hurt or embarrass you, they are actually including you and if you can laugh at yourself, it gets a lot easier.

i have no idea if that's what's going on here though.
posted by Maias at 6:13 PM on September 17, 2008

There are 2 different problems here.

The first is that you would say this: I do make a good target though: being quite ditzy, slow, and lacking wittiness to respond to jokes directed at me.

The second is that you need new friends.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:38 PM on September 17, 2008

I have two points that might help you:

1. Regarding "racist" banter -- I've always found stopping in my tracks and asking the person to explain EXACTLY what they mean to be effective, and usually leads to a lot of umming and aahing and back-tracking. Couple this with affirming what the person says in a slow, deliberate manner. Make it clear, from tone, that you have realized the implication and are not happy. of course, it should be an obvious racist statement, otherwise you just become annoying.

2. Regarding being the butt of jokes -- I've found that ignoring the joke works well, pretend the joke wasn't said or that you didn't hear it (unless it's totally obvious you have to) or, failing that, make it obvious you are moving on the conversation ASAP. Astute people will pick up on that and not bother you again, even if they ARE doing it to draw you out of your shell/make you feel included, etc.
posted by gadha at 6:40 PM on September 17, 2008

Are they mean spirited put downs? Then get new friends. Seriously, it does not do you any good to stick around when you are being treated that way. It's all too easy for them to take away your power if they are jerks.

Are they just being playful? Then play back. Develop standard answers when they insult you.
Pick some genuinely funny movies and use lines from them if you have a hard time being witty. I might be a little dated with these suggestions, but that might work in your favor. Bill Murray is an excellent source of great comebacks. (Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Rushmore and What About Bob?) Chevy Chase in his prime is good too. (Fletch and Caddy Shack)

Not that you should be the guy who recites movie lines ad naseum, but mixing it up with some of what they throw at you is always fun. I think creating tension by fake seriousness is a good way of deflating the insult. A completely overblown response to their jabs can turn the tables and and be real funny to boot.

Something like-"You just made the list, pal!" (in a loud overly dramatic way, while pointing a the insulter, and then smile after a few seconds after saying it.)
Good luck and have fun!
posted by MiggySawdust at 6:42 PM on September 17, 2008

Your friends aren't assholes, they're just displaying intimacy.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:51 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

There is always the standby, Joe Pesci "funny" speech in Goodfellas.

I can feel the temperature drop when I watch this scene.
posted by Ponderance at 7:19 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like Anne Lamott's response (slightly modified) to awful statements: Look at the speaker like he's an idiot, smile and say, "What a rude, rude thing to say." Then change the subject.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:21 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sometimes it is very effective to glance at the jokester with a disappointed, slightly pitiful, slightly sarcastic look without saying anything. When I give this look my eyebrows furrow just a bit and a corner of my mouth goes slightly up. If you aren't already facing the jokester don't shift your head, just your eyes. This looks says "Really? Let's grow up a bit," with the benefit of not actually having to say anything witty.

However, like any comeback, it needs to be used judiciously. The worst response is to reuse old jokes.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 7:49 PM on September 17, 2008

I wonder if taking some improv comedy classes might help you develop skill at witty ripostes? (I've never done improv, so maybe somebody with actual experience can chime in here.) I think you and several people upthread are right in thinking that the ability to fire off a good comeback is the best way to not be the constant butt of jokes.

I'm a dorky introvert with totally crap social skills, but when I'm not making a conscious effort to be on my best behavior I have a wicked fast and wicked sharp sense of humor, so I'm never the perpetual victim of choice. People quickly learn that this dork has teeth so they go elsewhere for their lulz. (I suspect my poor social skills are an advantage of sorts here, in that I'm less inhibited than a normal person would be about possibly hurting somebody's feelings, so I let fly with glee. I tone it down considerably around nice people, but assholes are grist for my mill, baby.)

You don't have to be pretty and popular to avoid being the butt of every joke, just learn to parry with zingers of your own. It's definitely a learned skill, and as you practice you'll build up a repertoire of themes you can riff on. Office pratfalls are the gift that just keeps on giving, here. (Our CEO once ate somebody else's sandwich by mistake and he still gets ribbed about stealing employees' lunches.) Listen to other people's banter and make note of what works, and run with those themes yourself.

The "yes, and ..." approach is brilliant for a milder response. Rather than slashing back, which takes a lot of confidence (or a blithe disregard for others' feelings), you go along with the joke, escalating to ever sillier heights. You're sending the message that you're not cowed by the joke, and positioning yourself as an equal partner in silliness rather than a victim.

These sound like the kind of skills you might learn in an improvisational comedy class, so maybe look into that. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just do it yourself. The teasing is just a way of relating and breaking the ice in a group. Take the mick out of someone else - one of the alphas. If it's done in a smiling, laughing, loving kind of way, it's fun for you and fun for the group dynamics. It's often a way of just making conversation.
posted by gt2 at 9:49 PM on September 17, 2008

You say you let others do most of the talking. I suspect that they're making jokes involving you to get you involved in the conversation. I know that my friends and I do this often enough with quiet people. You can ask them to stop if it really bothers you, but I very much doubt they mean anything by it except to include you and make you smile.
posted by Nattie at 4:29 AM on September 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Are you asking how to be the alpha? Cos if yes, I don't have any advice for you for that - I personally feel that's a pretty exhausting way to live, constantly trying to compete with everyone else. If you want to be witty/funny, you can try to learn and practise it like others are suggesting - but I'd hope you would be doing it because you enjoy it, not just to fit in. Life's not a sitcom, and we're not all witty, definitely not all the time, and shouldn't be expected to be either. We can be funny or good company as people in many other ways.

As for: How do I say: "Enough crap. Cut it out!" in a friendly manner? I think it's good to understand, as some of the others have suggested, that it's a way to express intimacy for some people. But - and this is a big but - there's no reason why you should have no boundaries, and accept whatever people throw at you, even if completely well-intentioned, regardless of your own feelings and sore points. (For example, I wouldn't personally accept any 'racist "token" banter' - some people like to banter about race ironically. I hate it with a passion, and wouldn't accept anyone doing it with me.)

The best way to do it may be to take one person in the group who you feel is generally the leader in the jokes - take him or her aside, and gently tell the person that although you understand it was intended as a joke, it's something that gets to you/winds you up, and that it would mean a lot to you if they'd not joke about you in that way. You can even begin that with "I like you guys, and I really enjoy spending time with you. But, there's this thing, which is that..." The idea is to not make it feel like an attack, but simply an expression of your own needs. You may have to do it with several people in the group, but it's a good idea to do it individually. Then, it's up to them. If they don't stop, or if they escalate - I suggest they may not be people that you'd want to spend much time with, and depending on your situation, you'd have to either stand up for yourself more firmly and assertively, or get out of the situation altogether and find new people to hang around with.
posted by Ira_ at 5:23 AM on September 18, 2008

Oh and, if they're receptive and understanding, do tell them that you appreciate it, and show them some warmth, a smile, a pat on the shoulder, whatever you feel. You'd probably do that anyway - I'm just trying to emphasise that it's important for it not to feel like a telling off, as people would often react quite negatively to that. Your expressing your needs is a gesture of intimacy in itself.
posted by Ira_ at 5:33 AM on September 18, 2008

Hey, Crouching Tiger, you're ditzy and slow! harharhahrahrahrhahar

1: Hey, Crouching Tiger, you're ditzy and slow! harharhahrahrahrhahar
2: Yes, and yet your mother still sleeps with me
1: (punches 2 in the face)

Okay, I guess I could see how "yes, and" could backfire.
posted by davejay at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks guys for the advice :) Keep 'em coming! In particular, the "yes, and" technique sounds interesting, will definitely check it out, thanks you Comrade_robot & co.

Also, a lot of you have suggested getting new friends, and that's understandable. The thing is you'll find out that sometimes you'll be forced to stay in company with these people wither you like it or not (i.e. at work), so dealing with those jokers is something worth knowing regardless :)
posted by dragontail at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2008

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