Everything is absurd? Arrested development?
January 28, 2021 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a serious job and my coworkers are serious people who deal with heavy things. I have had anxiety and depression as a child and am actively getting treatment for it. I really enjoy humor, including stand up comedy. Maybe humor is a coping mechanism for me.

Lately, I've realized more and more that I tend to find many things funny, some of them being things I shouldn't find funny. And my concern is that my coworkers think I'm being inappropriate or immature. For instance, I joked about the animosity between a client and her landlord. Also, I cannot take Trump seriously. To me, he is one big joke and I have difficulty being angry at him. To me, he is a cartoon. Also, I was very crushed by the 2016 election results but that was due to my disappointment over Hillary not being elected.

I have been under increased stress lately due to juggling a full time job and school. And I live by myself, so I don't have a lot of social interaction. I guess my filter isn't working as well.

I did a google search and the word 'immature' came up. Now I'm a little concerned as I'm a woman in her thirties who has no desire to start a family and do grown up things like own a home. I am a very responsible tenant, however. Personally, and I would never admit this to anyone, I treat many things in my mind with levity, including death. However, I would like to appear Appropriate and Professional at work, as I do have a very serious job.

Does anyone have any insight into my temperament? Should I just not talk at work? I find always 'reviewing' what I'm saying next to be exhausting.
posted by thesockpuppet to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: you're fine and your attitude is healthy.

but yeah, you're going to want to not advertise that at work. People get very testy -- furious, hurt and confused -- when their sacred cows are mocked. And yeah, that absolutely goes for things like "not finding Trump to be the end of the world." When you are more senior in your profession you can laugh*. But -- having been there -- I can tell you that in serious professional offices, you're only "allowed" to joke and point out the ridiculousness of things -- especially the work, but not only the work -- if you're one of the very senior-est people. It will seriously bite you to ignore this social convention. Laugh inwardly, and make sure it doesn't show in your face. Write it down privately if you want.

*some of the jokes I've heard from C-level men would make your hair fall out
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes we laugh because a thing is surprising. Sometimes we laugh because it's absurd. Sometimes we laugh because it's tragic and awful, yes, that form of laughter is just as valid. We all are experiencing life through the filter of our experiences, emotions and everything else that went into making our brain what it is at that exact moment. You will find people who share your humor, you will find many who don't.

Like you, I tend toward absurdist and morbid comedy often. I have, for example, made some fantastic jokes (to me at least) about what an asshole my dad was for dying. Just up and dying, not like he did anything to deserve it. Is that a joke I'd make at work who I haven't had a connection with or around people I don't know well? Nah, for many reasons, that would not be a good idea, but it can be cathartic or just who you are to have jokes like that rattling around.

Part of life is just when should you say something and when you shouldn't, I think. I try to not make people hurt or uncomfortable. I do try to make them feel understood and cared about. I can be who I am doing the last two things while doing my best to avoid the former two things but it's just something I had to practice/listen to my gut on.

It sounds like you feel isolated and that's causing you to be anxious and worried about losing more connections. I think, based on the fact that you asked this question, that you're going to be okay. You seem like a thoughtful, caring person to me because you asked. Don't hide who you are because finding those people who do vibe completely with your energy is one of the most life-affirming things in my experience, but you do have to work on boundaries I guess is the only term that comes to mind. I can't give you a concrete rule on that though because I've bonded with people incredibly quickly and many never not even a tiny hint.

Anyway, I rambled a lot. It's quite a question you're asking which is a good thing.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2021

Nothing you said sounds that unusual to me. But I'm an uncomfortable laugher. I don't know. Maybe we are immature. It doesn't bother me. But I'm a guy and social pressures are different for guys.

One thing to note, since you mentioned you're in your 30s. I was listening to the Rewatchables podcast about the movie Wedding Crashers the other day, and they made a point that a large amount of comedy from the early to mid 2000s was really inappropriate and line-crossing. (Personally, I think you could go back a little further into the mid 90s as well, but that's neither here nor there.) But like, Knocked Up is literally a comedy in which abortion plays an important comedic role. Regardless of whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, abortion isn't something most people joke about. Wedding Crashers is about deceiving women for the purposes of having sex with them.
That's what the kids these days call "extremely problematic". And that would have been a fairly formative time for you. Even if you weren't watching movies like that, most of the people around you were, and that influenced what you find funny now. Your tolerance for inappropriate humor is probably significantly higher than people whose comic tastes are less outrageous.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:35 PM on January 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't think that whether you want to get married or own a home is a very good indicator of "maturity." Sure, for whatever reason, society has decided that those are things adults do, but there's really no intrinsic reason we have to accept those things as marks of maturity. They're just choices people make, that's all.

Having said that, though, I think openly laughing at things that cause people genuine pain is...well, not admirable. If you want to think Trump is a big joke, that's certainly your prerogative. But I know people who've suffered real-world harm from him and his policies, and I'm sure you do too, even if you're not aware of it. If I heard someone at work saying that he was just "a cartoon" or "a joke" -- well, no, I would not react well to that. At all. "Inapppropriate" would be one of the kinder ways I might describe that kind of thing.

So I don't think you have to "not talk at work," whatever that means. But you might want to recognize what you find to be funny might not be something other people can just laugh off, or dismiss as "just sockpuppet's sense of humor." People are under no obligation to understand or accept your sense of humor, or to find it endearing, and it might be that people will get angry or grow to dislike you because you're joking about things that have harmed them. If you're ok with your dark sense of humor harming your professional reputation, that's fine. But understand that you're making that choice and that it's not anyone else's fault for being "humorless" or not being able to take a joke or what have you.
posted by holborne at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think this is necessarily quite as innocuous as everyone else does, mostly because I can't tell whether you're simply seeing the humor and absurdity in things or whether you're also not seeing other people's pain. Finding Trump to be a buffoon is reasonable and well-sourced, but "not taking him seriously" to me smacks of ignoring or failing to empathize with all the very real ways in which he has hurt and endangered people. Similarly, with your client and her landlord—there's a difference between finding that friction funny and not noticing or not caring if she finds it (and your levity about it) genuinely distressing. I'd be worried less that you're immature, whatever that means, and more that you're not connecting with people empathetically—whether you're just naturally a less-empathetic person, or are protecting yourself from taking on other people's pain due to your own stress. To be clear, I'm not saying this IS the case, I don't know! But it's something to check in with yourself about. Are you seeing the comedy in tragedy, or are you seeing comedy as a way of ignoring or minimizing tragedy when the tragedy is other people's?
posted by babelfish at 3:58 PM on January 28, 2021 [21 favorites]

Best answer: I do a lot of my coping through dark gallows humor and that's fine at home and with my friends who know and love that about me. But I dial it way back at work because that's not really appropriate at my workplace or at yours, it sounds like.

You don't have to never joke again. I'm still known for having a mildly snarky remark ready for most occasions and that's fine. But I pick and choose my occasions and I'd recommend you work on doing the same. It would be a good thing to have practice with. That doesn't mean stop talking! But it may mean talk less for a little while and make only half the jokes you think of and see what happens. Maybe you'll find people getting more comfortable with you or people making their own comments more if you're not always there with a joke, or maybe you'll find nothing really changes. Either way you'll have learned something.

I would definitely think long and hard before making light of an administration that did direct material harm to a lot of people and communities. You get to feel he's a joke. The person across from you may be queer and terrified of losing new and hard won rights or may have had a loved one deported or may have lost a parent to a pandemic that didn't have to be this bad. You don't know and I doubt you would intentionally stir up your coworkers' pain if you did, so shut that down. That's not a topic you get to joke about at work if you're not a comic. Find a different and less painful thing to laugh about. It's 2021, absurdity is everywhere, pick some other part of it to make light of.
posted by Stacey at 5:40 PM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Laughter can mean a lot of things, but most commonly, it's a way of acknowledging some absurdity in the situation. Personally, I think every situation has some absurdity in it, and it's there's no situation on earth where it's automatically inappropriate to laugh. In fact, humor is often cited as one of the most mature and healthy coping mechanisms around.

The danger is that, when somebody else is present for your laughter, they have to guess about what you find absurd. That's a really hard thing to do, and people often get it wrong. When you laughed about the client and the landlord, maybe you thought the landlord's behavior was absurd. Maybe you thought the very concept of landlordhood is absurd. If the client correctly guessed those things, she probably wouldn't be offended. But if she incorrectly guessed that you found her distress absurd, she would be very hurt.

So I wouldn't think about this in terms of "mature" or "immature" humor. I don't think you should judge yourself for what you find funny. But I would ask yourself, "How hurt will this person be if they guess wrong about what I find absurd in this situation?" The more emotionally fraught the potential misunderstanding, the harder you should work to hold back your laughter.
posted by yankeefog at 5:00 AM on January 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Oof, as you can see here, an irreverent sense of humor can invoke stern lectures. I doubt you literally think Trump is a cartoon or would argue seriously he's done no harm to anyone, and there is a whole wonderful tradition of mocking harmful political figures as if they're just buffoons, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks to SNL. I don't know if it's "good" or "bad" to do that, it always offends some people, yeah, but it also has a critical benefit you don't even intend and i personally wouldn't scold you.
The pragmatic issue, though, is that your audience is your coworkers and obviously they aren't in the mood for that kind of comedy as a daily diet in the workplace. You need one person who's a kindred spirit to tell jokes to privately as you go on your day, not a room of coworkers. Or, I don't know, a twitter account. Some other way to release your sense of the absurd. Don't forget, every time you speak you're saying things *to* people and you've already learned that they're not going to enjoy your humor, at least not at work, so find someone else to say it to. But your humor, imo, doesn't mean you're immature or not empathic as a human.
posted by nantucket at 5:53 AM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All good answers, thank you. Clearly, my belief that my coworkers appreciate humor, always, is wrong. I will err on the conservative side, since it's work after all.
posted by thesockpuppet at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

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