How is one supposed to react when bein gmade the butt of a lame joke?
October 16, 2006 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Two (or more) people are talking and a new person enters the group. One of the current group makes an obvious joke about the third. How is the person who enters the group "supposed" to react.

You know what I mean, it's a common corporate America scenario. John and Fred are talking, George walks by and John loudly and obviously says "Yeah, the whole reason this company is going downhill is because of that guy George."

And then everyone laughs because it's such an obvious "joke". So where is the humor in this and why it is something that will be repeated ad infinitum. And if you are the person who is the target of the "joke" what are some ways to react?
posted by jeremias to Human Relations (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just say "Guess I can't fool you!" and keep walking.
posted by bingo at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2006

Where I've been involved, it's never really in a mean way, it's more of an acknowledgement of the third person, to make them paranoid that they were being talked about, when obviously they weren't. I'm not the one who says it, I'm usually the 2nd person or the one being joked about. When people do it to me (and it is usually a negative thing) I just laugh it off and say something like, "Well, then my work here is done" and continue on my way.

In my experience, it's best to laugh with them, even if it does bother you, once someone finds out it DOES bother you, you'll never hear the end of it.

I have no idea why people feel the need to do that though.
posted by NoraCharles at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

My response: "Ha ha." You seem to be taking it personally though, which isn't the right response at all.
posted by smackfu at 11:57 AM on October 16, 2006

Give it back to them, stand your ground. If you can't handle the joking, call them out, right then and there. Ask them what you're doing wrong that is having such a terrible impact on the company. If one person is management type remind them that they've never had a problem with your work, or tell them that the managers have never had a problem with your work.

None of that "This joking makes me feel really bad" stuff. Just confront them plainly and make them defend the joke. People around them will get to hear the lame ideas they pour out about why the joke was told, and discover how stupid the joke is. Do it every single time, and don't just end with asking them to explain themselves. Be sure of yourself and be prepared to counter possible negative points they may bring up.

Note: None of this will work if you are in fact the reason the company is doing poorly, or if you can't remain on the offensive or defend yourself after you confront someone, even a superior. It also won't help if your place of work is so tightly knit that an outsider can be easily shunned or forced out, in that case if the joker has any power it would be easier to get rid of you.
posted by Science! at 12:01 PM on October 16, 2006

The joke is based on the "accident" of George walking by right at the second, not the incompetence of Georgre, though in the hands of a jerk, this joke is an easy dig at him.

My favorite version of that joke is to walk up to a group and act like they're talking about me. So if they're saying "Oh, she is such a bitch!" I can say "Ohmigod, hoes? hello? I'm standing right here?" hahaha.

If you get the sense that the person making the joke is doing so out of plain meanness, get 'em! Taking the high road works pretty well. Say "Wow, John, that was stupid and mean." Raise an eyebrow while they backpedal.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:04 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I choose one of two paths:

1. Ask directly, "John... I'm not sure what you mean?" Keep asking until they answer without joking or back down. This response is usually reserved for jerks because it requires them to explain the joke, which often the can't without realising that they are being a dick. Of course, if you can't take a joke then you'll be the dick. Choose wisely.

2. Respond with a joke answer, "John, remember sell everything by 4 pm tomorrow like we agreed [Touches nose twice with index finger]. I'll see you once I'm across the border."
posted by maxpower at 12:11 PM on October 16, 2006

I would return the favor by making a joke at the joker's expence. The person's reaction to your joke will be telling.
posted by oddman at 12:11 PM on October 16, 2006

Best answer: Most of the times I've seen this strategy used, it's been playful, perhaps even flirtatious. The underlying message is, "I've got nothing useful to say to you, but I'd like to have an interaction anyway." Depending on how busy/friendly/clever I'm feeling, I might respond with a wink, an "I heard that", or some mind-blowing zinger about the original commenter.

Of course, I'm the sort who only makes fun of people I honestly like, people who know I'm just kidding. I try to hang out with people who do the same. If there's any hint of mean-spiritedness behind the comment, I think Ambrosia's recommendation to be the mature one applies.
posted by vytae at 12:12 PM on October 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

I dont think its a good idea to make a mig deal out of this joke, or even come up with a good response. its one of those things that should die but wont. Its more of a desperate attempt to be social and/or funny in one of those generic office ways.

The best way to respond is to smill and chuckle in a pained forced way, and change the subject to the NFL or Pop Culture or babies dying in Africa or some other less painful conversation.

If you get constantly nailed by it, respond with a sharp "Ah the hallway comedian, well don't you ever do any real work?"
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:13 PM on October 16, 2006

"And how!"
posted by MarkAnd at 12:17 PM on October 16, 2006 [4 favorites]

He is supposed to make a lightly joking comment to acknowledge the speaker's friendly effort to welcome him into the conversation by giving him an easy opening line on which to do so.
posted by occhiblu at 12:19 PM on October 16, 2006 [4 favorites]

Most of the times I've seen this strategy used, it's been playful, perhaps even flirtatious. The underlying message is, "I've got nothing useful to say to you, but I'd like to have an interaction anyway." Depending on how busy/friendly/clever I'm feeling, I might respond with a wink, an "I heard that", or some mind-blowing zinger about the original commenter.

Agreed. Its most often a playful dig. A bit awkward but friendly. I think of it as the conversational equivalent of giving a light punch (among men) to some family member you like.

Respond back with a "zinger" if you like.

Or just respond to it exactly as you would respond to "Hey, George, how's it going?" Because thats what it is. They're asking in their own way to join the conversation.

(The answer by Science! baffles me)
posted by vacapinta at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2006

Best answer: My god, some of you people are socially clueless.

It's the equivilent of saying "Hey, George, stop and talk to us!"

The polite thing to do is to say, "I heard that!" and keep walking if you're busy, or drop by and chat, otherwise.
posted by empath at 12:24 PM on October 16, 2006 [5 favorites]

Can you tell us a bit more about the business culture where you work?

Without more info, this is one of those situations where a one-size-fits-all answer is just not appropriate. So much depends upon your personality, the personality of the "joker," the culture of the company, etc. If you're in a kind of high-testosterone "jock" business culture where all the guys were in fraternities, the sort of response where you say "wow, that was really rude and mean," would just make you look like a wimp. In such a culture, you have to respond in kind, with another (frat-boyish) joke and maybe put the joker in a headlock. If you're in a less hormone-driven business culture, the "make 'em feel guilty" gambit might work.

(Slight derail: I still remember the time, in seventh or eighth grade, when I was saying some very vicious things to another boy about a third boy, and the third boy walked by and seemed to overhear what I said, and I tried to recover by acting like I actually intended him to hear it and that it was a joke. I don't think I pulled it off. It was pretty awkward.)
posted by jayder at 12:25 PM on October 16, 2006

Echo occhiblu, vac & empath. It's just a way to acknowledge you or try to bring you in to the conversation. This sort of thing happens in my office all the time, and I've never taken offence when I've been the target. In fact, I usually see it as my entrance into the conversation.

But then, I know I'm awesome.

If you challenge someone on why they think it's funny or take offence or whatever, you'll be seen as a killjoy. This is standard office humour, and when in Rome....
posted by Salmonberry at 12:26 PM on October 16, 2006

This seems analagous to a very common joke at my last job. Whoever arrived last at a meeting, someone would say something like, 'We're agreed then? Just assign all 17 action items to Jeff? Meeting closed.' And Jeff would be lightly zinged for having been the last person in the room and the meeting would start.

It's a somewhat stupid, but otherwise not meant to be harmful or mean spirited. The most common response was none at all, or a normal walking into a meeting sort of greeting. Occasionally people would play along and ask for a due date for their tasks or somesuch.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:29 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yes, empath is completely right---if the joking isn't hostile. I'm not sure why I was assuming this was a bad thing; I guess I was assuming that the recipient (the poster of this question) found it to be unfunny and hostile. But, re-reading the question, it appears that may not be the case.
posted by jayder at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2006

I think Salmonberry is correct, but as I am a misanthropic type, I would just smile and say "kiss my ass".
No wonder I have to work at home now.
posted by Iron Rat at 12:35 PM on October 16, 2006

I completely agree with vacapinta and empath. The problem remains that it is an unfunny, awkward way of breaking the ice, and there is no particularly funny rejoinder -- nor is it clear that responding in a genuinely funny way is what's in order. In any event, taking offense is just about the worst and most inappropriate reaction possible.

If I am not disposed to tarry, I would say "I heard that!" or "Hey!" or shake my head or make a snorting noise that symbolizes appreciation or umbrage. If you need something more elaborate, say if you are joining the group, perhaps "Yeah, that other George guy is the pits" or "Elliot here [non-speaking person in the group] was just saying the same thing to me this morning about you."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:35 PM on October 16, 2006

Best answer: I consult with corporate types on communications, and I've noticed in meetings it's often how men initiate other men into the group -- almost a mini-rite-of-passage. They competitively rib one another, toss mild put-downs, and tease the new guy -- it's usually the alpha who starts and the others pile on. When a woman enters the meeting late, the men reflexively (and not hostile) try the same thing but the attempt is half-hearted, particularly since she usually does not acknowledge it, but makes a business comment or reference to derail the joke.

I've seen it happen often in the workplace, but also, if a guy comes late to the group hanging out at the bar, the first thing that happens, sometimes literally as he's approaching, is an acknowlegement of the latecomer via jokey criticism of clothes, work habits, weak drinking prowess, etc etc. Whether there's actual humor involved is besides the point -- you're supposed to be a good sport.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2006

I agree with people who have previously been agreed with.

I would see this as a sort of 'test': nobody (or at least these particular people) likes someone who can't take a joke, and they would certainly not make this joke if the target actually were the reason the company's going downhill. As with all sarcasm, it has to be opposite the truth, not just slightly far from it, to work. Anyway, the correct response is probably a strong acknowledgement of the dig in question (since, as stated, nobody but a complete jackass makes this kind of joke if the malignment in question is anything but patently false)

e.g. "I heard 0xFCAF's buggy code is why the stock dropped 5% last week"
Me: "Well, someone has to do the corporate sabotage around here."
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:09 PM on October 16, 2006

Occhiblu has it. This is almost certainly a friendly gesture. If you're not comfortable joking back (and it sounds like you are very much not), then just smile or let out a "pshaw", smile and shake your head, and walk on. But be sure to smile, since you want to return the friendliness.

I do not think that it's unfunny or awkward. This depends on context, and sarcastic/fake hostility can be a bit of lighthearted fun. Don't you ever say something negative to someone while meaning the opposite? Like, after a great film you say something like "wow, that did not blow my mind at all!" This is the same kind of saying-something-you-don't-mean. It could mean the opposite of what they've said, or could mean nothing in and of itself.

Two pieces of advice. 1) assume people have a positive attitude toward you, and respond accordingly. 2) be confident in your own abilities and worth. It takes work to change patterns of interpretation, but it is very very worth it, and believing both 1 and 2 will make them more and more true over time. Oh, and smile at people and say "hello" when you pass them at work, and talk about their weekend/lives rather than mantaining silence. Those things build goodwill and you might get into interesting conversation. You want to send the message that you know people like you, that you know you're wortwhile, and also that you are interested in and like the people around you.
posted by lorrer at 1:34 PM on October 16, 2006

Yep, you're supposed to reply with an equally absurd joke. Maxpower's and 0xFCAF's examples are spot on. I like "And I would gotten away for it too if it wasn't for my meddling coworkers!"

It's just normal conversation, but it can also be used to see if you're "in" with the easy-going business culture.
posted by ontic at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2006

er, "And I would gotten away with it too if it wasn't for my meddling coworkers!"
posted by ontic at 1:48 PM on October 16, 2006

Most probably friendly.

Understand that and acknowledge accordingly within the context of your own personality. A rehearsed "zinger" will appear rehearsed and is not what's required here.

Me. Personally. I'd just grin and say something like "yeah - that seanyboy. what an idiot."
Or I'd just grin and say hello.
Or I'd say "I hope you're not talking about me." in an obviously pretend shocked sort of way.
posted by seanyboy at 1:53 PM on October 16, 2006

I'd also say that you can't look at it as a lame joke. It's friendly banter and doesn't need to be judged as a carefully constructed, hilarious and original piece of stand up comedy.
posted by seanyboy at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2006

Yeah, just play along. You can join in as though they were talking about someone else. "Yeah, that guy is the worst!" Or you can give a cartoon reaction of shock, surprise, indignance, or "who, me??" Then wink or smile or something.
posted by salvia at 1:57 PM on October 16, 2006

Best answer: I believe the correct response to that would be: "Oh yeah? Well I had sex with your wife!"
posted by exit at 2:33 PM on October 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Definitely nothing to worry about; if you are, you're way too thin-skinned. After all, if they were really being hostile, they'd shut up when you walked by then talk sotto voice. And it wouldn't be over the top stuff like you're running the company into the ground (unless you're the CEO, I suppose).

I've worked in places where that manner is used practically everytime someone says hello in the hallway. For example, you walk by and the person who isn't talking says in a loud shocked voice, "Stop saying those terrible things about jeremias!" Or, one person shushes all the others and then says, "Oh, Hiiiii!!" in a really fakey voice, pretending that they were talking about you. You get the picture. They're basically inviting you into their group. To fit in, give them shit back.
posted by sfkiddo at 3:07 PM on October 16, 2006

I think exit's on to something here. I can't imagine how anything could possibly go wrong with using that comeback. It would be twice as appropriate if you used it when your boss tries to start some small talk about the weather. Or football.
posted by Yeomans at 3:11 PM on October 16, 2006

I mean, exit's onto something.

Bad HTML tags! Bad!
posted by Yeomans at 3:13 PM on October 16, 2006

"Yeah, the whole reason this company is going downhill is because of that guy George."

george - "did i tell you that i may be getting promoted soon?"

problem solved
posted by pyramid termite at 4:04 PM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. I should perhaps have pointed out that I don't take this behavior personally, nor do I have a thin skin. I was simply interested in a observing human nature sort of way.

exit's response scored the highest on the lol-meter.
posted by jeremias at 7:58 PM on October 16, 2006

"Oh yeah? Well the jerk store just called, and they're all outta you!"

Sorry, I just couldn't resist (from the same Seinfeld episode that exit got his answer, if I recall). Anyway, the only response I've ever heard to similar things as this (and never heard it said in a mean way, myself) is "That's right, and I'm taking you all with me!" or some similar witty retort.
posted by antifuse at 3:21 AM on October 17, 2006

Sadly, all my best responses would possibly be construed as 'sexual harassment' in today's climate.

Now excuse me, I have to finish this flint axe I'm chipping at.
posted by Goofyy at 5:58 AM on October 17, 2006

Please, don't put down the guy's wife (or husband) unless you are absolutely sure that they won't take it badly. Some people have absolutely no sense of humor about that sort of thing.,
posted by oddman at 10:11 PM on October 17, 2006

« Older A lot like this, but open source   |   Locate a geometric coloring book ? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.