Is it possible to have silly and humorous interactions with people without coming across as stupid?
December 3, 2007 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Is there something I can do to gradually increase my comfort with being "silly/fun" while making sure that I don't put people off?

Here's a dilemma I have. I often see some people who trade private jokes, say funny/crazy things in each other's presence, make silly movements, or sing along something to each other.

Now, when I see them being "silly", I get jealous because I can't get to that level in my social interactions. Many years ago in high school and early years of college, the people I hung out with thought that my attempts at being silly, such as jokes, gestures, or maybe tunes that I would sing for a few seconds, were dumb. They said that much and in retrospect I think they were right.

Of course, to avoid being a socially awkward lamer, I deliberately cut out the silly, impromptu sayings/gestures out of my communications in most cases. I switched to deliberate, clear communication. I think my goal has been to command respect and I have for that reason learned to dress and speak conservatively. (I also rarely drink, but my dislike of alcohol is a whole matter onto itself.)

I do have positive memories of having well thought-out comments in conversations, but I think I am missing out on the fun of being a silly person. I think that it would be great to have fun and be loose. However, obviously enough, I am pretty sure that this is something that I can't permit myself because I don't have the skills for it. I certainly don't want to let my attempts humor make people look me at as an empty-headed moron.

Now, is there something I can do to gradually increase my comfort with being "silly/fun" while making sure that I don't put people off?
posted by gregb1007 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like you need to loosen up again; improv class might be a good start.
posted by carrienation at 2:29 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wanna trade? I'm often way too silly at times, and have been called on it by many friends and family members. I have to struggle to not make jokes or irrevrent comments.

But to help you out, try finding a good friend and explaining to them you want to be more loose and a bit silly. Ask them not to judge, and then let go. Failing that, find someone who is silly, hang out with them and enjoy yourself. Those of us who are silly by nature find comfort in people we can honestly be big old dorks around and not be judged. Be that person and we'll let you be as silly as you let us. Regardless of how stupid you feel, most of us are just enjoying not having to be on guard and unsilly.

So put your cheese on your head and go forth. ;)
posted by teleri025 at 2:33 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now, is there something I can do to gradually increase my comfort with being "silly/fun" while making sure that I don't put people off?

To do this properly, you need to develop your own style -- an idiosyncrasy that fits you and doesn't feel forced. Maybe start with a slight, humorous variation on something you already do or say?

At any rate, I'm a "silly/fun" person, and I definitely get the "empty-headed moron" reaction from time to time. I can remember a few times when people were mean about it, even. On the plus side, nothing beats the satisfaction of intellectually crushing someone who mistook the book for its cover, so to speak... and in my experience, 99% of people will never dare say anything to your face, so don't spend all your time worrying about getting shot down.
posted by vorfeed at 2:37 PM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Silliness is a good personality seasoning, but no one wants to eat a whole bowl of the stuff. I think these things seem dumb when someone always does them. But coming from a usually serious person, the same silly behavior might seem hilarious. Your serious personality is your secret weapon! Vogue your way to that copy machine. Then sit down and get back to work.
posted by textilephile at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

How about some activity where the point is to make low-stakes jokes? I love to get friends together to watch a very cheesey science fiction movie and make fun of it. It's nice because the framework is: everyone recognizes we're here to make fun of this movie, nobody's feelings will be hurt (we're not making fun of something that someone really likes), and if you make a joke that falls flat, the movie is still running so people will quickly forget (it's low stakes).

There are a number of threads around here tagged "jokes", which have some fun short jokes you could start with. Maybe you could have one new joke each day, to tell to a couple of friends. Soon they'll start asking for your joke of the day.

I think the key is not to put pressure on yourself to suddenly switch over to full-force silliness -- that would seem really forced and strange. Everyone knows you as Mr Serious, and they will probably be delighted when you show them a little hint of your funny side -- remaining Mr. Serious for the most part, but just letting this other side show a little. Give yourself some opportunities to try out a silly or jokey line or two, and see how you can fit it naturally with your personality. Small steps.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on December 3, 2007

Like anything it takes practice. Hey, maybe Steve Martin's new book would help?
posted by trinity8-director at 2:41 PM on December 3, 2007

The thing about practicing is that there is an implicit understanding that you will mess up. You need to be OK with that and all that goes with it.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:42 PM on December 3, 2007

Also, the key to loosening up is exactly what you've identified. You stopped being silly in the first place because people thought your silly actions were "dumb"... but some people will think that today, too. Loosening up a little means not caring (too much) what they think. Even if people think something is a bit dumb, they may not be seriously put off by it. The world will keep spinning even if someone thinks your joke isn't very funny.

I think it would only be really off-putting if it was: offensive jokes, or silly all the time, or if your motivation were obviously "hey look at me and how silly I am". Otherwise, some people will like it, some people will think it's a bit dumb, and mostly they will still like you regardless.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:47 PM on December 3, 2007

A big part of this is going to be determining your level of willingness when it comes to being made fun of or seen as odd, even in a friendly way.

First off, don't try to get into other people's in-jokes unless you are there at the inception or someone invites you in by way of explanation.

Better to just start your own. I wouldn't call myself silly, but people seem to treat me as someone who is a bit off base. Recently I completely undermined a coworkers ability to think by passing them quickly in a hallway and under my breath, just loud enough for them to hear saying 'vroom'.

Another entertaining way of derailing a conversation is to let people speak in your presence, without saying a word. Just keep on reading, or typing, or whatever. Then when you hear someone ask a question, stand up and incredulously misstate the question back to them:

Them: "You see the game, Bob?"

You: "Did you just ask if Bob has mange?"

I do have positive memories of having well thought-out comments in conversations,

While this is awesome, it's also not silly/ fun. It's creative and clever, which is good, but I find that silly/ fun tends to be much more spontaneous and acted on with less forethought.

For example, walk up to your co-workers cube. Make it clear that you are sneaking in a way that they can see you approaching. Get next to their desk, look around surreptitiously and whisper under your breath, "shhh, zombies." and then sneak off.

(My coworker got me with that a couple of weeks ago. I liked it.)

Basically, just be willing to look like a goof, and enjoy it.

[on preview: textilephile : Silliness is a good personality seasoning, but no one wants to eat a whole bowl of the stuff.]

[I like that.]

posted by quin at 2:52 PM on December 3, 2007

LobsterMitten had it right in his first comment: you're known as Mr. Serious, so take advantage of that fact.

I say, stick with the serious approach. Don't go for silly, at all. Instead, inject well-thought-out one-liners into your conversation at the right moment. You'll get a lot of mileage out of this technique, because nothing is more humorous than a one-liner delivered with a straight face.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a little tough because making an effort to be silly will likely seem forced, and then that's just uncomfortable to watch. If you stopped being silly because of what friends thought of you, I would say that the issue is not being unable to be silly (since you already were at one point), but caring so much if people think this that you change who you are.

If what people think continues to be an issue for you, then any attempts at silliness will be short-lived. If you've gotten to a point where it doesn't bother you much anymore, then I would suggest starting off with very close friends or relatives. You could even tell them beforehand that you are trying to loosen up -- people who know you and care about you will likely understand. If you find yourself suppressing something because it's silly, and you are with these select people, make a conscious effort to un-suppress. Hopefully in time it will start to be so natural that you won't need to think about it, and it will extend to wider circles of people.

I'd just warn against doing so in touchy or serious circumstances -- in my experience, very few people have the gift of knowing when a joke or silliness will lighten a heavy mood! Most of us mess it up, and get weird looks.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:59 PM on December 3, 2007

Some people think any silly is stupid. You can't do anything about these people, nor any other people. Just be the person you want to be. Become who you are, as someone once told me.

That said, you should stay away from Simpsons/Seinfeld/Family Guy quotes as well as not being facetious is doing your funny bits with a fake voice. "This is me doing a silly butler line with an accent," "this is me being fake authoritarian!" Stuff like that, if it makes any sense.
posted by rhizome at 3:03 PM on December 3, 2007

Having children is what worked for me. Small children just love it when you are silly - you really can't miss. That gives you a chance to get comfortable with your silly side and loosen up with almost no risk.
posted by metahawk at 3:20 PM on December 3, 2007

I can be incredibly silly and fun.

But the key is it has to be with people who KNOW ME WELL. It's a matter of timing-as in, there's a time and a place-and I have to know my audience, as in I know who appreciates my cockeyed sense of humor and who does NOT.

Just being randomly silly in a room where no one else really knows me well and/or no one else is being silly usually falls as flat as a cartoon anvil.
posted by konolia at 3:26 PM on December 3, 2007

Part of being silly IS being dumb. Sometimes I find whatever silliness I just did even more hilarious when I'm met with blank stares or annoyance...and I've got some stock rejoinders for cases when that happens. Usually those go over well when the original silliness doesn't. When that happens, there's a third little joke that goes on in my head. And that is knowing that I had to resort to my stock Joke for the Joyless rejoinder just to get a laugh. Basically, joke is on them for being uptight. I am hilarious.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:49 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now, is there something I can do to gradually increase my comfort with being "silly/fun" while making sure that I don't put people off?

Private room karaoke.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:54 PM on December 3, 2007

Maybe don't aim for "silly" right away; go for "witty" instead. That's a lot more in line with a highbrow serious demeanor. Incisive snark is a hallmark of intellectual wit and is even funnier than putting pancakes on your head.

After you feel comfortable as a snarkmeister you can consider branching out into other forms of humor. Or not.
posted by Quietgal at 4:07 PM on December 3, 2007

This is a pretty interesting question. I'm usually that type of irreverent "silly" person you're describing, and this question is making me really think about the mechanics of it.

I think it would be hard to suddenly start acting like this with your current group of friends who have always seen you as The Serious Guy. I think finding a different group of friends and consciously trying to act a little less serious, without trying to make a sea change from your current personality, would be much easier while you're working on your er, bantering skills, I guess you could call them?

I think some of these ideas, like telling "jokes of the day" or saying weird, irreverent things to people that you already talk to would come off as really strange and forced if you don't usually act that way. These things seem like they would be an act, which wouldn't really help you relax and loosen up. I would start with some drier humor, sarcastic comments, etc. Much easier to pull off.
posted by I like to eat meat at 4:17 PM on December 3, 2007

Snark is so common...even the good, witty kind. You can be snarky anywhere, to anybody, anytime. What I would give to see somebody put pancakes on their head though!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:23 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am incredibly silly a lot of the time, and I'm sure it has a negative effect on how some people perceive me. But not the people I love and the people who love me, and that's all I try to care about.

You can start by dancing whenever you hear music you want to dance to. Not whenever, whenever, obviously (although toe-tapping music tends to be noticeably absent at funerals). But in shopping malls, out on the street, and especially at bars or clubs where dancing should be acceptable anyway, these are all wonderful times to tap into your inner child.

And that's what this should be about. Ultimately, being silly relys on having the serious set up engage in deep, broad, and important relationships with people, people you like hanging out with, and then you get to act silly with them! It's about your inner child letting go just a bit.

I'd second Improv, too. It's a free license to be silly.

You are also allowed to be silly with KITTENS and PUPPY-WUPPIES. Here's the key: you can pretty much be as outrageous as you want in front of strangers if they have a cute puppy or a cute kitten in plain view. However, apparently stranger's human babies are OFF LIMITS for silliness.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:54 PM on December 3, 2007

Maybe don't aim for "silly" right away; go for "witty" instead.

In my mind the difference between "silly" and "witty" is that someone is generally being made fun of. This isn't always the case; some of Oscar Wilde's works are really witty but largely harmless. On the other hand, a lot of wit gets so cerebral that it almost isn't fun anymore.

The quote that comes to my mind is "happiness and vanity are incompatible" (from Dangerous Liasons, saw the movie; didn't read the book). Something to keep in mind, perhaps.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:01 PM on December 3, 2007

Here's a dilemma I have. I often see some people who trade private jokes, say funny/crazy things in each other's presence, make silly movements, or sing along something to each other.

OK, bear with me. When I read the above, I think that what this person actually actually lacks are close relationships. People who would qualify as private-joke recipients. I say this because I often find myself in situations, in a group of people, when I say something that is clearly funny or characteristically odd or whatever, and I get a lot of blank stares. And then I realize that I don't hang out with these people enough for them to get it, because they really don't get me.

But then I read your question again and you do seem to be saying that you haven't even tried to be funny since you were much younger. And I get that. But if you hung out with any group of people enough, you would develop funny stories/anecdotes just by being there. You'd have memories of things that you or others did or said that were hilarious, and you could whip out one of those phrases and everybody would recall the hilarious memory, and voila, there's your private joke delivery. Again, I find myself in groups where these people can laugh all day about stuff that happened that I don't find funny (and can't participate in) because I wasn't there. So I stand by my reasoning that that's part of it. The easiest way to be funny is to spend a lot of time with the people you want to be funny around, because funny things just happen, and you can rehash them again and again as brilliant in-joke references.

Also, if you want to try to be funny "in public," you need to throw out your humility. You have to be willing to accept the blank stares at first, but keep at it, because after a few deliveries you'll be funny. Do something once and someone might in fact think it's stupid. Do it again (slightly differently; not the same exact words/phrase/etc) and you'll develop your own "quirk" that people will think is funny. There are a million examples but I can only think of one stupid one: in the movie "Can't Hardly Wait" when the geek gets up on stage and sings "Paradise City," initially the crowd boos him, but as he keeps doing it in his own style, the crowd turns around and ends up loving him. Keep at it, keep your head up, and show these people that this is who you are and they can't hurt you, and you'll win. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:57 PM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think I got the same thing from this question as iguanapolitico. The first thing I thought was that to make/have "in-jokes" you have to be in the position to make them, i.e., "in." I don't know what to tell you to do about this, other than what iguana said above - if you hang out with the people to whom you wish to appear funny, and those people are your friends, you will eventually amass lots of funny in-jokes.

Other tips for being funny - watch comedians that you think are funny. If you can't think of any one right now, just watch a bunch. Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard (particularly his shows "Glorious" and "Dress to Kill"), Jim Gaffigan, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Lynch. . . just watch some funny people, and that may build your understanding of what is funny.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:28 PM on December 3, 2007

I have one answer to your question. I will deliver it in two forms, but they are the same.

1. VIDEO - Immediately go watch the video for Blind Melon's 1993 hit No Rain. No shortcuts. You half remember but need to see it fresh. Watch it start to finish and focus on Bee Girl's situation. You are Bee Girl and you have lost your way en route to your destination. Get up and go find your people. When you find them you can fly your Freak Flag and smile.

2. TEXT - I think DrGirlfriend has it the most right above. The issue here is about being yourself, not about better humor technique. That is a surface issue and is a distraction. Being silly, being fun, sharing jokes, singing - - these are expressions of the joy of living. Do not let people suppress this part of you through their judgements.

If you are with people who think these parts of you are dumb, you are with the wrong people. I know that sounds like some trite thing Mom would say to you but Mom was right. You will know your people when they appreciate your natural expressions of self. You may not want to alienate the people you've got, but people who don't accept you are something less than ideal for you.

If you are just trying to get attention, well that can indeed come across badly. But when you feel like singing, you need to sing. When you feel silly, be silly. You could be missing out on your people right now because you're not showing your true self. They can't find you!

It sounds to me like you had some good ol' formative trauma in your formative years, even if it was minor. This kind of peer rejection can scar people, and you can see that it has shaped your life since then in a way you don't like. A similar thing happened to me around then for other reasons and I'm still trying to undo it. It has been a lot of unnecessary damage and self-withdrawal and suppression. One thing we both need to realize is that this input came from other imperfect people in their own formative years. We don't live in adolescent cliques anymore. Don't let teenagers determine your adult life or your self worth. Think back to the conscious decision you made to change yourself, look at where it has led you, and reevaluate whether you should continue sticking to it.

While we do need to grow and mature, sometimes actively and with intention, that must be balanced against Living Out Loud and taking what comes with that even when it's rejection from some people. Have to be very careful not to reject the inner you or mark yourself as unworthy. The natural you is going to elicit some eye rolling from some of the people on the planet. Let them roll and continue to accept yourself. Hey... we're veering into Buddhist territory here - be aware and accept the now and have compassion for yourself.

I order you to do a silly dance right now.

posted by kookoobirdz at 7:53 PM on December 3, 2007

What is also important is your audience. My silliness might be good for some, but totally not good for others. In fact, I haven't shown my "silly" side for years now, because I haven't had the right audience (and it is making me silly!)

We are all silly in our own way. In our own NATURAL way - I could tell you what works for me, but it is of no use if it is not your style.

If anything, first try to figure out what kind of silly ARE you? Not what you would like to be, but what you really are - perhaps the singing, silly movements, inside jokes are funny to some, but are they honestly funny to you? It's OK if they are and it is OK if they aren't!

But back to what kind of silly are you? are you:
- potty mouth/dirty silly
- prankster silly
- tom green stuntman silly
- witty/play-on-words/punny silly
- deadpan silly (as mentioned above)
- self-depricating silly
- sarcastic silly
- wannabe gigolo/girl-crazy/boy-crazy silly
- high on caffeine/speedy gonzalez/panic attack silly

Good luck, you silly willy!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:02 PM on December 3, 2007

You can be silly and still be respected but it's tough. If you get too silly too often people will think you are joking when you are serious. People who act silly are absolutely compelled to do so regardless of the consequences. Maybe you are one of those people but just understand that you do so at the expense of the respect you have so carefully cultivated. Learn to pick your spots and your company. Not drinking will be a plus.
posted by any major dude at 10:48 PM on December 3, 2007

From my own experience: try your hand at irony. Keep it "real" to start with and then move it into surreal if you can or want to be silly.

That will play to your 'serious' side and will help you control the flow.

Don't over do it. Better to say a little and have people around you listen and laugh a lot than say a lot and have no-one listen after a while.

Don't hurt people with irony or sarcasm and be prepared that someone will respond to your irony with the same.

Your one-liners or ironies could be the future inside jokes. Wouldn't that be good?
posted by Parsnip at 1:13 AM on December 4, 2007

Okay, (this coming from former standup comic and comedy writer) what you need is humor that fits into your style. Let's face it ... not everyone can pull off being silly, just the same way that not everyone can dunk a basketball or sing opera. Sounds like you need a way to turn your current 'serious' persona slightly askew. I would suggest studying the workk of John Hodgman on the Daily Show for a perfect example of faux seriousness. (For extra credit, check out NBC anchor Brian Williams' appearance on the same show) Imagine your friends' reaction when they try to wrap their brains around absurd words coming from your serious countenance. Just remember ... straight face ... straight face ... straight face ...
posted by lpsguy at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2007

In my experience, these things always turn out to develop with mates (and also with friends/aquaintances). The silly word / catchphrase / move / bit of a tune seems often to come from a comical situation that you both (or your group) had together. Example: I was watching "Invader Zim"s christmas episode with Dan recently and now Dan only needs to start and we both fondly go into "Bow Down/ Bow Down / Before the power of Santa / or be crushed / be crushed/ By ... his jolly boots of doom".
I hope that makes sense to anybody apart from me...
posted by yoHighness at 3:02 PM on December 5, 2007

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