Are you not entertained?
June 23, 2008 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Is it time to give up my humor?

I have a special brand of humor that's probably mostly sarcasm and hyperbole, but which I think may be a little grating to some. Since it's tough to produce it on demand, I will explain the event that led to this problem.

Yesterday I bought some muffins for breakfast, intending to eat some of them the next day. I set them on my desk, and today they've been eaten. This is (mostly) fine, eating of food openly displayed is a common thing at my work, though I wouldn't have assumed perishables to be fair game without being mentioned. So, I was running through what I could possibly say to hint at my displeasure when someone eventually fesses up: "Oh that's alright, I wasn't really looking forward to breakfast this morning anyways" or "Darn, I'll just have to get another paperweight" [I know these aren't exactly witty gems]. In this case, I think of these as funny things to say that hide the withering shame I hope they feel for taking my breakfast away.

I guess the thing is, if I were talking about something non-perishable, like say goldfish crackers, I might use the same lines, not intending the withering shame. For a similar example, a coworker had been holding my hat at home, until I could pick it up. When someone pointed out my hat had been there for months (while at his house), I said, "Yeah, Bob and I just could never find a time to meet up". No shame intended, because I myself had forgotten to pick it up while there, numerous times.

Here's the part where you forget the whole analogy I presented above ("I think you should stop obsessing about the muffin"), and help me out with the real question: is my humor counterproductive? Am I really hurting these people with my sarcasm?

I think I'd like to be more easygoing, ignoring small slights and insulting turns of phrase because I'm confident of my own work ethic, ideas, and performance. Right now I often take offense, and it makes me more likely to bite back (with words). Should I avoid this kind of humor whenever people are involved? Friends? Friends who are present? Should I just learn how to wink conspicuously?
posted by gensubuser to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand - are you afraid of hurting the feelings of the person who took the muffin off your desk? If so, then (a) I wouldn't stress over it, the jerk took your breakfast, and (b) I don't think either of your potential remarks are the least bit biting. In fact, they sort of make you seem like a pushover. If you really want to get your point across, you should probably say something more along the lines of, "Hey, how about next time you ask before you take something off of my desk?" It's a bit more direct.

As for the hat anecdote, I just don't get that one. Was your remark meant to be sarcastic? And why can't Bob just bring your hat to you at work?

It doesn't sound like you are as bitingly sarcastic as you think you are. I wouldn't sweat it. I doubt you're hurting anyone's feelings.
posted by amro at 7:30 AM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's difficult to make a good joke about something when you're still pissed off. I try to ask myself whether I'm cracking a joke to make other people laugh or to keep myself from getting more explicitly angry. Even though a smartass comment may be a better response than a truly confrontational one, it's still better to skip it if you can.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:32 AM on June 23, 2008

I think of these as funny things to say that hide the withering shame I hope they feel

If you're using humor to hide aggression sometimes and to make funny jokes other times, you will wind up sending a mixed message "Oh gensubuser made a joke when I asked them if they're done with the project, was I just insulted or are they being funny...?" As soon as people detect that at least sometimes you are really trying to make someone feel bad, your humor will have a tinge [if not more] of malice in it which makes it, to some people, very unfunny.

So, it's up to you. My personal feeling is that if you've got a problem with something, it's best to not mask it with another emotion or presentation because you may be misunderstood or, more to the point, not understood at all. I don't mean to say "stob obsessing about the muffin" because I get your example pretty well, but I think the meta story you are telling is that you aren't quite sure how you are being interpreted and that concerns you. In this case, I'd say that sarcasm/hyperbole may not work to your advantage.

I'm a little sensitive to people replying to my sincere communications with sarcasm, especially clearly biting sarcasm, but I've also been known to send out the witty [to me, I am hilarious, to others, who knows?] rejoinder but I'm pretty horrified when I find that I've hurt someone's feelings by accident. So, for me the solution is being a lot more careful when I'm making wisecracks. My good friends know how to read me, the random person at work may not and I think in those cases it's better to play things a bit more straight.
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 AM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

You need to distinguish between your style of humour (sarcasm and hyperbole) and the context in which you use it (passive-aggression). You're not being funny - the purpose of humour is to share laughter. You're not sharing the funny, you're just avoiding conflict by cloaking your objections to people's behaviour in mild wit. I'd guess that if anyone has an emotional response to this, they're much more likely to be annoyed than hurt.

So yeah, you should either be more easygoing or you should learn how to voice your objections without resorting to this kind of passive-aggression. Use humour when you want to make people laugh. Use straight-forwardness when you want to let people know about things that annoy you.

Don't wink - that'll just creep people out.

On preview, pretty much what jessamyn said.
posted by xchmp at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agree with 23skidoo- sarcasm is mean, counterproductive and a crutch. I find that it tends to raise the "stakes" in a conversation or environment, and that is exhausting. It works sparingly in spoken language, and is almost impossible to get right in written communications. There are situations where it's Pure Comedy Gold, but those situations are rare.

Work on wit and wisdom.

(And on labeling food- "Don't eat" and "share and enjoy" for example.)
posted by gjc at 7:43 AM on June 23, 2008

Take out the word humor. It's not so much about the funny, as the barely hidden aggressiveness and frustration that with time will will probably be seen as either annoying or disconcerting. It sounds like you have feelings that would be better expressed directly, (I'm angry, or disappointed at person X) but you instead say them sarcastically, which actually makes people take it less seriously (Yeah, that person X, he's a real winner, that guy, I should get him a mug with Person of The Year on it, haha, haha, h...a?)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:47 AM on June 23, 2008

You're not being funny, you're being passive-aggressive. Which is obnoxious.
posted by xmutex at 7:49 AM on June 23, 2008 [10 favorites]

I really dislike people who do this. If you have something nice to say, say it, if you have something funny to say, then say it, if you are angry about something, then say it straight up, but this half of everything just hints of insecurity and grates.

Sarcasm and Irony are really the weakest form of humour. They are not witty in the least, and in your examples, not even funny. You make people feel bad about themselves, do not entertain them in the bit, and gain nothing from the interaction.

If you have something nice to say, say it, else close your mouth. People like you a lot more that way.
posted by ChabonJabon at 8:08 AM on June 23, 2008

is my humor counterproductive?

That really depends, and I say that as someone who is known for being a smartass. If your point was stop people from taking crap off your desk, then it might have done the job. However, since it's work, then you might have pissed off someone you have to work with and suddenly, they may not be so easy to work with.

So which is more important to you?

Am I really hurting these people with my sarcasm?

Some people are overly sensitive and you can't please everyone. Other people don't understand anything but a bit of force, for whatever reason. I think you need to figure how individual people handle it and adjust your approach to them on that basis.

Think of sarcasm as a rich dessert. It's good, but you wouldn't want it everyday.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on June 23, 2008

gensubuser: In this case, I think of these as funny things to say that hide the withering shame I hope they feel for taking my breakfast away.

It's interesting to me that you bring up "shame" several times in your question. That says to me that your sarcasm is born of some hostility you're feeling, and is a means of hiding that rather than someone else's perceived/desired shame.

Your anger, like the muffins, should have a limited shelf life. Next time someone fesses up, show a bit more grace and skip the sarcasm. Then, a few days later, when they least expect it, feel free to give a little jab if the opportunity presents itself- any feelings about the actual incident will have subsided by the time you pretend like you're stealing the guy's lunch from the microwave.
posted by mkultra at 8:44 AM on June 23, 2008

Humor is a good way to create comfort between people -- I think everyone understands that, especially in a work environment where stress levels are high and interactions are usually short and to the point. It's welcome to joke here and there to put a little humanity in the workplace. No one is going to be hurt by a little humor, as long as you aren't talking about a person behind their back. So I wouldn't look at it in terms of hurting or not hurting people, but in terms of either creating difficulties or creating ease.

Before you say a joke, like the muffin joke, ask yourself if there's anything you want to actually communicate with it. Because if there is, then it's much easier to just communicate that, i.e. put a note on the muffins next time saying hey, these are mine. There's nothing wrong with laying claim to muffins that you bought. Maybe someone might make fun of you for it, but who cares? It's better to be on the receiving end of that.

If you start making ambiguous comments about it, people will only get confused. Some people may feel bad and then get the idea that you need them to apologize, and then you might have some drama that you never wanted. Or, they may not care what you think, and continue eating your muffins because you didn't ask them not to. People tend to interpret ambiguous statements from others in terms of their own personality.

So no, you don't have to give up "your" humor, you probably have a very charming style of humor which is perfectly harmless, just make it purposeful. Try and accomplish something with it, namely, relieving tension. Otherwise you may be creating confusion and making interactions more difficult.
posted by Laugh_track at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2008

I think you're asking everyone how to make you more effectively passive-aggressive.

I think you should probably stop choosing what to say based on how you want others to feel 'guilty'.

It's manipulative and pretty dickish. In the muffin example, "Hey guys, I was gonna eat those today, too!" would be enough to make them think twice before making an assumption next time.
posted by rokusan at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2008

I think you're asking everyone how to make you more effectively passive-aggressive.


You're not phrasing your remarks as "jokes" in the sense that they're amusing people to the point of laughter. These are not jokes for the benefit of the listener. They're meant for your benefit, so that you can avoid directly expressing your aggression. Your perspective also appears to be a bit out of proportion - how would your muffin remarks engender "withering shame," and why would that be your desired effect? Wouldn't it be easier to simply say "hey, those were my muffins" if you catch a thief red-handed, and then, after they've said "sorry, didn't realize," you can crack a joke after you've expressed yourself to show there are no hard feelings?

As it stands, your jokes aren't going to produce much of an effect except getting in the way of you expressing your anger. Those to whom you are making jokes are going to be more befuddled and irritated by the passive-aggression than anything else. You're just going to get annoyed at their continued lack of suitable mollification, and then the cycle will keep on spinning. Direct communication would allow those around you to understand what they've done to annoy you and give them some space to apologize and then be done with it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2008

I suggest you try to become more aware of your efforts at humor and your actual state of mind when you attempt it. It may be, as some have suggested, an expression of anger or resentment. Or it may simply be a bad habit you've fallen into. In either case, more awareness will help you to examine your behavior and what, if anything, you wish to do about it.
posted by SPrintF at 1:15 PM on June 23, 2008

Sarcasm just does not do a good job of communicating. People aren't sure what to take seriously and what not to take seriously. For example, here's an instance where sarcasm muddles communication:

"Darn, I'll just have to get another paperweight"

The "darn" sounds especially sarcastic, so I read it to mean its opposite, "phew." Then, by the "paperweight" comment, I'm a bit confused, but since we're in the context of "phew," I'd imagine that maybe you'd forgotten your muffin, recognized that after being there for 8 hours it was hard as a rock, and feeling sheepish about that, you were thanking me for removing it from your desk.

Plus, the whole interaction gets overshadowed by the slimy feeling of "we're not saying what we mean," so to me, it feels icky.
posted by salvia at 7:45 PM on June 23, 2008

« Older New England & American Studies Programs - Help...   |   The ultimate self-discipline is not peaking at the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.