Bringing humor to the law office can make bad days livable and good days great. Humor is a life-giving oasis in the often sweltering desert of work. Being considered the funny person in the office can help you get ahead, or help you keep your job in tough times. But, as in all work-related activities, keep in mind that your work relationships are rooted in business concerns first (translation: making money), and everything else, including your fabulous sense of humor, is secondary.
What’s Out of Bounds?
Every playing field has boundaries—if it didn’t, chaos would ensue. When bringing humor to work, know the boundaries. While it certainly is safe to simply avoid certain topics altogether, the obvious ones being humor based on sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, politics, or religion, that pretty much cuts your humor off from a large portion of life itself. The key to avoiding offending people with humor that relates to these topics is to always ask yourself, before you open your mouth, “Who is the butt of this joke?” If it’s you, you’re probably okay, particularly if you are white, and even better if you are also male and straight. There are a few guys out there who might say, “as a white male, I find that joke offensive.” But honestly, guys like that are already a joke. If you have one in your office, avoid him whenever possible. If he’s your boss, start polishing your resume. Likewise for anyone that says anything that means, “Stop having fun—that’s unprofessional.” With co-workers who become your friends, you’ll get to know them well enough to be able to reveal your more edgy humor without fear of offending them. Again, if you are making fun of yourself, or people who fit into your demographic, you’re probably okay.
Running Jokes (Into the Ground)
Often, the simplest objects in the office can spark ideas that blossom into long-running jokes. Chris, whose desk is near mine, put a few bobble-head dolls on his desk; one of them was former basketball player Randy Foye. Another co-worker decided that Mr. Foye should be the victim of a kidnapping. (Chris, if you are reading this, I don’t know who it was—really.) This has led to weeks of fun, with ransom notes, “Have You Seen Randy” posters, proof-of-life photos, suspect lists, and endless rounds of funny discussions about what might happen next—all because Chris needed something to put on his shelf.
Being a good sport (like Chris has displayed) is a big part of cultivating office humor. I recently volunteered to be a Safety Officer on my floor. I distribute emergency preparedness information, and in a fire or other emergency I make sure the floor is evacuated, direct people to the assembly area, look after people with difficulty climbing stairs, and so on. Serving in this role, plus the fact that I get an orange vest, hard hat, and radio, has made me the object of lots of good-natured ribbing. I just smile and point out the radio is so cool, it’s well worth wearing the dorky vest. Plus, if the building collapses, the top of my head will be recovered intact. In other words, play along with the humor of others, even if they are not nearly as hilarious as you.
The Class Clown, Triumphant
Recently a group of us spent an afternoon volunteering at a local food shelf. One of my co-workers walked over to me and said, “I want to work next to you, because I know you’ll make me laugh.” I took that as one of the nicest things any co-worker has said to me in my long and undistinguished career(s).
So go ahead and order that rubber chicken you’ve always wanted. But get your work done first.