Yesterday we talked about practical jokes. And we got a couple of good responses from people who told of a prank in which they were the target. Sometimes it’s even more fun to be on the receiving end. It’s like being the guest of honor at a surprise party. I say this from the perspective of somebody who’s been in that position a lot. What can I say? Sometimes I’m a little gullible.
But what’s the real value of practical joking? Why do we do it? More importantly, why should we do it? After all, there are more productive ways to spend our time, right? Well, yes … most of the time. But we spend most of our day immersed in the realities of life. Sometimes we need a little diversion. Other times we need an explosion.
As a comedian, my job is to tell jokes. I could just write the jokes and put them in this blog, but it wouldn’t have the same effect. Print humor depends on nothing but words to get a response. Onstage, I can use tone, inflection, facial expressions, and body language to fill in the blanks. And the difference is pretty dramatic.
It’s the same with practical jokes. You can tell a joke at the water cooler and people will laugh. And chances are, they’ll repeat the joke to a couple of co-workers. Each time, it gets a hearty laugh that lasts a few seconds, and then it’s over. Sounds like some of my shows.
But when we play a prank on somebody, they’re not just a recipient of the joke. They’re an active participant. They see and feel every part of the joke without having to use an ounce of imagination. It’s as real as the air they breathe. They’re not just listening to the joke – they are the joke.
Another difference is that the water cooler joke is good for one shot. You tell the joke, everybody laughs, and it’s over. But people remember practical jokes for a long time. And it doesn’t matter how many times they’ve heard the story, they’ll laugh every time it’s repeated. The shelf-life of a good practical joke is pretty much unlimited.
There are very few people in this world who don’t enjoy a good laugh. But if we sit around all day waiting for humor to slap us in the face, we may be waiting a while. We have the power to make things happen, to change the reality that surrounds us. Sometimes we need to grab the bull by the horns.
And the thing is, we all need it. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It’s impossible to laugh with somebody you don’t like. Even if you didn’t like one another before, laughter changes that. At least for the moment, you share an emotional response and a heightened level of understanding and trust. Put enough of those moments together and you may actually become friends.
Now, let’s ask the really critical question. Do you love your job? Some people would say yes, but for most of us there’s a caveat. After all, it’s hard to love working when you could be doing something else. Do you really love your job, or is it just that this job doesn’t suck as bad as your last one?
So let me rephrase the question. Do you wake up every morning and jump out of bed, filled with the excitement of knowing you’ll spend most of the day at work? Do you zip through traffic on your way to work, not because you’re running late but because you can’t wait to get there? Do you ever wake up on your day off and feel a little disappointment because you’re not going to work?
If you’re being completely honest, the answer to at least some of those questions is no. Hopefully you enjoy the work you perform. But even if you do, there’s a reason somebody has to pay us to do it. And that’s why they call it “work”.
The thing is, work doesn’t have to be a lifeless existence that we subject ourselves to for eight hours a day just to collect a paycheck. As one reader pointed out a few weeks ago, even in a funeral home there are opportunities to lighten up and share a laugh. And it seems to me that would be an excellent place for some practical jokes. Think of the possibilities!
And the truth is, I think very few of us work in a place where we’d get fired for having a little fun, as long as we kept it within reason. Most employers think about morale a lot. Some even talk about it. But I don’t think most of them know what to do about it. If they knew how to have fun, don’t you think they’d be doing it?
That’s where it’s up to us to take the lead. It may be as simple as some good-natured ribbing in the status meeting, or leaving a rubber mouse on somebody’s desk. I once worked with a guy who fell to his knees and began praying like a televangelist over a piece of machinery that had stopped working (again). “Cast out thy demons you wicked sinner and be healed!” Don’t laugh. If it had worked, I had a car I wanted him to meet.
Just once I’d like to see somebody walk through the office and bean a co-worker in the head with a Nerf ball. Better yet, bean your manager. I can’t think of too many people who would be offended at the gesture, and they’re certainly not going to get hurt. Unless he’s a pansy, and then all bets are off.
Which brings me to my final point. It’s only fun if nobody gets hurt. There’s a time and place for everything, and we have to use a little common sense. One time somebody smeared black grease on the bottom of my center desk drawer, thinking I’d get grease on my hands. They didn’t count on me pulling up close to my desk and ruining a brand-new shirt. Kinda spoils the moment, doesn’t it?
The quickest way to kill workplace humor is to have somebody complaining to the boss. Ambulances and fire trucks have a similar effect, so keep it safe. But that aside, most managers prefer to manage by exception. As long as things are going smoothly, they sit in their office and plan next year’s vacation. Their job is to keep us so busy we don’t have time to create work for them.
The first time they step out of their office to the sound of laughter, they may not think much of it. The second and third time, they may become concerned. But at the end of the day, if the job is getting done and people are still smiling and working as a team, it’s hard to argue with success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I hope a few bosses are reading this.
So as I’ve said before, if you work in a place where there’s absolutely no tolerance for fun and laughter, find someplace else to work. Life is too short. But if there’s some flexibility, some willingness to let employees enjoy the time they spend together, then have a little fun. Get creative. Make faces. Lighten up and laugh a little.
And every now and then, include somebody else in the fun. Laughter is best when it’s shared among friends. Besides, if you do it right, next time they may come looking for you.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon