When a Joke Is Not a Joke

In addition to running Open Dialogue, I’m also a moderator on another forum. Occasionally, my duties involve resolving various bits of unpleasantness, and today was just such a day. Ultimately, I ended up locking a thread due to some nasty flaming between a handful of members and sending private messages (PMs) to said individuals cautioning against further behavior of the kind they displayed today. The fellow who instigated the whole fiasco responded saying that people just “don’t know when it is a joke.”

This incident got me thinking anew about the nature of joking and when joking might be pushing things too far. I realized that I had essentially already written
about this last night, voicing the general principle that should probably apply here, as well. In my opinion, a joke is only a joke when all parties involved can enjoy it and have fun with it. When even one individual finds the joke offensive or is uncomfortable as a result of the joke, then joke ceases to be a joke because it ceases to be completely funny. If everyone involved cannot enjoy the joke, then it probably should not be told or enacted. It seems unfair to force someone to endure something that they do not find funny or humorous.

Some guidelines that I myself use (or at least try to) when determining whether or not to follow through with a joke:

  • If there is even a question as to whether or not someone will enjoy the joke, I do not even begin it.
  • If it is obvious that my joke is making someone uncomfortable, I quit immediately and apologize to the offended party.
  • If I find out afterward that my joke offended someone, I seek out that person to apologize and make restitution.
  • In the rare instance that I am unsure exactly what was offensive,
    I seek to find out what that was and make the effort to repair or avoid
    that element or joke in the future.

There are biblical principles for this, foremost seeking to avoid causing others to stumble:

Romans 14:19-21
19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own
good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Sometimes I wish everyone would look out for the best interests of everyone else. It sure would make the world a better place.

3 thoughts on “When a Joke Is Not a Joke”

  1. interesting thoughts.
    I have been pondering about jokes and humor in general and have come to the conclusion about a few things:
    A joke is always at someone or things expense.
    You know that you have assimilated into a culture when you “get” the jokes and can laugh at them
    There has been research that shows that humor and seriousness are from the same area of the brain and the ability to differentiate it aquired over time which is why young children don’t understand sarcasm and irony.

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