What Makes a Good Joke?


Did you hear the one about….?

Some people tell a joke and

everybody laughs. Other jokes go flat or even make people mad. How do you

decide which jokes are OK and which might offend someone?

Know your audience. A joke may be

funny to some people but not to others. The kind of joke a guy tells his

guy friends might not go over well in a group that includes both guys and


Be careful about jokes that make

fun of religions, people’s race or their country. Sometimes one of these

jokes can be OK if you make it about your own group and you are with other

members of that group. The same joke, told by someone of another group

might be offensive. For example, a Polish person might tell a Polish joke

to other Poles, but if a German person told the same joke, the Polish

person might get offended.

Don’t tell jokes that make fun of

another person’s physical or mental characteristics. Even smart people

may not like being called “the brain.”

Be careful about where, when and

how much you tell sexual jokes. Just saying a crude word really isn’t a

witty, original joke. You didn’t make up the word, did you? And never,

never tell sex jokes about someone you’ve been dating.

OK so what is funny? What makes

really clever humor? The best jokes are often those that put ideas

together in original or unexpected ways. Jokes making fun of yourself can

calm down a tense situation. Clever puns are great in moderation. If you

are a gifted punster and you deliver dozens of rapid- fire puns, people

stop laughing and start to groan and roll their eyes. Some people make up

funny rhymes to help themselves remember history dates or astronomy

assignments. Some people are talented at delivering an ironic joke

deadpan. (with a straight face) It can be fun to watch how long it takes

various people to figure out that you just made a joke. 

Carol E. Watkins, MD

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