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humor at work

Humor creates a positive work atmosphere


I started taking improv (Improvisational comedy) at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles last week. Boy, was the first class fun! But, intimidating! Especially since so many of the people in the class want to be actors and seem to be so much more funnier than me. However intimidating it is, I am dedicated to trying the whole class out and seeing if I can learn from the lessons. I did pay for it after all, and who doesn’t like a good challenge thrown at them once in a while? who am i kidding?

I bought the book, “The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual” written by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. In the first chapter they talk about the concept of “Yes And.” What they refer to by ‘yes’ is that you should agree with whatever your partner says about your reality. “And” is when you add more information to what is being provided by the previous statement I.e. one says to the other, “that’s a beautiful blue scarf,” the other will reply with, “yes [and] it was my grandmothers.” Conceptually, it is staying in the present, not referring to the past, or the future, but working with whatever is being presented at the current moment. You’re moving the conversation forward in a similar fashion to a real conversation, you’re mirroring what your partner says and reflecting back to them. By staying in the moment with your partner, you’re creating the foundation of when you will recognize the “first unusual thing when it happens” which is the beginning of the game, or comedy of the scene (p.12).


The importance of this first lesson in improv is that we forget to live in the moment, we are so concerned with the past and the future, that we forget about the present. Science has proven that having a sense of humor and laughter are cures to many physical and emotional ailments. When you are with your family, it’s important to not reflect on the past, or the future, but stay in the present. When you are in a family business meeting, and your sibling, child, parent, or someone says something that is difficult/challenging to grasp, “yes, and” them. Mirror, what they are saying, respond to the current situation, help embellish the “scene” by adding details that focus on the present. For example, if they say “we should open operations in Mexico” when neither of you speak Spanish, and it does not go inline with the company’s current goals, ‘yes, and’ them. Reply with “Yes, and we can open a massive operation that will take billions of dollars to manage.” Although there is a line between being sarcastic and “yes, and”-ing. Though it may seem like sarcasm, you’re really trying to diffuse a situation, without giving an automatic no. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this works? Or am I stretching too far?

In any case, humor can be useful to diffuse serious or stressful situations. Granted, you should always use it in an appropriate way, and never aimed at an individual (quel passé). But it can work sometimes to improve the general mood. WSJ did an excellent article on using humor at work. One of the tips they provide is resorting to self-deprecation when a joke doesn’t work out, something like, “Where is my stunt double today?” or pretend to write in an imaginary book, “Joke Number 2 doesn’t work” or “Don’t use this next time.” It helps you take the pressure off yourself, and alleviates the response of others in seeing your joke not working.