April Fool's Recap - Keep It Light

April 3, 2024

You know that feeling when you’re swimming with someone, jumping around and splashing each other in the water? And then to be really funny, they hold your head under the water? Your playmate presses down on your shoulders and just laughs and laughs until, I don’t know, they can make you turn blue? Ha ha ha. Yeah, um, I have never found that funny. Admittedly, writing this a few days after April Fool’s Day, where tricks are de rigueur, I feel like a total killjoy. Which is how I have felt my whole life between gasps of air in swimming pools yelling, “I don’t think that’s funny! Stop!” After releasing their hold on me, the rascal almost always says, “I was just kidding. You’re so intense.” Considering welcome and unwelcome pranks this week has me wondering, what are the limits of humor? Given that everyone is their own unique Dandelion, how are we supposed to figure out what these boundaries are?

With my sensitivity, I don’t hold people’s heads under water and laugh, but I’m sure I’ve done or said something that packs the same punch. I don’t derive pleasure from hurting people, so cutting someone with my lacerating wit has never been my thing. I think. But, by my own example, one person’s frolic can be another’s devastation.

The best tool for not hurting people with humor - aiming for affiliative humor - is actually two tools. Those being, “knowing your audience,” and listening, as you can’t have one without the other. Interestingly, when you do a search for “What’s one thing that can’t exist without another?” Two examples quickly pop up. The first is “life and death.” Of course. Something can’t die if it never lived, and everything that lives must die. The second, and more relevant suggestion here is the pairing of “wisdom and experience.” I hadn’t thought of this, but it makes sense. Wisdom doesn’t come from books, it’s the result of lived experience. Similarly, knowing your audience doesn’t come from reading a list of names, it’s only the outcome of active listening.

This information is key for coloring within the lines of affiliative humor. You won’t be able to make people laugh in a way that leaves them feeling good if you don’t know who they are and what they care about. Notice I didn’t say you won’t find any laughter. You can definitely make people laugh if you have no investment in anyone feeling better. You can do the verbal equivalent of holding them underwater. Tune in to any episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm to see this approach fully realized by Larry David.

Affiliative Humor Pro-tips:

  • Resist the temptation to do the equivalent of water torture by choking them with how clever you are. Don’t make fun of their flaws. 
  • Don’t punch down, as the saying goes. 
  • If your love language is making fun of people, be kind about it. 
  • Best to stick with lighter fare: their extreme love of puppies, their irrational quest for the best slice of pizza, their fear of scented candles. Take your cue from Sammy Davis Jr. who, when asked how he maintained his relationship with Sinatra all those years, would always say, “I keep it light.”