Humor and Diversity
Things to consider when using humor touching on diversity and minority groups.
- When is it safe to use humor pointed at diverse groups? There is no clear cut answer. But here are some thoughts on the subject.
- Diversity is everywhere you look. Our society is abundantly diverse. And, normally, so are your audiences. Catholics, bi-sexuals, physically challenged, heavy people, tall people, old people, women, Southerners, rich people, Hispanics, blue collar workers. And then there are people who are none of the above. This list reflects only a small portion of the vast diversity in our society.
- What if you are an outsider, not a member of a group? Well, I generally recommend to a speaker presenting to nurses to avoid nursing jokes if the speaker is not a nurse. The reason? They have heard the jokes before. And you do not have the inside knowledge to judge whether the joke is truly funny or in good taste. So if you are speaking to a group of Republicans or doctors or Mormons or blacks, it is probably risky to target jokes toward their specific group if you are not one of them.
- Inside knowledge helps. Is it safe to tell a physically challenged joke, a black joke, a Jewish joke, gay joke, a joke about women? It's probably safe if you are a black Jewish Lesbian in a wheelchair. One of the safety factors is "are you part of the group?" Being blind, if you are telling a blind joke, may give you better insight on whether or not the joke is funny or in good taste. Being part of the group may also give you "permission" from the audience to tell the joke as someone who is not an outsider.
- A caveat is appropriate here. Let us say you are a Southern Baptist. And imagine you are speaking to Southern Baptists. Well then, Southern Baptist jokes should be OK? Probably. But good judgment is still called for. The world is so diverse. Not every Southern Baptist is just like you. Just when you think you are just like someone else and that you know what they are thinking...think again. We are all very unique.
- Where are you coming from? When telling a joke about a group, ask yourself: What is my motivation? Do you have negative feelings about the group? If so, the joke is probably not appropriate.
- Where did you hear the joke? Did an Asian tell you an Asian joke? If so, it may be safe to tell the joke quoting a third person who is part of the group. Note I said MAY be safe. Again good judgment is in order.
- When you are telling a joke, you might ask "Why am I telling it?" I hope you are using the humor to make a point. It is often safe to tell a joke if it makes an insightful learning point.
- The bottom line. There is no firm rule what is safe and what is not. Use good judgment. Remember, common wisdom says that good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment. Sometimes you just have to try something and see how it works, and then make corrections as necessary. But remember the sage advice, when in doubt, leave it out!
Copyright 2006 by John Kinde
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"Copyright by John Kinde, who is a humor specialist in the training and speaking business for over 30 years specializing in teambuilding, customer service and stress management. Free Special Reports: Show Me The Funny -- Tips for Adding Humor to Your Presentations and When They Don't Laugh -- What To Do When the Laughter Doesn't Come. Humor Power Tips newsletter, articles and blog are available at www.humorpower.com."