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A Bad Joke could and Likely will Cause Social Harm

By September 10, 2008March 28th, 2018No Comments
man and women with large color posters in front of their faces of their smiles, telling a joke

Larry sent me a link to a recent article on The Telegraph in the UK, “Four in ten people laugh at bad jokes, scientists find.”

Dr. Nancy Bell, study author is specialist in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), linguistics, and academic literacy for students who use English as a second language. She shared during her radio interview (below) that she was intrigued by the use of humor by people for whom English is the second language.
Overall, bad humor has the potential to be dangerous socially, professionally, and physically. During her research she avoided offensive jokes and instead used bad jokes. An example is “What did the big chimney say to the little chimney? Answer: Nothing. Chimneys can’t talk.” Responses ranged from polite laughter to mild to rude to really rude/angry.


The most common responses to a bad joke included: a) “That’s so stupid,” b) “You’re an idiot,” and c) “That’s so stupid and you’re an idiot.”

The reasons for such a negative response according to Bell, “Canned humor often disrupts the natural flow of conversation. And jokes that fail to deliver humor are a violation of a social contract, so punishing the teller can discourage similar behavior in the future. A stupid joke insults the listener by suggesting that he or she might actually find it funny.”

Bell shares that “the younger you are and the closer you are in age to your failed humorist, the more likely you are to attack.” Another interesting finding is that children were especially mean to parents when parents used bad jokes.

As someone who performed live improvisational humor for many years (see ComedySportz in San Jose and Washington, DC), bad jokes are inevitable. What I would like is to understand more of the study. What was the context, audience, expectation, delivery, and other variables. I do agree that in general, bad jokes receive immediate groans and other responses that leave the comedian with absolutely no question that the joke was bad.

The other important thing to note about office humor: one person’s belly laugh could be another person’s trip to human resources. Use extreme caution with potentially offensive humor.


Photography Source:  DepositPhotos

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in communication, especially business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after storytelling coach, global speaker, trainer, consultant, communication coach, and public speaking coach.