Heard The One About The Unfunny Joke?

I’ve known a few people go to job interviews where one of the questions posed is “can you tell us a joke?”.

My prepared joke is, “What did the fish say when it swam in to a wall? Damn.”  It’s quite brilliant.

Despite the fact I think it’s hilarious to answer that sort of interview question with “yes” or “no”, asking me to tell a joke would be a troublesome question for me because the first one that pops in to my head isn’t really family friendly, even though kids won’t get it.

My joke isn’t offensive, it’s just a play on words that would be inappropriate in a lot of circumstances.  However, some jokes do genuinely cause offence.

A study by Annie Kochersberger for International Journal of Humor Research in 2014 (there really is a journal for everything, isn’t there?!) found that liking sexist humour actually has nothing to do with gender once standard views on the opposite sex are taken in to account.

(Incidentally, one of the neutral jokes used to compare responses was “What’s the difference between an oral and rectal thermometer? The taste.”)

So that says something interesting, doesn’t it? It says that anyone can be sexist at any time and any place.  It shows that there are underlying prejudices in everyone.

This is especially pertinent when taken in line with an earlier study by one of  Kochersberger’s co-authors that found the people showed hostile sexism gave up to 80% less to a fictional women’s organisation after exposure to sexist jokes when compared to neutral jokes.  Those not identified as hostile in their sexism actually gave sometimes up to double their usual donation.

While there might be underlying prejudice, exposure to such sexism doesn’t make us more prejudice.  What’s there already is pretty ingrained at the level.  However, there are some people for whom seeing such a joke reinforces their prejudice and supports them in their beliefs causing them to change their behaviour.

It goes to show that sometimes a joke isn’t just a joke.  Even more reason to be careful in your interview, and elsewhere.

I’m a picker
I’m a grinner
I’m a lover
And I’m a sinner
I play my music in the sun

I’m a joker
I’m a smoker
I’m a midnight toker
I sure don’t want to hurt no one

The Joker by The Steve Miller Band




Comments 2

  1. Eleanor Parks

    Personally, I don’t see how any joke can rendered offensive or not. Humour is so subjective. To my mind, a joke is either to your taste or it isn’t. As an example, I generally don’t like the humour of Sean Lock, as he tends to tell jokes about animals in distress or dying. I don’t find that funny, but I simply choose not to listen to him, rather than play the offensive card.

    • I know what you mean, although there are some poor taste ones. I went to see Frankie Boyle once (tickets were bought before he became hyper-controversial) and he actually complained at the audiences negative reaction to one of his jokes at one point!

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