Monday, April 18, 2011

This is for the love in you:Guide to first-date joking

This couple walks into a restaurant and gets seated, and the headwaiter asks, “Is this your first date?” and the woman says, “Yes, we met online,” and the man says, “Do they call you the headwaiter because you’re in charge of the restroom line?”

Right. Telling jokes can be very difficult, although being stupid can be easy. But the ability to tell jokes, make witty bon mots, relate funny anecdotes, appreciate humor in others, laugh at one’s own self or act goofy when necessary can help ease the tension in dating, especially on the first date. “Dating is a shift in social patterns,” says Loretta LaRoche, founder and president of The Humor Potential, Inc. “It’s like a bunch of little kids are on the playground and a new kid comes in. If you’re not lighthearted, you’re gonna get stuck and obsessed.” The newcomer remains the outsider and can become too focused on breaking into the circle.

“Among many things, humor serves as a social lubricant,” says Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and humor expert. “People feel good when they experience humor. One of the other things it offers is a sense of perspective. Someone with a good sense of humor doesn’t get bent out of shape or overly serious about things, including the silly things you may do.”
Pat Sandy, senior program director of humorous cards for American Greetings, concurs: “Let’s face it, a sense of humor is an attractive trait that, when used sincerely and authentically, has a disarming effect in the early stages of relationships. Having a sense of humor shows you don’t take yourself too seriously, and it shows your intelligence.”

But why is it funny to ME?
Biologists are joined by psychologists, linguists, sociologists, and members of the Writers Guild of America in trying to figure out what is funny and why we laugh. As humorist Robert Benchley once noted, “There seems to be no lengths to which humorless people will not go to analyze humor. It seems to worry them.” You can dissect a joke; you can dissect a frog. You can’t expect either of them to jump afterward.

The point is, or started out to be, that a sense of humor is appealing, and as LaRoche notes, many personal ads request someone with a sense of humor, even more so than someone who loves long walks on the beach. “You want someone who takes life seriously, but doesn’t take himself or herself too seriously. You know what I say about long walks on the beach? ‘You don’t have a car? Why so long on the beach?’”

Some things are never funny
Anyone who has ever had a joke fall flatter than four slashed tires knows that they don’t always work. Worse, some jokes can be dangerous. Dangerous jokes are easily identified using this simple chart:

Jokes not to tell unless you want to prove you’re an idiot Ethnic jokes, racist jokes, sexist jokes, religious jokes, ageist jokes, jokes about the underage children of politicians, jokes at your date’s expense
Jokes not to tell when your date is prim and/or proper Jokes involving any biological function whatever
Jokes not to tell unless you know what your date and all your date’s family do for a living Doctor jokes, lawyer jokes
Jokes not to tell unless you want to make your date self-conscious In-law jokes, jokes about former dates or spouses, more jokes about what your date looks like
Jokes not to tell if your date is a vegetarian or otherwise has a strong sense of compassion Jokes involving cruelty to animals*, children or other people, plants, or inanimate objects
Jokes not to tell unless you are 100% sure your brunette date does not dye his or her hair Blonde jokes
Jokes not to tell unless you want to sit there grinning while your date looks at you like you spat in the soup Puns

So we can pretty much rule out every single joke you’re likely to think of on a date.

Perhaps there are some guidelines that would come in handy. Dr. Sultanoff advises, “Use humor that targets a situation rather than a person. It’s safest to laugh at something that’s going on.” Making a joke about the racket at the restaurant rather than the weight of the waitress helps keep personalities out of it.

Dr. Sultanoff also notes, “It’s much safer to laugh at yourself than another person.” But don’t overdo it. Too frequent or too overly harsh attempts to sound self-deprecating may make your date think you have low self-esteem (and possibly wonder if it is deserved).

Sandy agrees, adding, “Humor, as evidenced in developing relationships, is best served via self-deprecating approaches and observational style rather than ‘punch and set-up’ type humor, which can appear stilted and cloying.” Unless you really have a good opening for such a joke, better to just skip it and keep the conversation going.

Another misuse of humor is when it is used antagonistically, as a means of attacking someone. Dr. Sultanoff says, “If it’s followed with ‘Oh, I was just kidding,’ then in all probability it was hostile humor, or judgmental. People, especially men, who are close to one another can use some hostile humor, but in a bonded relationship you can do this because it’s known that you’re not serious.” Avoid hostility on the first date: Sounds like good advice.

So humor is important, except when it isn’t. If you’re funny and can avoid the topics that will send your date screaming into the parking lot, it’s a good thing. But while your date wants to have a good time, what your date mostly wants to do is find out who you really are. Love is just funny that way.

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