When is a joke not a joke?

by Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE

Two students were shot and killed and 13 others injured when a 15-year-old boy, Andy Williams, went on a shooting rampage at school in San Diego, CA. Several people report hearing the boy threaten to go on a killing spree at school but thought he was joking.

When is a joke not a joke? There are three recognized functions of humor. One of the three functions of humor is that of communication.

“Many times people will communicate a desire or fear in the guise of a joke. If the ‘joke’ elicits the response they secretly want, then they have achieved their objective. If it does not elicit the desired response, then they have still saved face; they can say, “I was only joking.”

What to do?

Listen beyond the laughter: Usually a joke is just a joke, but does the humor cause you to suspect that the other person is trying to tell you something?

Listen to your gut: If you think the other person might not be joking, you’re probably picking up non-verbal clues. More often than not, your intuition is right.

Follow through: If the humor is not ringing in sync with the joker’s normal style or if the ‘joke’ could involve harm to another, then pay close attention. Do you need to take any sort of action?

Chris Reynolds, 29 year old whose son was friends with the suspect heard the joking but didn’t follow through. “I should’ve stepped up even if it wasn’t true … to take that precaution,” said Reynolds. “That’s going to be haunting me for a long time. It just hurts, because I could’ve maybe done something about it.”

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Copyright 2005 by Karyn Buxman. Reprinted with permission. A highly sought humorist and nationally recognized expert in therapeutic humor, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE helps people achieve balance through stress management techniques, including humor. To sign up for her free bi-weekly e-zine, LyteBytes, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.HumorHabit.com