Many brain injury survivors struggle with humor after their injuries. Survivors who were quite socially skilled prior to their injuries will often find that they now make jokes which are deemed inappropriate or insulting by others, even though these jokes were made with the best of intentions in mind. These difficulties tend to be accompanied by social skill or interpersonal relation deficits in other domains.
Following is a list of suggestions to help ensure that jokes are made in appropriate situations and in a proper manner so as to minimize the likelihood of jokes backfiring.
1. Prior to telling a joke, assess whether or not it’s a good time to tell a joke in the first place. For example, if someone is in a good mood and is smiling then it is probably a good time to tell a joke. If someone has just returned from a funeral or is currently clearly contending with a like source of emotional stress, then an attempt to add joking to the situation is unlikely to be appreciated.
2. Pick a subject that you know your audience will find funny. For instance, if your friends usually joke about traffic, it’s a pretty safe bet that making additional jokes about traffic will be welcomed. If you’re in a group that you know enjoys joking about sports, an obvious choice would be to tailor any jokes made to sports.
3. It is always better to make a joke about a situation than it is to make a joke about a person. A person can be insulted by being made the subject of a joke even if he or she is not present when the joke is made. After all, a third party could always repeat that joke to the person later. Situations (traffic, long lines, bad weather) have no emotions, so situations cannot get insulted. If you do make a joke about a person, it is always safest to joke about yourself.
4. Keeps jokes short. The longer the joke, the more possibilities for mistakes to occur and someone to get hurt or offended.
5. Never make jokes that involve sex or someone’s physical appearance (“you look really beautiful”). Such jokes all too often tend to be taken badly.
6. Never make jokes about safety (“someone ran away”), danger (“this car is unsafe”), health (“someone had a heart attack”) or important personal issues (“your friend’s struggling marriage”). These issues are more often than not so important that people are uncomfortable with any jokes made about them.
7. Do not embarrass someone else with a joke. The audience who heard the joke may only remember it for a short time, but the person who was embarrassed will remember the resultant humiliation much longer and consequently may be upset with you for a good long while.
8. Look for nonverbal signs that indicate whether a person found a joke funny or not. For example, if a person is laughing then a joke probably went well. If a person is frowning, then it is important to check on how that person received the joke.
9. If you make an error or upset someone with a joke, always remember to apologize. You are the one who made the offending joke, therefore the resulting consequences are solely your fault and responsibility. Never try to make excuses (“You need to have a better sense of humor”). Such excuses attempt to deflect blame onto the other person and may make him or her even more upset.
Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org