I have a good friend known for being a celebrated funny man and jokesmith, though I often wonder who would choose to celebrate such an individual and to what end.
This person is known for a jovial disposition and wise-cracking persona, always good for anything from a pointed topical joke to an off-color scorcher or even the celebrated and seldom attempted entendre singular.
To see this person work a room can be a thing of glory to behold, if the crowd is right.
If the crowd is wrong, however, one can see a spectacle of a completely different sort, one belonging on the same list as watching the Hindenburg go up in flames and ‘Baby Daddy Drama’ day on the Maury Povich show.
While my friend can be a gifted practitioner of the comedic arts, the lesson on how to read an audience must have either been skipped or largely ignored.
I wouldn’t claim to have the best social graces, but I probably would refrain from working blue at an interdenominational faith meeting.
Perhaps pattern recognition skills weren’t a strong part of the curriculum where my friend came from, but if the first few people don’t respond well to a joke about child molestation, the next twenty or so you try to tell it to are going to probably act in a similarly disgusted fashion.
While I admire this person’s ability to persevere when it seems no one will laugh at a joke, there comes a point where it must be put down for its own good, the bon mot version of Ol’ Yeller.
For this person to continue using it repeatedly isn’t killing the joke.
Killing the joke implies some sort of polite backroom assassination involving a snub-nosed .38 and a silen-cer or some piano wire. There would be dignity in “killing” the joke.
What’s being done here is more of a curbstomping – brutal, public, gory and wholly unnecessary for civilized people to behold.
The joke just keeps getting told over and over again, bashing horribly into the cement pavement of the listener’s brain.
The end result: either someone starts laughing quickly or we’re all going to have a forcibly quieted quip blood to deal with and a brooding humorist standing over it wondering when it all went so wrong.
Even a pity laugh, a shortened chortle should be enough to suffice, to spare even the worst wisecrack or witticism.
A roaring belly laugh would be met with some suspicion, nor would it be appropriate if one had heard the joke more than once in the recent past.
We feel the need to laugh not out of actual mirth, but a genuine desire to put our friends out of their misery.
But does the laugh really help? Wouldn’t it embolden our friend to continue making hideous humor blunders?
That laugh may do more harm than good, proving once again that good intent is one of our nation’s more harmful exports.
If we’re true friends, we should perhaps take that friend aside to explain the situation to them, starting by saying you say what you say as a friend.
Be gentle, be kind, but be firm; tell them it isn’t funny, tell them they’re offending people and ask them could they please, for the love of all that is holy and good, stop trying to make it so.
You might lose a friend, but you may well help preserve and defend the battered reputation of American humor (or simply save your social gathering or event from a boorish, bad-humored attention hound).
We ordinary citizens are the first line of defense for funny; there’s no Coast Guard for comedy.