Archive for the 'Everyday Humor' Category
Melody McLaren, whose giant greeting card I described a few days ago, told me another example of using humor to change behavior:
I was working at LA Incentives, a small promotional merchandise company in Barnes (southwest London). We (Liz Amies, the MD and I) were running a very small company in the midst of a recession (1987-1990). We were having difficulty getting our clients to pay us on time.Â Money was tight for everyone and the big companies were notoriously late at paying small suppliers, who had no resources to hire people to chase their debts.
So, being desperate, I tried the humor route once again (this was a couple of years after the ad agency incident).Â I drew cartoons that illustrated why clients might not be paying us – e.g. “You’re probably just trapped under something heavy” under a crude illustration of a guy pinned to the floor by a filing cabinet.Â Weird, whimsical stuff.Â I faxed the cartoons to the companies’ purchase ledger departments.Â Although this didn’t work with everyone, quite a few people paid up immediately. It was the power of surprise, I guess.Â No wars were stopped by this approach – but it did help us keep the company afloat for a while longer.
So effective you might think it would be obvious, but it isn’t. Although economists have a hard time using anything but incentives to explain economic behavior, notice that no incentives were changed.
In this TED video Lisa Donnelly, a cartoonist, says
women + humor = change
I’m not sure what changes she means. But I think she is saying something important. Humor has a way of making change easier.
In the 1980s a friend of mine named Melody McLaren worked as a personal assistant in a London advertising agency. One of her co-workers was a woman named Denise Taylor. Denise was the personal assistant of the managing director, Chris Ogilvie-Taylor. Normally personal assistants get a nameplate on the appropriate door but Denise did not because her boss, Ogilvy-Taylor, was worried about the appearance of nepotism.
Everybody — except perhaps Ogilvie-Taylor — thought this was unfair. But Ogilvie-Taylor’s boss was on a different floor. It would have been dangerous and strange to appeal to him.
My friend conceived a brilliant and surprising solution. She wrote a long poem, maybe 60 lines long, with rhyming couplets, about an imaginary town of Taylors (a play on “tailor”). The point of the poem was that Denise deserved her name on the door. Then, with the help of the art department, my friend wrote the poem on a giant card, about six feet high. The card was passed around the office. Everyone signed it. Then it was put in Mr. Johnson’s office. Soon Denise got a nameplate.
This was not exactly humor — more like whimsy, with humorous elements. It facilitated change.
Another example comes from a Chinese blogger:
On Oct. 20, a female blogger in northern China nicknamed Piggy Feet Beta announced a contest to incorporate the phrase â€œLi Gang is my fatherâ€ into classical Chinese poetry. Six thousand applicants replied, one modifying a famous poem by Mao to read â€œitâ€™s all in the past, talk about heroes, my father is Li Gang.â€
Here too we have the three elements: woman, humor, change.
A friend of mine from Poland was surprised we had jokes in America. He thought the sole purpose of humor was to criticize the government. And our government was pretty good.
Sure, jokes are a way of saying the unsayable (e.g., dirty jokes). Sure, they can empower the weak, not just the strong (e.g., racist jokes). What’s interesting here is (a) Donnelly felt her equation was interesting (she’s right), meaning most of her audience didn’t know it; (b) she didn’t illustrate it well (why not?); (c) humor can be useful in everyday life (as my friend’s example shows), not just to criticize the government. I think this point should be incredibly obvious, like the sky is blue, but it isn’t.
This study found that women who win a Best Actress Oscar have a much higher rate of divorce in the following years than the losing Best Actress nominees and the Best Actor nominees, both winning and losing. A Chinese joke I heard recently says essentially the same thing:
There are four kinds of people: 1. Man. 2. Woman. 3. Woman with a Ph.D. 4. Someone who will marry a woman with a Ph.D.
Via Marginal Revolution.
A few days ago I got the following message (in Chinese) on my cell phone (part of a service):
A monkey, goat, and tortoise were playing together. After a while they got thirsty. They sent the tortoise to get water. Half a day later, the tortoise still hadn’t returned. “That *)?!% idiot is too slow!” said the monkey. From outside came the voice of the tortoise: “If you call me more bad words I won’t get water for you.”
You may remember What does NASA stand for? Need Additional Six Astronauts. This circulated after the Challenger blew up. In contrast, the volcano jokes I’ve heard are curiously bad:
6. Dear Iceland, We said send cash, not ash.
7. Woke this morning to find every surface in the house covered in a layer of dust and a foul stench of sulphur in the air…. Yes, Iâ€™ve been married to that bone-idle slob for 20 years.
8. It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes were spread all over Europe.
9. Thereâ€™s no pleasing the English. The last time they got the Ashes they were over the moon.
10.Â Went outside today and got hit by a bag of frozen sausages, a chocolate gateau and some fish fingers. Someone said it’s a fallout from Iceland.
One of my Tsinghua students, a freshman, has been getting up early Saturday mornings to go to nearby Beijing University to attend a 4-hour intro psych class for graduate students. “What does the teacher talk about?” I asked. He showed me his notes. “The Door-in-the-Face Effect” was the heading of a little graph he’d drawn. “What’s that?” I asked. “If you get someone to help you in a little way, they’re more likely to help you in a big way later,” he said. I knew that result. It’s called the foot-in-the-door effect. “Your teacher made a mistake,” I said.
I was wrong. There is a door-in-the-face effect very similar to the foot-in-the-door effect. The door-in-the-face effect is after you make a big request that is turned down, you are more likely to get agreement to a small request.
A cold joke is a sort of nonsensical joke that is funny because it’s not funny, sort of like the New Yorker Anti-Cartoon Caption Contest. Two examples:
1. A piece of bread was walking down the street. It got hungry, so it ate itself.
2. Hanging in the hallway at Whites High School in Wabash, Indiana, are basketball team photos. In the center of the front row in each picture someone holds a basketball identifying the year: “62-63″, “63-64″, “64-65″, etc. One day I saw a freshman looking at the photos. Turning to me, he said,”Isn’t it strange how the teams always lost by one point?”
In the checkout line at Monterey Market:
ME Are those mangosteens?
MAN They’re baby artichokes.
You eat them raw, he said. Peel off the outer leaves and slice them thin.
MAN With some Pecorino sliced thin, pinenuts, a little olive oil . . .
ME Sounds Italian.
MAN Yes, it is.
A collection of mathematical jokes at Wikipedia includes some nice ones — such as
Why do mathematicians think Halloween and Christmas are the same?
Because 31 Oct = 25 Dec.
– but inexplicably omits my favorite:
Why is six afraid of seven?
Because seven ate nine.
Why is this funny (at least to a 5-year-old)? Because we enjoy seeing unexpected connections.