Rethinking Humor

Posted Dec 14 2012, 2:55 am in , , , , , , , ,

This is a difficult blog post to write. I’m one of those people who finds pranks like phony phone calls and practical jokes funny. I’ve enjoyed old episodes of Candid Camera and later Punk’d and laughed until I cried. I’ve even orchestrated some brilliant pranks in my time. First, there was the giant pair of granny panties that were stuffed in everyone’s bag before a plane trip. That pair of underwear has been all over the U.S. Then, there was the time I had my entire staff searching for ID10T forms. Or the time I swiped all the action figures off my coworker’s desk, locked them up, and then went on vacation for a week letting him think I packed them all and took them with me.

At the time, I thought I was building camraderie. They got me back, trust me. The giant panties were shipped back to me in a gift-wrapped box that I opened in public. The colleague who owned the action figures swiped the license plates off my car the day before it was due for its annual inspection. I thought it was all in good fun.

Not anymore.

Since the Duchess of Cambridge’s medical condition was disclosed following a prank phone call aired by an Australian radio station, the person at the butt of the joke – the nurse who answered the phone – has since been found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. I watched this story unfold with a mix of disbelief and discomfort because, yes, I admit I thought the phone call was funny.

At first.

I don’t think that any longer and am now ashamed that I ever did. Columnist Joe Blundo, in a recent Columbus Dispatch post said, “Humor always has a victim.” His words were like a smack in my face. The more I thought about them, the more I’m convinced he’s right. Sitcoms, comedians, satire – everything funny is funny because the joke is on someone else.

At what point do we stop and ask ourselves, “Would it still be funny if it were happening to me?” I can’t believe this escaped my notice but practical jokes and pranks are bullying in its most basic form. There’s a perpetrator, a victim, and lots of bystanders who laugh at this victim. This nurse, coming off a night shift, is caring for sick patients. That Kate was in the hospital at all should be our first hint that this is nothing to laugh about. Please understand this – Kate doesn’t just have morning sickness. She has a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. Caring for sick people, especially people this sick, is an important and serious undertaking. I’m fairly sure any of us would have answered that phone and believed that we were indeed talking to the Queen. Why would we have any reason not to? 

This entire incident has made me rethink humor. To all the victims of my own pranks, I offer sincere apologies. And to radio stations everywhere, I beg you to end the phony phone call and look for ways to make people laugh with each other instead of at

What do you think of phony phone calls? What about jokes made at someone else’s expense? Are we as a nation too sensitive or not sensitive enough? 



3 responses to “Rethinking Humor”

  1. What a thoughtful, wonderful post, Patty! Your pranks don’t sound the least bit evil. Especially since you take payback so well. But, I do see your point.

    I never have liked practical jokes. I always wondered if that made me a giant stick in the mud. If someone pranks me, I’m rarely gracious about it. And if I do listen to one of those radio shows, I prickle, hunch my shoulders, and pray that the person on the other end of the phone takes it better than I would have.

    But, I *do* think humor can be a victim-less “crime”. I need look no further than Jimmy Fallon or Ellen DeGeneres to see that. When they laugh, we all laugh WITH them. And I never hesitate to put my faults on display. Not because I’m running myself into the ground, but because above all else, I’m a relater. And if I can make you smile, my day is *made*.


  2. abby says:

    i agree with jessica, patty, in that one huge part of pranks is the ability to “take it” as well as dish it out. you seem to handle that part with care, which goes a long way towards rectifying any misbehaviors you think you’ve committed.

    i am not a big one for pranks, mainly because one april fool’s years ago my mom switched the salt and sugar on my dad and i’ve never forgotten his yelp when he discovered what he’d actually put on his cereal…but, your post makes me re-think all the things i’ve laughed at.

    i believe the key to true (harmless) humor is poking fun at yourself and letting others laugh with you in recognition that they do the same things. i think this is a lot like using certain “charged” vocabulary words — only those allowed to use them are those that are reclaiming the definition and changing it from a negative connotation to a casual one, one they own. humor’s the same way. we should use what we know, what we’ve experienced to make people laugh WITH us, not AT the sake of someone else.

  3. Patty Blount says:

    Thanks, ladies. I admit my intent was to get everyone laughing at me as sort of a team-building exercise and it worked to some extent. I have a lot of faults and yes, I do poke fun at them. Glad that’s still OK.