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Have you Crossed the Last Milestone in English?

Aug 17, 2020

Can you tell a good joke?  English humour is the last milestone for most English speakers.  Why do we care if we understand the joke? Well, for sure – nobody wants to be left out of the joke. It can feel awkward when we don’t “get” the joke.

How does humour help us?

  • Softens stressful situations.
  • Adds to your charisma.
  • Adds clarity (such as metaphors)
  • Creates common ground
  • Creates engagement or interest in a dry conversation or presentation
  • Makes you likable – builds relationships
  • Demonstrates confidence

Have you ever been the butt of someone’s joke?

Although there are many ways that humour can help our relationships with others, there are probably even more ways that it can hurt our relationships. We all know someone who thinks she is funny, yet never fails to offend us. His jokes are hurtful or off-colour or derogatory to women or minorities or religious sects or someone. This individual is gregarious and delivers his jokes with confidence, yet you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your jaws tense every time she tells a joke.

Jokes are always partial truths from the joker’s perspective. When we tell a joke, we are expressing an opinion about something or someone. Anyone who has met me knows that I am just a little short on height; therefore, I have heard every short joke known to mankind. I assure you that these jokes are rarely funny.  On the other hand, if I am not my usual animated, talkative self on one occasion, and someone makes a joke about that, it will not offend me.  

Why do some jokes attract while others repel?

When a joke pokes at an individual’s identity, it creates friction and pain. However, when a joke pokes at a temporary situation, it is unlikely to offend.  This is why, in English, we are not likely to make fun of someone who is overweight, but we may make a joke about the person’s hairstyle of the day (if we know them well enough). It’s important to remember that making a joke is no joke if it falls flat. Jokes are a powerful way to both attract and repel others.

Here are twelve comedic strategies used in English.

1. A topic or issue that everyone has similar feelings about, such as parenthood 

2. Current issues in the news

3. Describing typical feelings for a situation

4. Word play

5. Metaphors (using the word “like” or an analogy or comparison that paints a picture)

6. Making shocking statements

7. Taboo subjects

8. Insightful comments that make others think

9. Self-deprecating

10. Imitating others

11. Pantomime (acting with or without props)

12. Costumes


Jokes to Make Your Day!

#1: A Familiar Topic

In the image above, Trump is comparing himself to Obama in a silly way. In this particular case, the joke is not derogatory or offensive because he is merely comparing the year that each  president was in power. Trump knows that this type of joke attracts not just pro-Trump supporters, but also those voters who are undecided.


#2: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

The Joke of the Day highlights a play on words. In this case, the words “flies” and “like” expresses two different meanings. In the first sentence, the word “like” creates a metaphor, which suggests that both time and arrows fly quickly.  In the second sentence, the word “like” is a verb and is synonymous with “enjoy.” In addition, the word “flies” describes an action in the first sentence and the insect in the second sentence.


#3: Making Shocking Statements

The joke of the day is in the form of a picture.  The picture says it all. We all know of a child that has put something inappropriate down the toilet, right?!  You can imagine the parent of this child having mixed emotions. Perhaps for a moment, the parent is angry and then realizes the tendency of toddlers this age to experiment. However, if this is not your child or your toilet, we tend to skip the moment of anger and move right to the amusement stage. Kids often look extra cute when they’re being naughty.


#4: Imitating Others

In a little town called Busby just north of Edmonton, each summer (except for 2020) there is an Elvis Festival. The performers come from all over North America, and some of them are very good at their craft. They make you smile, laugh, clap, and remember a past musical era in which this icon’s music was considered cutting edge (even obscene by some people). The best humour, in my opinion, supports a more meaningful story or message and resonates with the audience’s life experiences.


#5: Pantomimes and Costumes

In the Crossroads Market building in Southeast Calgary, there is a theatre that specializes in Improv Theatre (improvisation). They use props and costumes sparingly, yet the entertainment never fails to make us smile and laugh, often hysterically. These short skits often feature situations that we find commonly find ourselves in, and then deliver the scene with a surprising twist or complication. Friday nights are for families, while Saturday nights are more adult-oriented. It’s a great way to become comfortable with English humour.


I read once that laughter provides exercise for our inner organs and that it is good medicine for whatever ails us. Laugh often, and don’t be shy about asking someone to explain their joke to you. 


This article is based on a workshop that I deliver on English humour.