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How to Build a Successful Career Out of Being Funny

In the workplace, funny people win. From CEOs all the way down to the lowly entry-level hire, we can all use a dose of humor.Whether you’re the type who fires off a funny quip right at the right moment, you enjoy posting humorous cartoons, or you fancy yourself the neighborhood joke-teller, your commitment to the lighter side of life can definitely be a benefit to your career. When used correctly, humor in the workplace can lead to a lighter mood, better co-worker relations, and even a boost in productivity. Sometimes, it can even be the basis of your career.

See Also7 Reasons Why Humor is Key to Success at Work

Still, there are right and wrong ways to use humor in the workplace. While it may be well-intentioned, some people’s poor humor is the very thing that leads to career failure.


If you really are the resident funny-person, follow some guidelines to ensure that your penchant for the practical joke actually helps you to build a successful career.

1. Understand Who You're Working With

So much about humor is context; you need to know who the audience is and how they think so that you can deliver jokes that will hit home. If you’re headed for a job interview and you plan to employ some of your best jokes, you’ll need to first know whether or not they’ll be appropriate. As you should be doing for every job interview, research is key. Check out the business’ website, social media pages and any online interviews or profiles you can find about the company to get a sense of the company culture and how they may or may not use humor to deliver their marketing messages. The outer image of the company can sometimes give you a good clue about what will be appropriate during the interview, but just because you don’t find anything to indicate that during your research doesn’t mean that humor won’t be appropriate. If the mood seems lighthearted and people tend to be smiling a lot, it could be a sign that humor is appropriate. If, on the other hand, the mood during the interview seems somber and all is serious, you should practice more restraint. That’s not to say a joke can’t help to lighten the mood, but tread carefully.

Knowing your audience is also crucial when you’re in business meetings, you’re working with clients or when you’re in any other business-related situation as well. When in doubt, practice caution and try to let the other party take the lead.

2. Take Notice of Body Language

In spite of your best efforts, not everyone is going to appreciate your humor -- and in some situations it can be downright unwelcome. Use your best judgment to determine whether your jokes are going to fly. When in doubt, tap into the power of body language to help you size up the situation. If you tell that opening joke and people seem to get tense or their eyes get narrower, they’re signs that your joking is not well-received. Also look for other "unreceptive" signs such as crossing of the arms or legs, or even the awkward silence. If you see anything like that, it’s probably best to go the straight route and to stop trying to be funny in that situation.

3. Avoid Offensive Humor

Whatever you do, don’t resort to using jokes about gender, race or religion to try to gain favor with your co-workers or clients. Those are topics that are most sure to upset someone, so just stay away from them. Jokes about someone’s sexual orientation, age or ethnicity are also taboo. What’s more, try to avoid "agressive" type of humor in which jokes are made at another person’s expense. That might seem like it’s ruling out a whole lot of options, but if you’re truly the funny person you think you are, you’ll find plenty other things to make light of. Keep your humor positive and it will be much more likely to bring you positive rewards.

4. Use it to Show Your Humility

While some types of humor are directed in an outward direction, the humor that’s directed inward can also benefit your career. When your co-workers see you as someone who’s able to laugh at yourself, they’ll tend to see you as an approachable person who’s easy to work with. That, in turn, can help you get picked first for important projects, or help you be the first person an employer thinks of when they’re looking for someone for a promotion. Avoiding taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at yourself only gets more beneficial when you’re the person in charge of others. As a team leader, your employees will tend to appreciate your ability to humanize yourself and your willingness to knock yourself off the pedestal that some other managers might like to stand on. 

5. Self-deprecate for That Promotion

Humor can also come in handy when you’re applying for a new position within your own company, or when you know that a prospective employer is already aware of some of your shortcomings. Once again, being the first person to point out your limitations can sometimes make them easier to swallow for other people. If you’re jockeying for that promotion, for example, you can use humor to bring up a weakness. In your cover letter, for example, you might say something like "I know that I’m known as the person who slides into work no earlier and no later than 9 a.m., but you can rest assured that my almost-tardiness is the worst of my workplace crimes." In that case, a little lightheartedness could help the employer overlook that simple shortcoming.

6. Make People Remember You

If you’re just one employee in a sea of other employees doing the same job as you, you’ll need to find ways to differentiate yourself -- especially if you are indeed seeking that promotion sometime soon. One way to make yourself the person the boss remembers is to deliver daily jokes or cartoons to the staff. Maybe you’re the person who posts a new cartoon on your cubicle every day, or maybe you’re the one who sends out a weekly email with a joke that pertains to something in your workplace. It might not seem like much, but it could be the thing that helps you get remembered. If the boss asks you why you do it, tell her you’re aiming to keep morale high in the office. Right there, you’ll be showing that you’re willing to go above and beyond.

7. Use Humor in a Crisis

There is perhaps no time during which humor will be most appreciated than during a crisis. During those times, the rest of your co-workers may be feeling pretty low. If you’re the one to bring them out of it with a well-timed joke or a few lighthearted statements that break the mood, you’ll be remembered as someone who’s not only funny, but someone who’s good in a crisis. Having that reputation is always a good thing -- especially when it’s time for a raise. 

8. Become a Public Speaker

Are you the type who always seems to get a laugh, no matter what situation you are in or what you seem to say? Perhaps, then, you might be able to use humor as the basis of a public speaking career. The natural path is to study with a comedy troupe and to become a stand-up or improvisation comedian, but there are many other ways you can use your humor in a public forum.

Whatever your industry, you may be able to become an expert speaker who talks to groups about that industry, infusing the talk with the humor that keeps the crowd engaged. Even in your current job, your humor skills can come in handy when you’re training other workers or when you have to give a presentation to clients. The possibilities for becoming a mixture of comedian and public speaker or trainer are endless, but you might start by simply asking your current boss to let you train the next batch of new hires, and to infuse the training with your own personal brand of humor. Once you’ve done that successfully and have gotten positive reviews from your trainees, look for other opportunities to do the same thing with other companies, volunteer organizations or groups in your community. Who knows -- at some point you might even be able to leave your current job behind and become a humorous public speaker on a more full-time basis.

See Also: Top 10 Funny Office Rules To Live By

It might not be a "soft skill" that employers will list on their job postings (though some really do), but humor is still in high demand in the workplace. By knowing when to use yours, avoiding the "bad" jokes and being consistent with your delivery of funny jokes, quips, cartoons or other humor, you can indeed infuse all of your working days with the kind of humor that helps you get ahead and get noticed in your career.