The Outlawing of "Sweet Caroline" and the Risk of Humor
Wit can speed new relationships to fast friendships or crash into the comedy club brick wall
There is no more risky mode of communication than humor. You’re rolling the dice on timing, setting, content, and the audience’s interpretation. This is true when you have a microphone in front of crowds or one-on-one in meeting new people. As someone who loves to crack wise, especially with a spontaneous play on words, I can attest that humor can be a great way to break the ice and make a positive impression. However, there are also some potential pitfalls to be aware of where the risk seemingly doesn’t pay off.
One of the biggest benefits of using humor when meeting someone new is that it can help to put everyone at ease. When you're meeting someone for the first time, there's often a sense of awkwardness or tension in the air. By cracking a joke or making a witty comment, you can help to diffuse that tension and make everyone feel more comfortable.
Humor can also be a great way to show off your personality and sense of humor. If you're someone who loves to laugh and doesn't take themselves too seriously, using humor can be a great way to showcase that. It can also be a good way to gauge whether or not someone shares your sense of humor. If they laugh at your jokes, boom, you’re in. It's a good sign that you're on the same wavelength.
However, there are also some potential pitfalls to be aware of when using humor in social situations. One of the biggest risks is that your joke may not land as intended. Everyone has a different sense of humor, and what you find hilarious may fall flat with someone else. This can lead to an awkward or uncomfortable situation, which is obviously not what you want when meeting new people.
I remember a dinner party where my wife and I were invited as I was a new pastor at the church. We were making conversation over dinner and I kept doing my word play thing (I obviously have a way with words, calling it a “word play thing,”) when I found myself constantly having to tell one of the hosts, “I’m joking,” or explaining that the government didn’t actually ban the playing of “Sweet Caroline” during COVID.
So while I’m trying to break the ice and make a good impression, this person took me literally every time I opened my mouth and I’m feeling like a failure! I was mortified and pivoted to be less cheeky in my conversation with this very sweet and sincere person. The good news for everyone was that, over time, they learned and inexplicably esteemed my sense of humor, even after all the misunderstandings.
Despite the potential pitfalls, I still believe that using humor when meeting new people is a net positive. As long as you're aware of the risks and approach it with a sense of fun, lightheartedness, and grace, you can create some truly memorable and enjoyable interactions.
I love Psalm 126, all of its six little verses. It reads,
When the Lord restored the well-being of Zion,
we thought we were dreaming.
At that time we laughed loudly
and shouted for joy.
At that time the nations said,
“The Lord has accomplished great things for these people.”
The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us.
We were happy.
O Lord, restore our well-being,
just as the streams in the arid south are replenished.
Those who shed tears as they plant
will shout for joy when they reap the harvest.
The one who weeps as he walks along, carrying his bag of seed,
will certainly come in with a shout of joy, carrying his sheaves of grain.
The ability to laugh in almost any situation points to two important realizations:
Laughter is the joyful ability to communicate that God really is in control and we are not.
Laughter is an acknowledgment of the absurdity of our existence and the abundance of God’s grace and goodness in spite of our imperfections.
Being the initiator of humor in any setting is a risk. But if God has given you that gift and spirit, if humor is a part of what makes you a unique image bearer of God, I encourage you to keep living on the laughing side of life. Humor is a wonderful tool for building connections, making new friends, and even limping through the grayer seasons of circumstance. Just remember to be mindful of your audience and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself if things don't go as planned.
After all, sometimes the most embarrassing moments make for the best stories of how God is making us into the people we’re meant to be!