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How to be Funny Without Offending Anyone

by | Apr 9, 2019 | 2 comments

Humor soothes conflict. Humor creates buy-in. Humor adds joy to any conversation.

The secret to effective humor: be self-deprecating. Use yourself as your foil. You will never offend anyone else.

The other day, two close friends paid me a compliment, “Karen can laugh at herself.” Thank you, Robin and Liza! But what Robin and Liza may not realize is that I purposefully look out for the funny stuff that happens to me. The humorous situations where I am NOT the hero of the story. Those are the gems that I share.

Recent example. As readers of this blog you know that I have just returned from a successful business trip to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. HU, co-founded by Albert Einstein, invited me to speak about the personal side of my famous cousin (yes – that guy with the bad hair).

Now back in Texas I sent some thank you notes to my clients, and one person replied, “Our pleasure. You were an amazing guest. (We don’t have so many Einstein relatives to choose from). Best regards and I hope to see you again.”


Do you think he could’ve omitted the parenthetical sentence?!

Let’s say you just got a recent promotion to SVP and your CEO says, “You’re doing an amazing job. We didn’t have many candidates to choose from.”

Before you take pity, please know that I did receive great comments from others (without qualifying parenthetical statements!). BUT, here are the reasons to share the odd comment and NOT the nice stuff.

  • The nice stuff is blatantly self-serving.
  • The odd compliment is funny – in a self-deprecating way.
  • You still get the same message across (neat business trip).

Rules for self-deprecating humor:

  1. Embed the funny stuff that happens to you with other impressive data. Your fly is down while you ring the bell on Wall Street during your 27 million dollar IPO gain.
  2. Avoid telling only the idiot things you do. That will demean your value.
  3. Keep it short and relevant to your situation.

Humor can also offend. Tune in to my next blog for the two biggest humor mistakes – guaranteed to cause missteps.

Photo ©:  123RF Stock Photo

© Karen Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 3 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with decision makers on how to speak with gravitas. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Karen also speaks about her cousin, Albert Einstein, in a message about hope, resilience and brassieres.

Read more at www.SpeakForYourself.com/blog

#PresentationSkills #BusinessCommunication #OrganizationalCommunication

Karen Cortell Reisman, MS, Executive Communication Author & Speaker


  1. Jaya

    Interesting Karen. I found that parenthetical statement hilarious, but if you are sensitive to your family tree then maybe not. Your points are well taken as I am a common offender using humor. Hope you are well, Jaya

    • Karen Cortell Reisman

      Jaya – Hello! Great to hear from you. I think the parenthetical statement is hilarious! And, as I said in the blog – the joke is on me. I hope this blog helps you in figuring out how to add some humor.

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