Humour At Work #3 – Clowning, Teasing & Satire in the Office
Ackroyd & Thompson believed the struggle for identity, is often played out through misbehaviour and joking in the work place. They identified three types of humour in work, labelling them as Clowning, Teasing and Satire in the Office.
Clowning in an Office
Clowning is a form of humour in which people make fools of themselves (butt of their own jokes), for the amusement of others. Although common place at work, it is the least acceptable form of humour to managers; because it wastes time and resources. It is very much like the school classroom clown, who keeps disturbing the class and interrupts the teaching rhythm; bringing attention onto themselves and messing with the order.
Clowns unfortunately blight their chances of promotion. In a similar way, the medieval court jester was tolerated and even valued; but such a person was never promoted to high office.
So why are clowns so common at work, given their own situation in the company hierarchy? Clowning can be popular with other staff, in given work situations. Also by using humour in this way, it protects oneself from being ridiculed by others; the ‘clown’ decides how they are going to be the butt of jokes.
They can also be celebrated and even respected by work mates, because they often take an anti establishment route; almost an anti hero, by refusing conventions and not expecting preferential treatment from management. Their sometimes anarchic behaviour, is a release for other workers.
It is interesting to note that, classroom clowns are not perceived as making good professional comedians. They often fail when attempting the task professionally; because they have to much inner pain and have used humour as a protection against that.
Teasing at Work
Teasing is a form of humour that is more acceptable to management than clowning; even though it can be very destructive to the company, therefore is often allowed to go on without penalty or sanction.
Teasing can be described as: ‘the humorous putting down or sending up of someone; who in turn should not take offence at such actions’. Anyone can be the target of teasing and it can result in bitter resentment; permanent work feuds and in extreme cases a breakdown of morale. Teasing can involve one or more people, sending up the way someone: speaks, looks, behaves or thinks. It represents an anti group feeling and a struggle for moral supremacy, on the same work level.
Workers have two forms of teasing, which are seen as acceptable or not. Anyone ignoring malicious teasing, is putting themselves at risk of moving down the social order of the group; unless they stand up against it and most importantly prevent it.
In business this can be seen as bullying; where the humour or ‘teaser’ takes on a very personal and nasty form. However workers expect each other to get involved in daily banter. Which often results in teasing and is seen as part of the self image of most workers.
Many pass this off as ‘having a laugh’, although it always results in someone being a victim; and is evidence of a dissenting subculture within many companies. Emphasising the differences between the values of a group and that of management and the business as a whole. Meaning that staff cannot be so easily manipulated by management, to follow a definite pattern of values.
Satire in the Office
Teasing is connected to another form of work humour, known as satire in the office. This can take on the form of irony, sarcasm, insults, lampooning or straight forward mockery; which is used to expose the foolishness and hypocrisy of its target. Teasing can take on these forms when sending up work mates; but it becomes satire when management and the company as a whole are involved. Here the humour is directed at the common foe (management).
These jokes can often have an underlying important messages; sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the humour and the serious message. Which may be coming from the comedy. Even in professional comedy, especially on TV, it is not always clear when a serious stand is being made. Satirical TV shows such as; America’s ‘Saturday Night Live’, the UK’s ‘That was the week that was’ and ‘Spitting Image’; all had their comedy by the lampooning of political truths, and the hypocrisy and stupidity of governments.
In the workplace, satire revolves around the worker’s doubts about managerial ideas and policies; with little understanding or sympathy towards management woes. It is also interesting to note that, one of the UK’s best selling non-fiction books was Scott Adams’s ‘The Dilbert Principle’ (1996). Through his cartoon character Dilbert, Adams makes an explicit attack on business fads and new practices.
The situations he puts his character into, are symbolic of the management initiatives; that are often followed to the detriment of the workforce. His cartoon strip are seen in leading newspapers and the tone has captured many a work force. Because of this, several of his cartoons hang from the noticeboards and desks of workers all around the world; as a source of appreciation and systemic release.
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Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.