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The theory of how humour works has been extensively studied. The actual numbers of theories and reasons for making us laugh is well over eighty but some of the more common reasons we laugh include irony, slapstick, black humour, satire and farce. Most humour though, has roots in surprise, that is, the joke or physical stunt has a result that we didn’t expect, and so this un-expected result makes us excited. Sometimes we laugh at the misfortune, stupidity or clumsiness of someone else, because for that moment, we feel superior to them.

Jokes must always be situational and contextually appropriate. In the right company, almost anything goes, but when in the office, or around mixed company, censorship is a must. Self deprecating humour is almost always a good way to open joking because the only victim is oneself. However, during a job interview, it would be silly to joke about one’s inadequacies. We definitely need to make ourselves appear more equal to our peers and self jokes can do this. Amongst a new crowed, self deprecating humour can show that we aren’t uptight or feel superior to others.

In the workplace, dirty, sexist, racial and religious jokes need to be particularly avoided. Men, more so than women, will welcome sexist jokes, but there are always exceptions to any norm. Most men will feel uncomfortable with sexist jokes poking fun at women, especially when women are present. Racial or sexist jokes that offend others of which the teller isn’t a part, can also tread on shaky ground. For example, it is generally accepted to make a joke about men, if you are male or likewise a woman if female but if white, making a black joke will appear racist rather than funny. This has roots in self deprecating humour, where making fun of yourself is fair game, but making fun of others can be rude with the wrong audience. While jokes that make fun of the opposite sex or members of other groups tend to elicit the most positive reaction, they are also the most risky. Jokes that make fun of a shared identity also tend to go over well. When unsure however, it’s best to use universal jokes or playful jokes and avoid potentially risky jokes. When on new turf, let your environment predict which jokes are most welcome.