This is one of those random blog entries I sometimes post with a half thought through point that I know is much bigger than I have time to deal with. So, duly warned…

It’s amazing to me that we use humour as a coping tool. Actually, it’s not amazing – humour really is a great coping mechanism. Not always appropriate, of course, and certain people’s senses of humour get them into trouble. It’s not good to make jokes about certain things. For example, I recently heard a talk by Gerald Ratner, who once owned the largest jewelry empire in the UK (and wasn’t doing too bad internationally, either). But then at a 1991 IOD dinner he said, “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’, I say, ‘because it’s total crap’.” He then compared it to an M&S prawn sandwich. In the context of the speech, it was quite funny. But within days, his jewelry business had collapsed, and within months he had been ejected from the company he started, and lost almost everything. (He has since come back into the business with an online store, and seems to be doing quite well).

But given that high profile leaders should be careful of ill advised humour, the rest of us can happily chuckle at the clever, stupid and politically incorrect jokes that always seem to make the rounds just after a tragedy. Soon after the twin towers collapsed, the jokes started. Many of us battled to laugh at them, and I don’t think I was comfortable repeating them. But then that series of photos appeared. The premise was that someone had been standing on the observation deck of the Twin Towers and taken a photo as the plane was coming. Their camera had been found in the twisted remains of the building, and the photo miraculously saved. Was it a fake? No? Yes? (See it here). And of course within hours hundreds of rip off photos appeared. It provided a human face to the tragedy, allowed us to imagine that we might have been there, and hinted at the triumph of the human spirit – something had survived the tragedy!

With the advent of social media, these jokes now spread around the world like wildfire. And they gain momentum and a life of their own as well. In the recent UK general election, the Conservative’s election posters were parodied within hours of being put up around the country. It even led some journalists to suggest that the days of the election poster were over (see a report here, with examples of the parody posters). Obviously, I am not saying that these posters were a tragedy. I am simply using them as an example of how social media has changed the way we disseminate humour.

So, it was no surprise that the World Cup 2010 departure of some big teams has also led to some quite fun humour (for some countries, the early exit of their teams has been a tragedy). My two favourites are: “So, an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Italian and an American walk onto a plane.” (Yes, that’s the whole joke…). Or, this series of optical illusions that need to be seen to be believed.

Abraham Lincoln may have said it best: “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.” H. G. Wells said, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” How true.

If you’d like to read more about humour as a coping mechanism, a quick Google search found me two interesting articles:

TomorrowToday Global