How to be funny at work without being a fool

Four tips on office humor.

1. Respect the room

It’s one thing to crack wise when you’re in the company of people you know and trust. When you’re in a room with people you work with, it’s a different matter. Make sure they’re willing to laugh before you try to make them do it, McClellan says. “For me as a comedian, people are coming to hear my thoughts – that’s my arena to express myself. In the workplace, ultimately, people are there to work. Some folks don’t want to be social with you on that level– they want to say ‘Hello, good morning,’ and go do their job. If you’re trying to be funny, people often don’t want to hear that from people they work with – it’s out of bounds.”

2. Know your crowd

Good comedians gauge their audience. Office comedians should, too. “When you’re in a comedy club, you have to read the audience – what are they going to let me get away with? You have to do the same thing in an office.” And while it might sound a bit passé, the best barometer of that is often the women in the room. “If you can make the women in the room laugh,” McClellan says, “then everything’s A-OK.”

3. Keep it real

Stuck for material? Try the truth, McClellan says. “That’s one of the great things about [Louis] C.K. The truth wins out in the end. And I think that’s the line – if you can say something that’s humorous but also true at the exact same time, people will give you a lot more leeway.” There’s a caveat here, though: If what you believe to be true happens to coincide with subjects like ethnicity, religion or gender, it might be best to leave it unsaid.

4. Pick your spot

“A lot of times people want to be that ‘funny’ guy, and I don’t think there’s anything worse than someone trying to be funny, someone who’s constantly ‘on,’” McClellan says. “People like a joke and they like to laugh, but you have to pick your spots.” A good place to pick as a worker? Somewhere off-site and after-hours. “People are letting their hair down a little more– they’re not confined by the walls of their workplace, either physically or mentally.”