Why can some people not joke

10 questions to the humor trainer Eva Ullmann We need more laughter research

How does humor work

It takes an incongruity. Either you exaggerate a lot, you open your eyes, tell very dramatically, you exaggerate a lot. Often it is a punch line, a surprising twist and an expectation is not fulfilled.

Michelle and Barack Obama are at a party and have a conversation with a dealership owner and afterwards it turns out that Michelle was once in a relationship with this dealership owner. Says Barack to her: "You see, if you had stayed with him, you would be the wife of a car dealership today." What does Michelle answer? "If I had stayed with him, he would be President of the United States today."

What do humor trainers do?

You expect him to be funny, entertaining, a cabaret artist. It's like expecting a depression professional to be depressed, or to make people more depressed. With humor trainers, people want to know how humor works and how they can better use humor. We make people humorous or train them to use humor in a targeted manner.

Does everyone have a sense of humor?

Everyone has a sense of humor, but not everyone has mine. People have different humor. Sometimes we need time to understand jokes.

Are there different types of humor?

We differentiate between loving, social and aggressive humor. Social humor means something is funny. Aggressive humor means that I poke fun at myself or others. I humiliate someone with humor and it makes me laugh. For example: someone drops a glass of water. It makes a difference whether I say, "You can let go" or "Ah, there is still gravity. It's good that you demonstrated it." Aggressive humor would be to say, "At your age you can't hold water that well either." That is a difference in terms of shame. That's why I call this one relaxing Humor and the other tense or shameful Humor.

Why does humor need to be explored?

You probably don't have to. But it is a very important compensation. There's a lot more to fear, anger, grief, abuse. We know a lot more about illness than we do about health. That is why the science of health has been developing in the last few years, trying to get a grip on happiness. Why don't some people get sick, why don't people get depressed? People have been looking more closely for twenty or thirty years. How does humor affect our health? Are humorous people healthier, do they just feel healthier, can they communicate better, do they make life easier for themselves? How does humor relate to health, psychological and communication aspects? This is a good balance to the fact that we know a lot about illness.

Different countries, different humor?

For me, intercultural humor has two aspects. When I look at clowns who work a lot about pantomime, also internationally, in many countries people laugh at the same things if one uses body language humor. There are also very specific aspects in other countries. In South America, Spain and Italy one is much more body-related, more sexual. The further north you come, the more cognitive or linguistic jokes are made. You are also more distant from the point of view of the greeting, people are not so close. This can also be seen in humor: humor also reflects the rules of the game in a society.

Can you train humor?

I think there are talents. Cabaret artists, actresses who have a funny talent, also practice it a lot in order to get it on a stage. I often have participants who say, 'I'm not an extrovert, I'm very structured, I'm a no-nonsense executive, I will never be like an actor or a comedian'. But the comedian is not there when you are having a conversation with your employees or a team meeting. If the ten percent are more exaggerated, that's great. It's like singing. It would be a shame if people didn't sing in the shower just because they make it worse: First of all, it's beautiful, and it's useful.

Are some of us naturally funnier?

There is a study by Alexander Punt who says that people with a very high need for structure have less need for humor than people who can also live with a bit of chaos and creativity. He says there are also very factual and structured people who don't have such a great need for humor in order to do their job well. And then of course there are people who enjoy playing and who also like to playfully cope with conflicts and moments of stress, because it is then easier for them. Is that genetic? Did we get that from our ancestors? Is that socialized? As children, we imitate our parents, educators, and teachers a lot and learn humor through this. It's hard to say exactly where that comes from.

Does humor depend on hierarchy?

Humor has different effects in a hierarchy. From my point of view, any hierarchy can have social humor. Aggressive humor in different hierarchies is dangerous. Sometimes executives or bosses use aggressive humor to consolidate their position. Jokes at the expense of others signal 'I am in the highest position here'. If a secretary or an assistant does this, it can be dangerous. If an assistant doctor jokes at the head doctor's expense and he doesn't take it very humorous, it can have consequences. Aggressive humor is dangerous in different hierarchical levels, social humor is equally harmless on all hierarchical levels.

Is there a personal and professional sense of humor?

The participants in our seminars always claim that their personal humor is very different from their professional life. I think it's not that different because you don't think about humor that long. Both professionally and privately you get into situations where we have a quick joke, a quick phrase on our lips. From my point of view, people curb themselves in their work life, they wouldn't say everything in certain situations. There are also relationships of dependency, work situations with customers that you don't know very well. So people hold back their humor. But there is no difference in the private and professional environment. Even if a lot of people would contradict me.