Just Get Some Bad News? Use Humor To Soften The Blow

David Horning
Jul 6 · 3 min read
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When we get bad news, sometimes, we’d rather just live with our heads in the sand instead of getting news that takes the wind out of our sails. No news is better than bad news, right?

Bad news is part of life, and when you get news like finding out you’ve been laid off, learning that a loved one is sick, or discovering Santa Claus was just your parents, it can take some time to process. It may not seem like the appropriate response to bad news would involve finding the humor in the situation, but it turns out, humor can be the coping mechanism that will help you move beyond the gravity of the situation sooner. Here’s why:

It provides “packaging”

There’s nothing worse than looking forward to getting a package in the mail, only to find it broken upon arrival. This is the shipping and handling equivalent to receiving bad news from a friend, coworker, or family member. Using humor to find the bright side of a situation doesn’t solve the problem, but it provides bubble wrap to soften the blow when this bad news comes.

It creates an instant perspective shift

When we laugh at something, it’s our brain’s way of saying, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.” Looking to discover the humor when receiving bad news is one way to deliver a very important message to yourself: there’s more than one way to look at this.

It serves as a connector

In many cases, jokes are able to connect two completely unrelated things, which, when the audience figures out the punchline, creates a new neural pathway that will connect the two ideas together. For example, when the FDA put a temporary hold on romaine due to e.coli contamination, I wrote the following joke:

“The FDA had to ban romaine because it could give you e.coli and kill you. This confused me, because when I was a kid, I remember grown-ups saying, ‘Don’t smoke weed! Stay away from weed! Because weed can kill you,’ but no one’s ever died from a marijuana overdose. So it turns out, romaine is the real devil’s lettuce.”

Now, any time I use romaine in a recipe, I refers (reefer) to it as the devil’s lettuce, and will never not connect the two unrelated things together.

You know your sense of humor better than I do. I can’t tell you what exactly you’ll think is funny or how to make bad news funny. All you need to do is realize that there is inherently something to laugh about in all news, no matter good, bad, or gender neutral. When you can do this, it doesn’t make the problem go away, but it gives you some added protection from the negative side effects of the knee-jerk emotions you’re bound to feel.

Check out the most recent episode of my podcast, You Can’t Laugh At That, for an in-depth discussion and joke breakdown on the topic:

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