Funny and Successful?

 

By Alyssa Connelly, MEIM ’13

I am writing in response to an article I recently read on Forbes.com entitled “Are Funny People More Successful in Business?” by Jenna Goudreau, a member of the Forbes Staff who primarily reports on navigating success for professional women. This topic is of special interest to me, as I consider myself to be a funny business woman trying to be successful and know many others of this credo in my graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University, the Master of Entertainment Industry Management.

Just from reading the title, I was immediately inclined to think “Yes!” based on my own preference for working with others who are light-hearted and do not take themselves or the situation too seriously. If things go wrong, I would much rather have someone on my team who is able to bring up group morale by cracking a good joke, but this article discussed both sides of the coin, stating that humor can be a great tool in any organization but only when used at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

The article begins by citing the positive experience of Steve Cody, 57, co-founder and managing partner of Peppercom, a mid-size communications agency based in New York, who recently became a stand-up comedian. Cody says that once he began studying stand-up comedy, he “noticed a happy crossover to his professional life, where he was employing humor more often, listening more intently to clients and becoming better at holding audiences’ attention during presentations.” He soon thereafter held a comedy workshop for his all of his company’s employees.

Psychologist Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, explains that workplace humor may offer some perspective on a situation, which helps people process it. In the article he goes on to say, ”Because we can only feel one emotion at a time, humor creates an emotional lift by displacing frustration with the joy of the joke and a physiological reduction of stress hormones.”

Being a student and avid fan of the entertainment industry, I can think of many examples of funny people who are successful. Of course, any popular comedian or comic writer would immediately fall under this category because being funny is their business, but there are also others whose grasp of humor came as a surprise to me. One example of this is Donald Trump. Trump is one of the most successful and famous businessmen in the world, which can only be accomplished through serious discipline and dedication. So it was a hilarious surprise for me to see him cracking jokes and delivering funny lines on his show “The Apprentice.”  I did not know that his hair was not the only thing funny about him!

Another glowing example of a successful funny person is our country’s President, Barack Obama. Facing economic hard times, ongoing wars, and heavy political opposition, one could easily understand if the President was usually in a somber mood, but on the contrary, time and time again he finds a way to put things in perspective, ease the tension, and represent the nation in a wonderfully charismatic way, often by throwing a good joke or song into his epic speeches.  I am reminded of his “spilled milk joke” during the latest State of the Union address.

However, it is important to note that the use of humor in a professional setting can and will backfire, if used inappropriately. As the article states, “anything that may be construed as racist, sexist, ageist or hits upon another cultural sensitivity—could damage your reputation and professional relationships.” Also, humor cannot be used in the place of hard work. If you are always joking around to the point that your job performance flounders, then no one will ever take you seriously and it will become your career that is the joke.