Bringing Laughter Into the Business Picture

People living in a technological fast-paced business world who are constantly under stress needs humor. Humorist Izzy Gesell offers pointers to decompress.

Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we have to be adulterated, says humor consultant Izzy Gesell, of Wide Angle Humor in Northampton.

In a talk entitled, “Becoming Light-Hearted: The Importance of Humor in Family Business and In Our Lives,” Gesell says most of us are, in fact, “adulterated.” Says the dark-haired, portly humorist, “We see who we’d like to be, not who we are. By the time I leave my house, I’m tall, thin and blond in my own mind’s eye.” The true test of how you really appear to the world, he says, is to ask a 9-year-old to impersonate you. You’ll see exactly how you present yourself, flaws and all.

But this “adulteration” also has another meaning–the loss of childhood playfulness. Adults’ sense of play gets buried under work-related stress.

Gesell was invited to present to the Family Business Center by Director Ira Bryck, who says, “Family businesses often take themselves quite seriously. There needs to be enough ‘lubrication’ to reduce stress.”

Gesell believes humor is crucial in business and in life. “People are very stressed–they can’t decompress from one situation to another. We’re training ourselves to think in nanoseconds. We’re working in very small segments of time–30 seconds or less. Humor is low-tech, high touch–its that connection that gives our lives meaning. We need that human contact to survive.” And humor is not just for managers and owners. Employees, too, must have a chance to breathe and laugh. Gesell refers to them as “the internal customer. Treat them with the same respect as your external customers.”

Gesell calls the constant pressure “techno-stress, or the electronic leash. You’re never away from your responsibilities. We get caught up in the belief that technology will make our lives easier, when it actually makes it more complicated.”

Yet we are trained to see our technological aids as always slow and obsolete, replaced by something faster. Gesell suggests that when a computer or ATM machine seems slow, don’t compare it with a faster machine, but with the time it would take to accomplish the task another way. “How slow could an ATM be if it’s 2 a.m. and the bank isn’t open for seven hours?

“In family business, there’s no let-up, no disengagement. We are so stressed out that you need to laugh. On weekends you take twice as much home because you have two days to not do it.

In our technological, fast-paced business world, change is constant. Yet people are creatures of routine, who like to do the samething the same way time after time. Humor, says Gesell, expands our comfort zone and helps us adapt to change.

How? Because most of our stressors are predictable, so we can prepare ourselves with the weapon of humor. “You cannot laugh and be tense at the same time.”

The benefits of humor reach others around you, too. “When you start telling jokes and stories, I guarantee that other people will come to you and open up. It is an invitation for you to attract joy and humor into your life.”

How do you become funny? Write down jokes you like, and practice them. “Read it from the card, tell it to the dog.”

Every joke has three parts: setting, problem, and punchline. But the way to remember the jokes is to work backwards; focus on the punchline. The setting and the problem can be adapted if you don’t remember all the original details, as long as you put in enough visual cues to make the story come alive. “You will find all of a sudden that life is pretty funny. And because you’re using material that you find humorous, you don’t have to worry about whether other people find it humorous.”

If you write down only one joke a week, you’ll have 52 after your first year. And if you can successfully deliver 52 jokes, says Gesell, “You’re a bona fide humorist.” People will want to see you, because you bring them joy.

One mistake many joke tellers make, along with forgetting the punchline, is to denigrate themselves as not worthy of telling the joke. This infuriates Gesell. “Laughter is a gift; give it with the respect a gift deserves.”

Even without telling jokes, Gesell believes we can incorporate pleasurable moments into our work lives. Collect representations of humor, joy, love, and other positive emotions; they’ll bring back the flood of memories when you look at them or touch them. Examples include pictures of a loved one, childhood toys, goofy souvenirs of a great vacation, and so forth. And don’t be embarrassed by fear of your co-workers’ reactions. “If you own your own imperfection, no one can hurt you with the truth. Find something that’s a symbol of your playfulness.” If you worry that your co-workers will think you unprofessional, “there are people who think that about you now.”

Gesell believes that the first and last 15 minutes of each day shape the mood of our entire waking hours. So, he says, master the challenges we can control, let go of those we can’t, and start your day with a smile.

Shel Horowitz is Director of Accurate Writing & More, a family-owned firm in Northampton, MA, offering low-cost marketing strategies for businesses. His latest book is Marketing Without Megabucks, published by Simon & Schuster. He can be reached at his web site