Jokes: Is it okay to laugh?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Jokes

early edition Tom Swift and His Airship coverA Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: On this week spanning two years, please welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher, a popular OurValues writer whose earlier series have explored Gifts, James Joyce, Aging, the Real World and even his own Soupathon. Here is the first part of Terry’s latest series on—Jokes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

I love jokes. Love them all the time—except when I don’t like them at all.

What jokes do I love? Some of my favorites are Tom Swifties, those clever one-liners where the adverb makes a pun on the quoted expression.

(Oops. That’s the kind of joke I don’t like, the ones you have to explain.)

For example:

“Who swiped the pencil sharpener?” Tom asked, bluntly.

“I think the magician is going to saw that woman in half,” Tom said, intuitively.

One reason I like Tom Swifties so much is their inclusivity, in addition to their brevity. You can share them easily and widely, and as soon as the penny falls, and the hearer connects the pun to the quoted line, it makes for shared understanding, two or more people smiling at the same time.

“I just flew back from China,” Tom said, disoriented.

Children especially seem to love them, and they’re a mainstay of the jokes page in magazines like Highlights and Boy’s Life.

(Maybe that’s why I like them so much, because I’m so childish.)

Tom Swifties are, for the most part, inoffensive. Although I do know a few blue ones, suitable only for mature audiences.

And most jokes are that way, inclusive and inoffensive.

But what about the other kind of jokes? We all have heard jokes that are exclusive, hurtful, offensive, cringe-inducing. I’ve told a few of them myself.

How do we feel about them? Is it okay to laugh?

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Comments: (3)
Categories: Respect


  1. There is laughing at and laughing with. One’s culture/background also figures into this — one culture can find something funny that would leave someone from another background puzzled. Oppressed groups develop a dark humor that is funny when you’re on the inside but could sound disrespectful to someone w/o the shared experience.

  2. I met Terry Gallagher at a conference last summer in Toronto and immediately was drawn to his great good cheer and attractive demeanor. It is very good to read his work here and to chuckle at his Tom Swifties which are fun, indeed!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Jim, but that was a different Terry Gallagher you met last summer. I haven’t been to Toronto for years.