Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Workplace Stress As a Source of Humor

Today's post is borrowing from John Kinde's e-letter.  John Kinde is a humor specialist, which has to be the coolest job EVER! Anyway, I am hoping he doesn't mind me using his post.

On to,  Workplace Stress As a Source of Humor, by John Kinde
Stressful work conditions, hospitals, war zones, police work and
other life-and-death situations are fertile grounds for humor.
This is because stress builds tension...and tension begs to be
released.  Humor is one of nature's stress relievers.
In the 1970s I worked with nuclear weapons as an ICBM (missile)
Launch Officer.  It's a job with certain stress factors that come
with the territory.  The possibility of being directed to launch
your missiles is an obvious stress situation.  But other, more
persistent stress factors were built into the system, similar to
the artificial stress of military basic training.  If you can't
take the stress of training, competition and evaluation, how could
you ever handle the stress of an actual combat situation? And then
there was stress from boredom, created by hour-after-hour working
shifts in the underground launch centers and never having to do
your job for real...thankfully.
One of the groups well-known for creating humor in the missile
business was The Groobers from FE Warren AFB.  In the mid-1970s,
four missileers formed a singing group which created humorous songs
about the Strategic Missile business.  They even produced a vinyl
record album of their music.  They were a hit performing as musical
guests at many command functions including the Olympic Arena
competitions at Vandenberg AFB, where I first saw them perform.
One of the lesser sources of stress for those in the missile
business was the second-class citizen feeling of some crew members
being in a pilot-dominated Air Force.  A group at Vandenberg AFB
created a parody for a banquet based on the USAF Thunderbirds, an
elite fighter-jet demonstration team.  Since the skit they created
was focused on missile launch officers, they adopted the name of
The Thunder Chairs and featured precision-demonstration launch
center activities from crew changeover to turning the keys (we
didn't launch by "pushing the button").  They were a big hit.
It was the environment of the missile career field that got me into
the humor business.  In 1976, I teamed up with two really funny guys
who worked in my unit.  As a serious person, I started learning the
foundations of good humor.  For three years we created entertainment
for our holiday parties, going away events and retirements.  The
two funny co-workers taught this not-naturally-funny guy the skills
of creating humor.
I recommend that you volunteer to be on a committee at your
workplace and help plan entertaining parties.  You'll help raise
morale and you'll sharpen your humor skills.  Creating fun parties
gave the initial focus to me, the Groobers, and the Thunder Chairs.
Volunteering gives you a hands-on workshop which trains you to be
There are many career fields more stressful than the missile
business.  One at the top of the list is working in a hospital
operating room, where life-and-death decisions are an every-day
reality.  Humor becomes an important coping tool.  A person working
in a surgical unit is most likely aware of a category of humor
called Gallows Humor.  It's humor created in the moment, normally
by a person under stress.  It's a coping tool.  There is a
right-and-wrong time and place for this type of humor.  A health
care professional, using this type of humor under pressure, needs
to be aware that one person's coping tool is another person's
inappropriate humor.  A health-care professional needs to be
cautious of using coping humor while in the presence of patients
and family members.  What is being used as a survival,
pressure-relief valve could be perceived as unprofessional by
someone not in the business.
Last week I received an email with a link to surgical room humor.
Toastmaster friend Karen Lewison referred me to a song parody which
also happens to fit into the category of our latest Joke Contest
theme...Music on Hold.
The link took me to a song parody by The Laryngospasms adapting the
song "Waking Up Is Hard to Do" to the profession of
nurse-anesthetists.  It is NOT an example of Gallows Humor, as it's
not created on-the-spot by an individual as a reaction to a
stressful situation.  It's a terrific parody produced by a very
talented group of nurses.  The parody itself will be funniest to
nurse-anesthetists and medical professionals.  People outside of
the business will also likely find it funny, but less so than
people who work in a surgical suite.  Many patients would also find
it funny, but there will be some who would not like it, as a
reaction to the apprehension they are feeling. What I do know, is
that if I'm wheeled into an operating room anytime soon, I want the
people working on me to have a good sense of humor! It's an
essential tool I want in their bag.
Before I give you the link, let me prepare you for what you're
going to see; some lessons to be learned:
The parody is funny primarily because working in an operating room
is a stressful job.  That makes it a place ripe for humor, because
of the humor principle of tension relief results in laughter.  The
 take their workplace and use it to grow tasteful song
parodies.  Their work provides an excellent source of stress relief
for professionals in their line of work.
A lesson to be learned from watching this video is:  Doing a parody
of a song where you customize it to fit a specific group is a very
effective way to get laughs.  And the secret is, you really don't
have to be a great singer to make it work (although in this example
The Laryngospasms are terrific singers).  The strength of a good
parody lies in the content, the writing, the tailoring and the
customization and not primarily in the musical skills of the singer.
Although if you ARE a good singer, that's a plus.  Remember that
the audience usually respects a good effort.  The rule in the
improv world is:  "If you can't sing...sing loud!"  Be bold and
confident.  It's the fit of the parody to the audience that
carries the day.
Also notice how they record the song music-video style in an
operating room.  This allows them to use props to accentuate the
humor.  It also allows them to include a nice twist by having the
"patient" sing along.  So even if you're presenting a parody at a
special event, it's an option to video record it in advance rather
than to perform it live.  Both performance techniques have their
Here is the link to the Waking Up Is Hard to Do parody
For information on The Laryngospasms and other parodies (Mr
 and All I have To Do is Dream) visit The Laryngospasms
web site
 and click on VIDEOS.

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