Funny Business

A startling mega merger is rocking Corporate America: Big Business is buying Big Laughs. For years, CEOs have covertly used joke writers to animate their stuffy images. The New York Times reveals that many corporations now retain "humor consultants" to rally the troops at corporate meetings. The Wall Street Journal reports that some Fortune 500 companies make their executives attend comedy school. No kidding. The aim: sharpen worker's creative skills and make them more productive. Funny Business.

Laughter is the best medicine, but will it prove a productivity elixir in the workplace? With more jokes at work, Human Resources may become comedy police. On an interview, the first question will no longer be "Tell me about yourself"; it'll be "Tell me a joke!"

What if your colleagues notice you're acting kind of funny? When a customer says "You've got to be kidding?", how will you respond? No one will take you seriously, but isn't that the idea? Whatever you do, always remember: let your boss have the last laugh.

We all know workers so busy kidding around, they never get anything done. Every office has a comedian and, tragically, once they make that first joke, they just can't stop. They need the twelve step program, Jokeaholics Anonymous. The only requirement for joining is a desire to stop joking. Jokeaholics acknowledge the devastating effect humor has had on their lives; how it's hurt their jobs, damaged relationships, that their joking is out of control. In time, they learn that too much joking just isn't funny.

Is humor taking over corporate America ? In the 1990's, many investors laughed all the way to the bank. Internet stocks made lots of funny money. It seems the business world had fool's gold. Corporations often embrace any hot new trend. If Wall Street thought losing money would be profitable, firms would go out of business quicker than the next IPO came to market.

Comedy already IS big business. Seinfeld's cashed out and Saturday Night Live's a cash cow. But while the market rewards a lucky few, even a booming economy and labor shortage haven't dented the rampant unemployment of most comedians.

Since the NEA is functionally dysfunctional, and with the largest Federal budget deficit in generations, I propose a program to subsidize the comedically challenged: "Jokefare" means fair jokes. One need not be funny to qualify. In fact, only the dull comic can demonstrate real need. We will "level the comedy stage" and give all an equal opportunity to jest. Under Jokefare, comics won't care if it's "a hand up" or "a hand out." Just give 'em a hand!

President Bush, a laughingstock, will surely support this historic hysteria. The Congressional votes may not be there, but most Americans think their government's a joke.

Sadly, because I've made money being funny, I wouldn't qualify for Jokefare, my own creation. I've been published, worked in clubs and on tv. Still, my student loans and back taxes demand more; liquid financing, soft money or hard cash. With such unstable income, I'm often asked about my 401K. My retirement plan is to die; quickly, I hope, before the jokes do.

So finally...the ridiculous question regulators must contend with: Will Funny Business create an absurd cartel where one company steals all the jokes and nobody's laughing? In that case, the rest of us might end up playing Monopoly.

Comedy is about the truth and we laugh because we recognize the pain. In the business world, otherwise good people lie all the time. The dishonesty can be as simple as a colleague politely asking "How are you?" and pretending they care. Or as complex as trying to understand contractual fine print, only to learn that the fine print had fine print. All day long, the American worker is besieged by lies and unwittingly passes them along. W.C. Fields said, "comedy is tragedy happening to someone else". Too often, business is the lie happening to someone else.

Corporate America will tolerate Funny Business until it's gets too close to the truth. Imagine a McKinsey led staff retreat wherein a CEO engages his top managers, recent comedy school graduates. When the big boss hears what the little people really think of him, via improvised skits and jokes, his outrage will mark the last time comedy is welcomed at that firm.

Unlike humor, business has an underlying fear of exposure and will drop the joking posture the moment it costs too much. No corporation wants the bottom line to turn out funny. Sadly, we'll continue to take work all too seriously.