Make 'Em Laugh: Why Funny People Interview Well


job interview advice humor jokes Individuals whom others describe as “funny” will receive approximately $1,000,000 more in compensation over the course of a typical career than those described as “not funny”.  That is an entirely true made-up fact.

As an interviewer coming off a two week interview bender, I can confirm that there is nothing more refreshing than a clever and qualified candidate.

For now, let us assume that just by virtue of applying you are qualified for the position.  How do you set yourself apart from the dozens of qualified candidates that a hiring manager is likely to bring in for an interview?  Comedy is hard, but unemployment is often harder; with a few simple tips you can make an otherwise bland and predictable interview memorable.

Thank You for Loving Me

According to researchers at the University of Nebraska, narcissists did significantly better on simulated job interviews than the more humble among us.  To a certain extent this makes sense. Narcissists do well in interviews because they are perceived as confident and capable; I would argue that a well-timed and clever observation accomplishes much of the same thing without running the risk of appearing arrogant or self-serving.

Comedy, at its heart, is an expression of confidence.  A good joke shows that you are smart enough to understand the topic at hand, witty enough to reframe the discussion, and socially-savvy enough to understand what others find funny.

A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk into a Bar

Comedy has no rules, but interviews do.  Humor is only dangerous when it is handled carelessly; you should work to avoid potentially offensive or inflammatory topics.  Nothing can cause your joke about elephant handlers to fall flat faster than an interviewer who spends her weekends volunteering for the Ringling Brothers’ circus.

For professional contexts I generally rely on the same rule I use for dinner conversation at the in-laws': no religion, no politics, no cursing.  Even the most incisive of observations can be undone by coming across as crass when laden with your favorite four letter words.

Consider poking fun at a slight faux pas you might have made or noting a particularly ironic situation.  Now just make sure understand irony – hint: you won’t get there by listening to Alanis Morissette.

It’s Conan O’Brien!

Unless you too anticipate getting a sweet gig on TBS when this job falls through you should take care to avoid overdoing it.  Everyone loves a good laugh, but you should ultimately remember why you’re there.  They want to get to know you as a person and as a potential employee; comedy makes them like you and competency makes them hire you.

A few astute observations are more than enough to grease the wheels.  Too much and you run the risk of being seen as unprofessional or flippant.

Make 'Em Laugh

I might not be old enough to successfully make a Donald O’Connor reference but I am pretty sure he had it right when he sang, “Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em laugh. Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?” I have been fortunate enough to always work with people who aren’t afraid to take a moment out of their day and laugh, at themselves, at each other, or at the world.

The ability to laugh and create laughter speaks to so much more than your wit; it speaks to your “fit” within an organization.  Besides, if no one laughs at your brilliant Chuck Norris joke, is that really a place you want to work?

If being funny is wrong, I don’t want to be right. - Colin Dixon

Colin Dixon is the program coordinator for student leadership at the Colin Powell Center. Read more about him and our other contributing authors here.