by Abbie Lundberg

IT Culture: What’s So Funny?

May 15, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

I recently saw Spamalot, the Broadway extravaganza and laugh-fest written by former Monty Pythoner Eric Idle. Being a Python fan from way back, I thoroughly enjoyed the re-creations of some of my favorite moments from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the knights who say “ni”; the killer rabbit; the French castle scene). As work had been somewhat stressful lately, getting out and laughing for a couple of hours was wonderfully therapeutic.

Various studies argue that a good belly laugh produces numerous health benefits. “Laughter reduces at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with the stress response, including epinephrine, cortisol, dopac and growth hormone,” writes Paul E. McGhee in an article titled “Humor and Health” (his website is Other sources claim that laughter relieves pain, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and stimulates the production of endorphins, which make you feel good.

But can laughter help a business be more productive? Many believe it can. Not only can humor reduce stress, making employees happier and healthier, it can also enhance people’s ability to retain and retrieve information, says author and consultant Ron Culberson in a recent Fast Company article, “Laughing Your Way to Success.”

My favorite Python, John Cleese, agrees. Cleese branched out into corporate training videos and motivational speaking in the ’70s and ’80s. (Who can forget such classics as “Meetings, Bloody Meetings” and “Body Language Howlers”?) “Humor in training increases retention and decreases anxiety,” Cleese has said. “If the training point is surrounded with humor, it can be readily digested, remembered and applied.”

Humor in the workplace has been shown to stimulate creative thinking and increase productivity, says Bruce Baum, professor of exceptional education at Buffalo State University, in the Fast Company article. “The more fun you have, the more you can get done.”

But Cleese is well aware that the workplace is not the most conducive environment for humor. He once said, “I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.” And if you look at the portrayal of the workplace in popular culture, that’s pretty much the picture you get. Have you seen The Office? Sure it’s funny, but in a painful way.

Part of the problem is that at first blush comedy seems to be at odds with competition. Can you imagine Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen taking time before her program to tell a joke? Well, maybe if she had, she might not have fallen. A famous Joe Montana story has the Hall of Fame quarterback pausing in the huddle to draw his teammates’ attention to John Candy sitting in the stands during the 49ers’ successful last-minute drive in the 1982 Super Bowl. The trick is finding the right way to incorporate humor into your work setting.

Have you found that way? If so, I’d love to hear about it.