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Chris Hadfield
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Empathy Is a Byproduct of Humor – But Only When It's Done Well

Scott Aukerman, the co-founder of 'Between Two Ferns', developed humor early on as a way disarm bullies. He knows from experience that, in comedy, your intentions really matter.

Scott Aukerman: Unfortunately I think everyone thinks they're funny maybe and so few people actually are. I think there's a certain type of bully humor – bullies throughout history including people who have become some of the most powerful people in the world they just use their humor to make other people feel small and to be like every joke they make is at someone's expense, almost bragging about how much more powerful they are than the other person. And that to me is not the greatest sense of humor to have because while it's fun to slam your friends I think you really don't have a lot of empathy for the bully who's using humor.

I think the instinct to be self-deprecating starts when you're young and you don't take yourself too seriously when you're not popular and the world and your peers don't seem to be taking you seriously. I remember in high school for some reason I just heard that there was a huge dude who really didn't like me who wanted to beat me up. as far as I was concerned I had never met him but it was just one of those things where he had found someone smaller than him to pick on and so I remember just using humor to disarm him. And like he got in my face one day and I just was like, "Come on man." I started acting like really huge and tough. "I'm like come on I'll take you down. Come on bro. Come at me bro." And he just started laughing and was like you're funny man. And then after that we were friends. I was getting mugged once and I just ended up talking to the guy for 20 minutes trying to make him laugh. And at the end of it he was like, "You're too nice of a guy. All right. I'll see you later."

That sort of skill can really come in handy when you feel as if the world is against you in a way. to not take yourself seriously I think the world then has empathy for you. You always see it when you're taking a public speaking class they always say start off with a joke. People don't want to have lives where they're sitting there being bored by people all the time. When you're in charge of a company people usually hate their boss because they're mean all the time. Humor is a great tool to use to just get people on your side.

As long as you’re funny, it can get you out of almost anything – even getting mugged, as co-founder of Between Two Ferns Scott Aukerman recounts. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is funny, although some people believe they are, and this is usually when you get bully-style humor where every joke is at someone else’s expense. In Aukerman’s view, real humor is about unity – finding the common ground with others – and it’s a gateway to empathy, which creates more genuine interactions. So if you want to navigate the tricky waters of social interactions, get people on your side during a work presentation, or stop a guy from taking your wallet, start with a joke. Scott Aukerman’s podcast is Comedy Bang! Bang!.


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