Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"When People Don't Laugh (*And You're Not Certain Why)"

As distinguished from tomorrow’s follow-up, “When People Don’t Laugh (And You Know Exactly Why)”

We’re in the hotel in Hawaii.  I’m ordering a massage over the phone.  The Spa Person takes down the particulars – my name, my room number, the day I wanted the massage, the time, the type of massage I wanted.  Finally, he asks,

“Which gender would you prefer for your massage?”

To which I instantly shoot back,

“What have you got?”

To which the Spa Person replies,

“Male or female.”

Okay, “Freeze it” right there.  Look, you don’t have to take my word for this, though keep in mind I’m a professional comedy person with decades of experience in the field, and I’m telling you, when somebody asks you, “Which gender would you prefer for your massage?” and you shoot back, “What have you got?”…

That’s funny.

Take my word for it.  It just is.

“What gender would you prefer?”

“What have you got?”



When I responded, “What have you got?” to that Spa Person on the phone, the man did not laugh, he did not chuckle, he did not snort, snigger, “Hee-hee” or guffaw.  Nor, going the other way, did he groan, sigh, gnash his teeth or, as far as I could tell talking to him over the phone, roll his eyes. 

He simply said,

“Male or female.” 

No hesitation.  No pause.  He just went for it.  As if I had asked him a perfectly normal question.  A simple inquiry about options, which, normally, would not be funny, but in this unique situation, it is.

“What kind of bread do you want you sandwich on?”

“What have you got?”

Not funny.  Why?  Because there are multiple options.  You know the sandwich bread choices.  I need not list them here. 

On the other hand, when there are only two possible options, as with gender options there inevitably are, “What have you got?”, I’m telling you,

Is funny!

Trust me on this.  I know.

All right.  So what is goin’ on?

Two possibilities come to mind.  And, being the insecure person I am, my first thought goes immediately to

“It’s me.”

I did something wrong. 

I quickly review my performance.  Had I misspoken my words?

“What have you gaunt”?


Had I inadvertently burped, gulped, snorted or whistled while I was speaking, making him unable to hear what I was saying?


Had I, in my excitement to get my, I was certain, big laugh, hurried my delivery?


No.  I had delivered it impeccably.   On time, and on the money.

All right, so it wasn’t me.  Which moved me, happily, to the second possibility:

“It was him.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.  Let’s see, now.  What explanation could there be for a man not to laugh at a certifiably funny remark?  Consider these:

The man was busy.

The man was tired.

The man was bored.

He had had a bad day.

He was in constant physical pain, which prevented him from seeing the humor in anything.

His personal hopes and dreams having been crushed, he now found himself in a soul-sapping massage-appointment-taking position.

He had recently received news of the passing of a close relative.

He was insecure about his own gender affiliation.

He had heard this “witty retort” many times before.

He had no sense of humor.

And the always reliable over the past four thousand years…

He hates Jews.

One, or a combination of the above, could have been the reason he hadn’t laughed.

Of course, comedy not being an exact science, it’s possible that I’m mistaken, and my response was simply not funny.


“What have you got”?  Are you kidding me?

It’s hilarious!

(Full Disclosure:  The question may have crossed your mind, “Why was he being funny at all?”  Because that’s what I do?  Guilty.  But more specifically in this case, when the Spa Person asked me, “What gender would you prefer for your massage?”, Dr. M was sitting in the room.  When I replied, “What have you got?”, I was stalling.  Looking back, it is possible that the awkwardness of the situation had somehow altered my delivery and lost me my laugh.  Because I’m telling you, there should have been one.)


joe said...

I vote for "he had no sense of humor."

There have been many times when I have uttered a certain retort (we'll call it "Line X") and it has killed s/he who heard it. Then I try it on someone and it just hangs there.

I wonder, as you wondered, all of the possible explanations. (Well, not all of them exactly, because I'm Cuban and not Jewish and so I must alter that one to "Is that guy a Communist?" but never mind.)

And I go back to thinking: That's someone traversing life unencumbered by the slightest chemical trace of a sense of humor.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

How about this:

He respected your question enough NOT to laugh at it, and then he answered your question. He didn't do anything wrong.

People in public jobs such as front desk clerk or concierge learn quickly that laughing at the customer carries a risk. Some won't do it no matter what. They've seen the bad feelings which arise when they laugh at a customer who wasn't being funny at all.

But you made me laugh.

Gary said...

You might have been looking or a transgender masseuse and the spa person wouldn't know that w/out eliminating the obvious options. They probably don't list the out-of-round choices on the menu. But...yes, it was funny, at least to those of us governed by the male/female designations.

PB said...

I like the way that today's post did not spoil the endings of two movies for me.

Keep up the good work.

Keith said...

I can honestly say that I wouldn't have laughed. Not because it's not funny, but because I'd be in the middle of my "talking on the phone" job. I did tech support for years and I got into the mindset of just getting the problem fixed and getting the person off the phone.

Of course, my first day of tech support was different. I wasn't jaded yet by "those people" that call. A woman called up and said that her daughter installed something on her computer. She said that if she let the computer sit for a while, a movie would come up and start playing.

"It's some space thing with all the planets and the sun and stuff. What is that?"

To which I naturally replied, "We call that the solar system."

"Well, I just want it off."

Okay, so customers who have other stuff they'd rather be doing have already in the mindset of "just get the problem fixed and get the person off the phone". No more jokes after that - and not much laughing at other people's jokes unless we were just sitting and waiting for a reboot or something. Just get the person off the phone.

Anonymous said...

As always, you made me laugh p. But I have to go with max theyguy didn't talk with you long enough to know you were joking so even though he might have been rolling on the floor laughing inside he put pn a super professional hat and just answered the question because he was a afraid to offend.

Jon88 said...

My three choices: He had no sense of humor; he's heard it often before; you delivered the line with enough sincerity (and/or deadpan) that it fell into the "clever" category rather than "funny." Nobody laughs at clever.