Today I will give you a perfect example of: “How to Kill a Joke.” 

Bring a towel.


Many years ago I was working on a major New York theatre production. 

There were the usual producer crises and daily hatreds between creative elements.

One person who had been hired to “get the word out” about the show was not doing her job. 

There was a massive meeting called in the theatre for all the behind-the-scenes power people to directly confront her and address her inadequacies and to try to find a resolution that would help her keep her job.

The meeting was not expected to go well.

Early the next morning, the woman, surrounded by men, tried to defend her behavior, but it wasn’t going well and even from my distant vantage point a the back of the theatre lobby I could see her taking invisible — but deserved — body blows.

One of the many young producers’ assistants entered the theatre and stood next to me in the lobby.  His boss hadn’t arrived at the meeting yet, so he decided to stand with me to wait for him.  We always a good laugh together based on our humble stations.

My friend asked me how it was going and, and men often do, I tried to crack a joke — by answering him with a question:

ME:  Did you bring a towel?

FRIEND:  Why would I bring a towel?

ME:  To wipe up the blood.

He laughed.  I laughed.  He punched me in the arm.  I pushed him in the shoulder.  It was a great bonding moment between boys.

Then his producer boss walked in the theatre.

My friend raced to his boss, still tethered in giggles, and said, “Boles wants us to bring a towel to wipe up her blood!” 

He continued to laugh.

His boss shot me a deadly look. 

My alleged friend stopped giggling. 

His boss motioned for him to follow him into the meeting. 

My former friend shot me a barely-wounding look as he tried to imitate his boss’ effective Glare-of-Death.

It was then I learned to preface all private joke attempts with the phrase — “This is between us…” — so I would at least have a tiny moral tether for hanging onto above the nasty fray that happens when a joke poorly re-told bleeds all of your earned goodwill to death. 

4 Comments

  1. Thanks, Karvain! That moment has lived in infamy for a long while now — and finally those involved with the original show are able to laugh about it…

  2. Hi David,
    When a personal joke becomes public there is always a danger of the interpretaion going awry.
    I also learnt it in a very hard way…
    It takes long to overcome the embarrasment!

  3. Yes, Katha! It was a valuable lesson — one that I confess I have failed to really learn a few times over the bridge of my life! When the intimacy of the moment tries to get repeated in public — failure is always the end result and it isn’t usually the re-teller that gets in trouble!