Applications in humour


This is my first time in the Logging Off section, which is supposed to be about the lighter side of IT. I’m a few issues behind, but the last thing I read was Frank Hayes telling us how not to lose our jobs. But don’t hold your breath on this article; it’s a serious look at humour in IT.

Have you noticed that the term “IT comic” has not crept into the language? Not a surprise – has anyone ever invited a programmer to a non-programmer’s party thinking, “We really need a programmer here to liven things up?” But that’s okay. We are keeping good company with other serious professions such as gynecologists, accountants and dentists. (Although one time I had a wisdom tooth removed and, during the procedure the dentist sat back and said, “I don’t know what to do…I think I have to call a specialist.” I was in the chair with all that stuff in my mouth and could only gurgle in amazement. The dentist held up the already extracted tooth and said, “just kidding.” It wasn’t funny at the time.)

Obviously the context in which humour is applied is incredibly important. In the May 31 edition of ComputerWorld Canada, Victoria Berry (the editor of this section, I might add) reported that Rudolph Giuliani had been a speaker at CA World 2002. I was drawn to read the article by the sheer balls of Computer Associates to get the most unrelated, currently famous figure to speak for them. Anything to bring in a crowd I suppose. Then I read this, “He [Giuliani] added that his role model in this [being a leader] was former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.” I was so depressed that Giuliani would cite an arms-dealing demented actor as a role model that I stopped reading the article. I was thinking that this diminished the former mayor of New York’s leadership during the Sept. 11 attack.

After a couple of days, I realized that this report could have been funny. To test this I turned to an American fellow who is living in Canada and married to a beautiful Canadian woman (OK, he’s good looking too). He is also a U.S. Navy Reservist. I said to him, “Would you think it was funny if I told you that Rudolph Giuliani held up Ronald Reagan as a role model for leadership?”

“Yeah, that’s funny.”

“Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?”

“Funny ha-ha. Reagan was an actor. Giuliani is modeling himself on someone who acted like a leader.”

In retrospect, I don’t know how Victoria resisted writing the article along these lines: “It was a surprise to many that Giuliani cited Ronald Reagan as his leadership role model. This former President was a regular target during his administration by Spitting Image, a political spoof television show from the U.K. featuring grotesque puppets. You may recall these puppets from the Genesis video for ” Land of Confusion.”

But I suspect Victoria didn’t want to be fired, ridiculed or both. Political correctness also plays a role.

Which of these things contribute to our lack of humour?

a) we just aren’t funny

b) what we do for a living is pretty frickin’ boring

c) there are too many people to offend

d) our jokes – e.g. most Unix line commands – are just too obscure

e) no one invites us to parties so that we can practise

f) all of the above

What’s worse is it took me too long to remember the punch line to the joke “how many programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” I realized that it’s because the joke isn’t funny. We can’t even successfully make fun of ourselves.

Sigh. I’m going to go back to work now to design a database or something.

Robert Ford lives in Vancouver (apparently a no-fun town), owns Quokka Systems Consulting and is sad no one gets the humour about the image that’s on the home page of