How to React to a Joke You Didn’t Get

You and your friends are gathered around the campfire, beers in hand. It’s been a fun day out on the lake, but now it’s time to enjoy each other’s company and laugh a little. Before long, jokes break out, and everyone is trying to one-up the next.

Dick says “Okay, okay, guys, listen to this one. A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. When the neutron gets his drink, he asks, ‘Bartender, how much do I owe you?’ The bartender replies, ‘For you, neutron, no charge’… No charge! Get it?!”

Everyone chuckles. After all, everyone knows basic chemistry, right? Right? You’ve waited too long to react to the joke, and now all eyes are turning towards you.

“Roger, what did you think of the joke,” Dick asks. “Didn’t you think it was funny?”

You stare in silence. “Umm, I, uhh—”

You want to curl up in a ball and burrow yourself into the ground. If you were the only one who didn’t think the joke was funny, you risk looking like a complete jerk. If you didn’t understand the joke, you risk looking dumb. If you simply didn’t hear the joke, you should have asked for it to be repeated. If you were somehow offended by the joke, you look like a goody two-shoes.

“Umm, the joke? Well, I… it was…” you stammer.

“You know what guys, it’s getting late,” Dick says, dejectedly. “Maybe it’s time we turn in. Seems not everyone is in a laughing mood.”

The night is ruined.

How can you avoid this in the future? What is the best way to approach a joke that you didn’t get?

  • Faking laughter along with the rest of the group is a surefire way to make it believed that you understood and appreciated the joke. Others will guide you; just laugh along and pray no one calls on you to explain why you thought it was funny.
  • If you’re alone, however, you have no group to fall back on. Laugh where you think appropriate. Help sell that you got the joke by repeating a word or two of the punchline. “Ha, no charge.
  • If you aren’t able to fake laughter, at least smile, and comment on how you’re going to need to remember that joke. “Oh, that’s great, that’s great. I’m gonna have to remember that one.”
  • Furthermore, specifically name someone random who you think would appreciate the joke. “Oh man, I’m gonna have to tell that one to Deb from Accounting on Monday. That’s right up her alley!” Even though you didn’t get the joke, your friend now thinks you understood it enough to know who to pass it onto.
  • If pretending to laugh, smile, and remember the joke aren’t your thing, you could also state how bad the joke is. Shake your head and “Oh man, seriously? Oh that’s a bad joke. That’s so dumb.” In reality, the joke you heard probably was a pretty bad play on words, so most of the time it works.
  • Act offended. “Seriously?! You’re telling me that joke? Don’t you think that’s a little distasteful?” Few will ask for follow-up for fear of offending you even more.
  • Use the “too soon” approach, as if the joke comes too quickly after a tragedy. “Oh, whoa, Dick. Neutrons? Too soon, man, too soon.” Dick has no idea what tragedy just happened involving the subject of his joke, now making him look like the half-wit.”
  • Be honest and say you don’t get it. Have the joke explained. “Ohhhh… neutrons have no charge. It’s a chemistry thing! Huh, I never took that class.”
  • If there is a child with you, ask for the joke to be explained to the kid, but really it’s for your benefit.
  • Completely tear the joke apart and state why the joke could never happen in real life. “Do you even understand how tiny a neutron is? It’s incapable of speaking English, and it definitely would not be able to hold a drink.”
  • If the joke-teller asks “did you get it?” simply reply with “oh, I got it” and leave it at that. There are any number of reasons in the jokester’s head why you got it but didn’t laugh, whether bad material, offensive, crude, or dumb.
  • If the joke was agonizingly long, claim you tuned out about halfway through. “Sorry man, you lost me. I don’t have that kind of attention span.”
  • In dire situations, simply claim you didn’t hear the joke. “Sorry, say that again?” Continue to ask the joke to be repeated and then blame it on hearing loss or background noise.

All of these tips are totally moot if you actually get the joke, of course. Then you just react naturally!

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My Hot Take:
I can’t honestly remember the last time I laughed out loud at a joke. My reaction to jokes, whether or not I get them, and whether or not I find them funny, is typically no reaction. A forced “hah” is about all you’ll get from me. But if I truly don’t get a joke, I’ll just flatly say “I don’t get it” no matter how many people are around.

Didn’t get your friend’s joke? Consider pretending that you got it by forcing some sort of reaction, whether laughter or anger.


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