How to Give Someone a Hard Time

Deb looked on in disbelief. Her Christmas ham had fallen out of her grasp and onto the kitchen floor. Her pet beagles immediately swarmed over the juicy ham and began devouring it despite it being incredibly hot. To make matters worse, Grandma Agnes seated nearby was splattered with scalding hot ham juices and screamed in agony. Christmas Eve dinner was ruined.

While several cousins and aunts rushed to tend to the dogs, ham, and Grandma, Uncle Jim had a very different idea as to how to approach this situation.

“Slippery hands there, eh Debbie?” chuckled Uncle Jim as he took a drink of his brandy egg nog. He patted Deb on the back. “Oh I kid, I’m just giving you a hard time.”

Needless to say, Jim’s comment didn’t make things any better. And it certainly didn’t help heal Grandma’s burning face. If anything, giving Deb a “hard time” immediately after her accident made her feel worse—much worse!

Giving someone a hard time can be done by making fun of someone’s delicate, embarrassing, or upsetting situation with the hopes of that person eventually laughing along and creating a lighter mood. It can be done verbally by demeaning the person, often in a playful or sarcastic tone, so the individual understands from the outset that it is a joke.

Some other examples of Uncle Jim giving people at the family Christmas celebration a hard time included the following:

  • 20-year-old Jenna, who was home from Danbury College, was given a hard time in regards to her major. “Studying History in college? What the hell for? You gonna go work in a history office? Nah, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • 4-year-old Casper, offering Uncle Jim a make-believe sandwich from his kitchen play set was given a hard time too. “Hey I said no lettuce on this sandwich, send it back! Hey kid, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • 10-year old Tipper was overheard asking what Santa was going to bring her. “You? Aww Santy Claus ain’t bringing you nothin’ but a lump of coal after that report card that came home! He called and told me! Ha ha, no, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • Cousin Dave, a lifelong diehard Cincinnati Bengals fan mentioned something about football. “Oh jeez, with that joke of an O-Line, Granny Agnes could sack Andy Dalton blindfolded, and she just got scalded in the face from ham juice! Ha, no man, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • Newly-divorced Aunt Chrissie was talking about a New Years blind date. “Oh for your sake he better be blind! No, sorry if I crossed a line, I’m just giving you a hard time. You’re very attractive.”
  • Great-uncle Frederick stumbled coming into the house with his cane. “Oh hey there Mr. Peanut, walk much? Ha ha, let me give you a hand you old coot, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • Sister-in-law Shelley was speaking of how the Austin housing market was booming. “Booming? Well shit, it’s gonna be booming when Kim Jong Un goes and drops a bomb on it. I hear he’s targeting you dirty ass Texans! Ha, no, I’m just giving you a hard time.”
  • 35-year-old cousin Mitch was demeaned for starting to lose his hair. “Hey why don’t you put a Santa cap on, you bald son of a bitch? That glare off your scalp is blinding me! I’m just giving you a hard time, wish I had that much hair when I was your age.”
  • Even Rowlf the beagle was given a hard time when Uncle Jim teased him with a cookie, pretending to throw it and then watching the fool hound search in vain when it was in Jim’s hand the whole time. “Ah here you go you stupid mutt, eat the damn cookie, I’m just giving you a hard time.”

None of the above family members were very amused by Uncle Jim giving them a hard time, nor did many others around Jim find any of the remarks particularly funny.

So why did Jim do it? What did he have to gain by giving someone a hard time?

While some people will tease others in hopes of lightening a tense mood, giving someone a hard time is generally just mocking someone for your own enjoyment, or to incite laughter amongst others. If the recipient of the “hard time” laughs along and suddenly stops beating themselves up for a given situation, then the giver of a hard time could consider it a mission accomplished. Sometimes it actually works!

In order to pull off this feat without hurting someone’s feelings, you should know the person and whether or not they can take a joke. You should also consider your audience or surroundings. Bars, for instance, are a great place for giving someone a hard time. Funeral homes, however, are not.

My Hot Take:
While I’m rarely bothered by being given a hard time, I don’t generally give people hard times, because I have quite a few friends who are bad at taking jokes and become angry and defensive. I’m not great at reading rooms and determining if it’s appropriate, so I don’t do it often.

If you intend to give someone a hard time, consider the person’s sense of humor about themselves as well as your setting and surroundings.


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