We've all been there. You tell a joke and it just lands flat. It just wasn't funny. (Maybe no one got it, but that doesn't matter anymore.) Now you are in a socially awkward position and conversation has halted abruptly. How can you recover a conversation after a bad joke?

Okay, how about a few details so this isn't too broad:

  • I have social anxiety, so I am looking for subtle ways to recover.
  • I'm looking for help when the joke is either boring or poorly told, but not offensive.
  • I think the make-up of the audience would greatly change one's approach. The use case I am most interested in is the acquaintance or coworker.
  • Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I'm voting to close this question because this read like a "what should I do" question which isn't a great fit for this stack. Feel free to edit or to correct me if this isn't what you want to ask.
    – Ael
    Feb 26 '19 at 10:38

I like to consider myself a funny person. Telling jokes and 'humorizing' situations is one of my favorite things to do. One big thing I've realized though, is that not all of my jokes are going to be found funny. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  1. The joke was far too oriented to my own sense of humor. It might have been only me able to understand it.
  2. It didn't come out right. I confused myself and the delivery just wasn't right enough to be found understandable and amusing.
  3. I was just trying to be overly amusing and said something stupid that didn't make sense to anyone, including myself.

Sometimes the jokes you tell aren't going to come out amusing; this happens to literally everyone! I've found people's humor can be quite diverse and we're not going to laugh at every little joke told.

Whenever I tell a joke I try getting in a li'l' giggle. If you laugh, it'll make it even more funny than it might be. This is the magic of laugh tracks in comedy shows. Even if it isn't funny, it can help make the situation better sometimes by socially presetting it as "funny".

Otherwise, if you notice no one found it funny: let it slide. No sweat. No big deal. Move on. Seriously. It isn't something you need to stress over, it happens to everyone. The biggest decision to recovery is to not let it bring you down. Keep going, and maybe you'll be able to muster up something way better. Learn from your mistakes and you'll become a better comedian. :)

This approach is a lot more subtle (as you emphasized) than directly reacting to a bland response by those who heard your joke.


I imagine that I'm doing a standup. So I have some recoveries ready.

Wow, that joke was so bad I would hear a cricket if this was a movie.

Nevertheless, my grandma thinks I'm funny

Strange, last time I told this joke it was so well received they told me not to come again to comedy club... WAAAIIIDAAA MINUTE.

I will shut-up now.

Just show that you acknowledge the joke was so flat it wasn't even considered a joke and move one.

  • 1
    In my experience, follows-up like these tend to create more awkward silences as people cringe and pretend not to have heard them.
    – ale10ander
    Feb 28 '19 at 22:00

There are a couple of things to consider here. The biggest is: why did the joke fall flat?

First of all, and this is something I learned a while ago: people who try to be funny all the time are considered funny almost NONE of the time. No one takes you seriously after getting to know you, and the constant jokes wear thin.

Did the joke not make sense to your audience?

Did you joke make someone feel small?

Did you make a joke about politics to the people with the wrong viewpoint for the joke?

What was the mood of the conversation overall prior to telling a joke?

All of these are important interpersonal skills with respect to humor. Not knowing any of these, I'll make some assumptions: the joke was appropriate for the audience and the audience isn't tired of listening to constant jokes. So... how to recover as an interpersonal skill...

Usually when something I do falls flat, I'll quickly make light of it and move on. "Hey, you didn't pay admission so you don't get the good jokes." "Time to fire the writers" "Sorry for the interruption. Getting back to what were talking about..."

The main thing is to not overthink things. All that will do is make you more anxious. Even Groucho Marx had jokes fall flat; it's a part of life. Let someone else take the reins of the conversation so it doesn't appear that you are trying to hijack it, and learn from it.

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