Knocking out a bully with a joke

By Larry Horowitz on April 08, 2008
Humour has the power to either elevate and invigorate or cut one down to size.

Bullies choose targets based on the victim’s inability or unwillingness to fight back. Bullies don’t want to be challenged.

A victim might successfully use a method similar to that which is used by comedians with hecklers… passive aggressiveness with a secondary motive.

For example, “Well, looks like it’s time to pick on me, again. I guess there isn’t anyone smaller to beat up. You’d better hurry because people are waiting to see how brave you are.” The child may still get bullied, but his attacker gets a bad taste in his mouth and next time might look elsewhere for a more satisfying meal.

In my teens, I was a swimming teacher and encountered many bullied kids whom I wanted to help. Nothing could make the victims impervious, but a sense of humour was a balm that limited the damage. I remember one child being punched in the chin by a larger classmate. He only suffered a bruised ego but was quite distressed.

“Looks like you handled yourself well,” I said. “You used your face to smash him in the fist. Very clever. His fist must really hurt, now. That’s what I call using your head.”

The boy laughed a little. Calamity had been mitigated with a humorous grain of salt. Like whistling past the graveyard, it brought back a semblance of normality.

Rehearsal

Performing a little home theatre can have practical benefits. In professional sketch comedy the actors engage in ‘act-outs’ playing character roles to demonstrate emotions and intentions. This can be done at home as a fun way to turn the bullying experience into a practical rehearsal.
  • Conduct role-playing games using friends and family as characters.  
  • Cast the bully as pitiful or stupid. 
  • Cast the victim as being empowered with words. 
  • Use various authority figures on scene to help.
Besides offering catharsis, it will serve as a practical rehearsal for the next real-life event, outlining the options for handling or avoiding incidents of bullying.

When both bully and victim can be engaged in conflict resolution with a mediator, the process is advanced through using the basics of humour: observation, analogy and irony.

Laughing simultaneously is the closest we come to mental telepathy and it encourages bonding. When the parties crack a smile it can often establish a new relationship in which bullying might be excluded.

They say a great way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend. Tell a bully a couple of good jokes and see if there’s something new you can share… like a laugh!

Stopping a bully

The surest way for bullying to stop is if the bully himself decides not to be a bully anymore.

There are many reasons bullies do what they do. Understand a bullies point of view by reading this article. Circulate this information by posting it at school or on cyber bulletin boards (although the bully’s name should be excluded). If it becomes widely known within the immediate social circle how insecure and pathetic bullies really are, perhaps the bully will try to avoid being in that shameful category.

Catalyst humour

Comedians use it to cement a rapport with their audience. Usually, it includes self-deprecation; if you make fun of yourself people are drawn to you. Also, it's redundant to attack someone who has already made fun of himself. Why ridicule a person who's proved they can take it and probably couldn't care less if they receive more abuse?

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring 2008

By Larry Horowitz| April 08, 2008

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