It’s just a regular Wednesday morning, and I’m hurriedly completing a few month end reports when my phone rings. It’s our CFO. Anytime I run into him, I know I’m in for a laugh.
“So, here’s the deal, Char; my column had babies,” Phil tells me, apparently setting up a joke.
“What?” I ask, confused.
“My column, it had babies or something,” he says, like it’s a punch line.
“I don’t know what that even means,” I tell him.
He has to explain: he’s having a little trouble with a spreadsheet. One column is now two columns. He doesn’t know what he did. I can practically hear the “blah, blah, blah” in his voice.
And I know what he’s thinking: it was funnier his way. “I’ll be right there,” I say, humorlessly.
I’m horrible at banter.
The Art of Banter
In one of Steve Carrell’s final episodes in the NBC comedy, The Office, his character, Michael Scott, gives his replacement, DeAngelo Vickers (played by real-life funny man, Will Ferrell) a lesson on the art of banter. It goes about as well as my telephone conversation with Phil.
“Guys, I want you to help us work on some banter,” Michael says to a conference room full of his employees. Standing next to DeAngelo, he begins, “So, Deangelo, you and I have a lot in common. You lost 200 pounds and I lose my car keys every morning.”
As the employees give up a chuckle or two, Deangelo responds, ruining the schtick, “That is true, we do share some similarities. I know how you can fix one of those problems, for me it was portion control, for you, you need a key chain.”
“Ok, ok, you know what? I didn’t actually lose my keys,” Michael says, flustered. “Just be funny.”
But for some of us, it’s not that easy.
As I walked towards Phil’s office that day to figure out his spreadsheet problem, I thought of the daily elevator rides or the regular break room visits where I run into coworkers who seem equally qualified for a stint on Saturday Night Live as for their actual job. Where do they get this stuff?
Me? I just try to avoid stepping on toes. When the banter starts flying and I get swept up in the moment, I fear I could blurt out the wrong thing, stopping the show dead in its tracks or taking the joke too far.
“You also have to know when to stop,” Phil himself told me one day as we were discussing his comedic largess. “It’s no coincidence that banter and blather sound so much alike.”
That Was a Good One
So I finish helping Phil with his spreadsheet and do a little research to figure out what caused the problem. The next day I compile the information in an email, offering a couple of solutions for next time.
I put “Why Columns Have Babies,” in the subject line. In the message, I explain “the birds and bees of spreadsheets.” By the time I hit send, I am cracking myself up.
But for the rest of the day, I get no response.
When I see Phil the next morning, I say, “So, how about that email. The ‘birds and the bees of spreadsheets’? Pretty funny, huh?”
“Oh, yeah, that was a good one,” he says, not even looking up from the task at hand.