Can You Take a Joke?

From the Los Angeles Times (02/Dec/1951):


by Alfred Hitchcock

DEAR MR. HITCHCOCK: Is it good manners to indulge in practical joking?

ANSWER: There are some, I am well aware, who look upon practical jokes as a particularly low form of humor, and the practical joker as a menace to polite society. I must, in self-defense, come to the rescue of the practical joke, inasmuch as I seem to have gained a reputation in the field.

“Do unto others” is the rule here, as it is in so many other things. There are people who can take a joke as well as dish it out, and they form a tough society that plays the practical joke as a rough but spirited game — with rules to be followed.

The point is: the victim must be one who can retaliate — or one who has just played a practical joke on you. To pick on someone who wouldn’t know how to return the favor, is both cruel and pointless.

Barred also, in decent circles, are jokes that expose the victim to physical damage or — what can be worse — undue ridicule. It is all right to embarrass the victim, but not to humiliate him. And he should, if the joke is a proper one, be able to remain on friendly terms with the perpetrator.

Except in extreme cases of self-defense or retaliation, I have given up practical joking altogether. Not because my conscience has bothered me, but because I have found the business too infernally expensive.

Much has been made of — indeed my unenviable reputation is probably due to — a practical joke I played on friends in London. It involved inviting far too many guests to dinner in a room much too small for them, so that they were cramped for space to begin with. It was further arranged that they were to be served by 10 times as many waiters as were really necessary. The result was a certain amount of confusion, an undue amount of soup-spilling.

I thought it was funny at the time, but when I got the bill for the dinner and breakage, I began to wonder whom the joke was on.

One Response to Can You Take a Joke?

  1. John Gieldgud in his 1939 memoir Early Stages spoke about how boring filmwork was in contrast to stage work and that the only thing that allowed them to maintain the emotional tension on set was Hitchcock’s practical jokes… early example of Hitchcock’s psychological management of his actors on set.
    Stephane Duckett


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