Do some occupations promote humor more than others?
"The more opportunity you have for social interaction, the more likely you will have a lot of humor," says John Parrish Sprowl, professor of communications science at the University of Connecticut. "If you have air-traffic controllers who can't chat, you won't have much humor."
Says Temple University psychologist and humor researcher Jeffrey Goldstein: "Humor is situational. Salespeople tell jokes because people expect it of them. It comes with the territory."
A sample of Goldstein and Sprowl's views on workplace wit:
*Cerebral professions. Predictably, college professors or quantum physicists generate a type of humor related to their specialties. In other words, the bathroom walls nearest the philosophy department is apt to have such graffito as "God is Dead -- Nietzsche. Nietzsche is Dead -- God."
*High-pressure professions. Surgeons, police officers and firemen often indulge in humor related to disaster, death and the macabre. "When a surgeon jokes about forgetting his wristwatch inside a patient during surgery, it's a way of distancing himself from the reality of the event, a way of stepping back a half step from the pressure . . . and reduce the emotional intensity."
*Repetitive professions. "If the work is terribly routine, anything would be funny. Spilling the coffee could provoke wild laughter."
*Physical professions. Construction workers and athletes are apt to lean toward physical humor -- sexual jokes, humor about the body and a towel-snapping sort of horseplay.
*Leadership professions. "Being powerful is like being a lady -- if you have to tell people you are, you aren't," is a line attributed to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Politicians and business leaders, says Goldstein, tend to be "self-deprecating in their public humor as a way of endearing them to the public."
*Public contact professions. "We're finding that the old notion of salespeople generating tons of raucous jokes is a myth," says Sprowl. "Salespeople aren't any funnier and don't use humor for any different reasons than anybody else. They simply have more opportunity to be humorous."