When there’s no ha, ha, ha in the ho, ho, ho

If I close my eyes, I can still see her face. A wispy blonde forelock stuck out from the front of her holiday stocking cap ever so stylishly, giving her an elvish look. Men might have made the stocking cap a style choice, but women have elevated it to high fashion. As evidenced by the iridescent pink and white fuzzy ball that whimsically dotted her cap’s pointed end.  

“Can I order a drink?” she asked.

Being early in the holiday evening and with two cups of espresso coursing through my veins, I did what many bartenders do. I made a joke.

“I don’t know,” I said with a broad smile. “Let’s see.”

She didn’t laugh. I thought she might, but she didn’t. Sometimes a comical sweater or whimsical cap is an ironic misrepresentation of its wearer. She, in fact, she did the exact opposite of laughing. She and her elven headdress got very angry. Not just angry but offended angry. Which is the worst kind.

I tried to make it better by apologizing.

“It was just a joke,” I said.

That did not make it better.

Often when people misjudge or miscalculate, they attempt to fix things by explaining. And explaining never fixes anything. In fact, it often makes things worse. Nobody wants to hear why their soda is flat. Explaining the intricacies of how a carbonating system works is not going to make anything better. The fact that finite systems sometimes run out, won’t salve anyone’s conscience nor cue their empathetic understanding. Getting them a new soda, or not charging them for the defective one, coupled with an apology might. Anything else sounds like an excuse.

At that joke point in my bartending career, I had probably told a variation of that “Can I order a drink” joke a thousand times. If comedians can repeat material, I figure, so can bartenders. With nearly 100 interactions every day its not like we can be completely original all of the time. And if comedians can bomb, so can, and so do, bartenders. Most of the time that joke elicited a chuckle, occasionally a laugh and sometimes a groan, but it had never made anyone angry.

But humor is a fickle thing. Not everyone thinks everything is funny. And much like an apology once you start explaining the joke its already too late. There are entire books written about bar jokes. And many jokes themselves start out with a “walks into a bar” theme. But as a friend of mine once explained to me, jokes are only jokes if everyone is laughing. If that is not the case, they are something else. Nobody has to “get” your sense of humor. And while I agree that great comedy is sometimes edgy, bartenders are not comedians, and an edgy bartender is a poor bartender, pun intended.

Service is sometimes said to be a two way street. But that is not exactly true. Not every customer is your friend, nor do they want to be and nor do they have to be. And that is alright. In the service business we are there to do a job, not to be clever. We’ve all had that experience where the person waiting on us thinks they are being witty, when they are not. Nobody likes a smartass. And they really don’t like one when they need something.

Some of these clever folk try and make bad situations better by amplifying what they have already done, as if more of the fuel that caused the problem will somehow fix it. If someone doesn’t like you (and there is no rule saying that they have to) or like the way you do something, or say something, more of you is not going to fix it.

To that point, I apologized again to the stocking capped woman and got my manager involved.

I can still see him nodding and apologizing while that woman’s indignant pink fuzzball bobbed with her every utterance. The blinking Xmas light necklace bouncing over her “Imagine Whirled Peas” sweater only added to the cartoonish experience.

“No more jokes, Jeff,” is all that manager said, some 15 minutes later.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-“Anything that is not funny, at a certain point will be funny,” once remarked comedian and actor Robin Williams.

-Funny is in the ear of the beholder.

– “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling,” once said Friedrich Nietzsche. Or was it Buzz Killington? I can’t remember.

-Sometimes the only purpose a Santa Suit, or a holiday ugly sweater, or an elf’s cap serves, is to cover up a bad attitude.

-Nope, still not funny.