Can you be funny at work?

Have you ever been labelled the funny guy or girl at work? There are pros and cons to bringing a little humour to the workplace, but how do you find the right balance. We chat to comedian Brian Nankervis to get the inside word on making funny work.  

Comedian and Rockwiz host Brian Nankervis wasn’t always funny, in fact he didn’t even know he was funny until his final year in high school. He was a late comer to the class clown ideology, but he found it worked for him in school and subsequent workplaces.

Brian Nankervis, aka absurdist beat poet Raymond Jay Bartholomeuz, also television producer and host, has made a career out of being a professional humourist, but his comedic grounding came about as a student and school teacher, long before his TV audience came to enjoy the off-beat world of the Rockwiz Host.

“I was in year 12 at Wesley College when I started to hang out with a different group of mates and they thought I was really funny. It hadn’t happened to me before and I realised I really liked it. Up until then I’d been hanging out with guys who, like me, were into music and literature; a serious mob who didn’t find me especially funny. Then this new crowd, they were a sporty type, a different crowd, more confident in many ways. I was just being myself, but I guess my behaviour was a bit absurdist, my impressions quite exaggerated. And it was really all my old gags falling on fresh ears that alerted me to the fact that, hey, I might have something here.”

Why to be funny at work

Nankervis carried this sensation into his undergraduate years at Burwood Teachers College where he found being the class clown was to his advantage. It lead him to take drama classes for the first time which ultimately led to a style of teaching that earned him major brownie points. “It wasn’t like I set out deliberately to be the funny guy but it was a method that worked for me. We did silly things I guess, like who could break the world record for walking backwards on the football field. I set exams on funny walks, I tested them on silly accents, so I learned early on - being funny made for a great teaching method. The kids loved it, the teachers loved it and most importantly, the parents loved it. I mean the staff room of a private school can be a bit of conservative place at the best of times, but they loved that I was a bit of a joker. But you know the trick of this sort of hijinks in the workplace, the key was, I always knew when to pull back.”

When not to be funny at work

Nankervis stresses there is a line that’s not to be crossed in any work environment. Comedy is all about the timing. “There’s a difference between being irreverent for the sake of engaging students and then being completely inappropriate.”

Nankervis performs regularly at corporate events and has a strong understanding of what makes the office habitable. He knows, even from his own spirited workplace there is funny and then there is the sort of narcissism that can bring a business place down when the funny individual in question confuses comic timing for wasting time.

“We work with a large contingent of very talented individuals. We do shows and we often tour Rockwiz. Sharing a dressing room with some comics can get a bit tiresome. There are comics that are total pros, able to do their gig and still hold a conversation backstage. But there are others that are always ‘on’, the ones who can only be centre stage. You try and talk to them and they are only interested and interesting when they hold the floor. As soon as you start talking, you see their eyes glaze over and they drift off thinking about the next funny thing they can come up with. They are funny, but that’s all they are.”

Why it’s good for employers to seek funny at work

Nankervis extends the advice to employers. “It’s great to employ people who can crack a joke, act the clown. It's beneficial to the workplace because it brings a positive attitude to the environment and engages everyone, everyone who isn’t naturally funny, or shy or maybe too preoccupied with the doom and gloom of the workplace. Canny employers are wise to look out for employees who are a breath of fresh air in the workplace.”

Brian Nankervis hosts Rockwiz, Monday nights at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.