Saturday, October 24, 2015

When do you take a joke too far?

I have a heuristic that I use nowadays. When I feel I should not write about something because it's sensitive and could be just my view, I go against my instinct. There's a corollary: some things like that are better to be dealt with not publicly and sometimes there is a fine line between what to blog on and what to deal with by email. Blogging is more of a self-reflection instead of an action.

I just had a great time at TinyTestBash in Brighton. So many amazing people. So many great discussions. Inspirational new speaker talks. And an overall sense of belonging.

But there's one thing that left me thinking. There's a TestBash meme going on with one particular person and a tutu. Tutu, as in a ballerina skirt.

This meme was around in the main TestBash to an extent that the person at the heart of the meme included it into his talk, wearing a Desmond Tutu -hoodie and made remarks of not wearing a tutu the skirt. It was all fun and good, and everyone seemed to be taking it as a fun thing.

The tutu-theme continued with TinyTestBash. A tutu was made available for the person at the heart of the meme, and he again refused to wear it. But this time it was different. I felt it was at the brink of too much. It might be just me who thinks this way and I'm transferring my feelings on someone who has none of those.

Here's my line of thought. If I was a constant center of a joke that I considered funny at first, I could feel very uncomfortable when that joke turns out to be the thing that defines me to new people. And at that point, I have two options. I could get visibly upset and tell everyone to just stop it. Or I could laugh along, but find it just less funny. Kind of like the laughter I do when I get to hear very gendered jokes about my gender. Not funny, but not laughing is a worse option socially.

I think we might need to stop to think when we take a joke too far. I borrowed the tutu from him and wore it for the day.  Then again, tutu on me is normal, not funny. Just for the fun of it, I could wear a tutu for my next talk TestBash NY, just to show that the tutu has moved on.

I think we should stop to think if we're about to take a joke too far when the joke becomes the thing to talk about with that particular person. And in case we are,  how do we change the joke so that it becomes positive in a different way. The TestBash-spirit brings forth wonderful jokes and memes, like the TestBash briefs that we saw handed out this year. There's a time for every meme. It might be time for the tutu meme on a person to go away or transform into something different.


  1. Hey Maaret,

    The first thing I want to say is this:

    I appreciate that you took the time to write this and I love how people in this community look after each other. Thanks - it means alot.

    The next thing to say, is that TestBash, the tiny ones and the large ones, is/are VERY inclusive and safe. So if you’re reading this and have not been to one yet*, please don’t get the wrong impression.

    So about the joke in question…

    Basically, it started out as joke between friends going to the same event which then turned into a ‘thing’. I did think it was getting silly so I thought I’d try to ‘own’ it in the hopes of defusing it. I think it worked out ok - go watch the talk and judge for yourself :)

    So what’s all the fuss about? Is this another case of being politically correct? Well have you, the reader, ever been in the situation when you were the butt of a joke and wished someone ELSE had piped and said "ok folks, I think that's enough"?

    I think Maaret has been in that situation. I definitely have been in that situation! And while I don't feel like the tutu joke has reached that level, I can understand why someone looking from the outside might be thinking "ok folks, I think that's enough"**.

    A couple of other people have said the same thing actually***. I was ok with the ‘banter’**** to be honest but I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that people in this community look out for each other. If I’d wanted it to stop, I could have approached people directly and said "This is bothering me so please stop!" and they would have.

    But, and this is key, I definitely recognise that others in that situation might feel bullied, disempowered and unable to do the same thing. I think that’s what this post speaks to.

    I hope that all makes sense!

    Thanks for writing Maaret. You rocked the tutu far better than I could have :)


    P.S. Shout out to Chris Chant, Dan Billing, Christian Leggett and Danny Dainton for talking this over with me

    * What are you waiting for?! Get yourself over to ASAP! There are events in NYC and Brighton in the coming months. Hopefully I’ll see you there :)
    ** Also, specifically about my situation, because it was pretty much an in joke, I’m not sure if many TinyTestBash attendees even got the joke because most of them were 1st timers - another reason for killing it (Thanks Chris Chant for that observation)
    *** Thanks to Zach, Raji and especially James Lyndsay for that
    **** Check out the definition at the top if you haven't heard this term before -

    1. Yep, I agree. TestBash(es) is a wonderful place to be. This isn't about place at all. This is about how hard sometimes it is to notice when a joke goes too far.