"Superbad" Office Comedy

Last Updated Aug 22, 2007 10:04 AM EDT

505518superbad-posters.jpgMy work buddy and I love to quote lines from our favorite comedy shows and movies. It's kind of our thing. This past weekend, we went to see the movie "Superbad" and came back to the office on Monday dropping lines to each other when our paths crossed.
Later that same day, our boss called us both into the office and said there had been a complaint from a coworker about our endless "in-jokes" that left this person feeling excluded and, according to our boss, "slightly offended." We were told to stop.

We never quote dirty lines, we only do it to each other, and we never do it in meetings or other large gatherings. The whole thing feels like a censorship of our personalities, but we're not sure what to do. Where's the line?
There is behavior that is appropriate for an office, and there is behavior that is appropriate for hanging with your friends. They can mix, but when they do you need to remember that office etiquette takes precedence.

I've seen "Superbad," and I'm amazed that you can quote any line from that movie that's not dirty. But that's beside the point. It's OK to have in-jokes with a friend at work, but they need to be kept mano-a-mano. You've obviously been doing it in situations where at least one coworker has heard it several times, and they feel left out and a bit put off by the behavior. Your boss is justified in asking you to stop in these situations.

I love to do this sort of thing with my friends, but throwing out a "That's what she said" when you're working at your computer is not appropriate. Can you continue your little "thing?" Sure, but not for everyone else to hear. You're probably coming off as a show-off, and a juvenile one at that, and you don't want that sort of reputation. Your personality is not being censored so much as it's being asked to tailor itself to an office environment. Accept this as good advice.

The key to any sort of humor is to know your audience. Scatological humor is OK with those who also enjoy it. When you're working a children's party, you keep it straight. You have no way of knowing if your coworkers are into Bill Cosby or Richard Pryor, so don't test either. Use your own personality - not those of movie characters - and be gentle. You never know who's listening, and the smallest things can have a huge impact on your perception, and your career.

Have a workplace-ethics dilemma? Ask it here, or email wherestheline@gmail.com

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.