Michael Scott vs. Jim Halpert: What “The Office” Can Teach Us about Comedy and Personality Type
“I don’t think of myself as funny – I don’t fill a room with my humor… I would fail miserably as a stand-up comedian.” – Steve Carrell
Isn’t it funny how some of the most hilarious people we know don’t think of themselves that way? Yet many people who tell lame, offensive, or otherwise awful jokes consider themselves real comedians, ready to go pro?
Just take actor Steve Carrell, whose comedic talents have graced films ranging from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Despicable Me, and the fictional office manager who Carrell played in his most famous role – Michael Scott from the mockumentary sitcom The Office. They demonstrate that, in the right hands, a joke can be a work of art and a thing of genius, but in the wrong ones, it can be nothing short of disaster – and there can sometimes be quite a gap between how funny we think we are and how funny other people think we are.
When we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “You are good at making others laugh,” we found that 85% of them agreed. Such a strong majority suggests that most of us feel pretty confident in our ability to make people laugh – a broad skill that doesn’t necessarily require delivering stand-up routines on stage or clever one-liners at work. Making someone laugh is often as simple as setting up a silly prank or pulling a funny face at just the right moment. Still, the results show that some personality types are clearly more comfortable with comedy than others.
Which personality types are natural comedians, and which prefer to let others do the joking? Let’s take a look at the data below.
Diplomats and Analysts (90% and 86% agreeing)
The Intuitive trait, shared by all Diplomats and Analysts, was a key factor in how likely our readers were to agree that they’re good at making people laugh. Intuitive personality types (89% agreeing) were 8% more likely than Observant types (81%) to agree. Imaginative and creative, Intuitive types are always finding connections that others don’t see, a habit that can lend itself to improvisation and humor.
Knowing your audience is an essential requirement of effective comedy, and Diplomats, as Feeling personality types, are good at picking up on the emotional dynamics of a situation and reading the moods of those around them. They may love the way laughter can quickly deflate tensions and smooth over disagreements, making Diplomats as quick to tell a joke as they are to offer a shoulder to cry on.
Of all the personality types, Campaigners were the most likely to agree with our statement, at 97%. Campaigners are always looking on the bright side and wouldn’t hesitate to use humor to cheer up a friend or to bring people together, because they thrive on connecting with others socially and emotionally.
Interestingly, Michael Scott, the bumbling, fictional manager of The Office known for his beloved “That’s what she said” zinger, is a Campaigner personality type. Michael dreams of being a comedian, and while he thinks he’s hilarious, no one else does. Michael seems to be incapable of telling a joke without confusing key details, forgetting the punch line, or offending his audience, and the harder he tries to make people like him, the more disastrous his comedic efforts become.
He somehow always misses (or chooses to ignore) the awkward silences, rolling eyes, exasperated groans, and HR complaints that his jokes inspire. But at the heart of his many blunders is a genuine desire to build meaningful, personal connections with others and to motivate and entertain his employees.
Analysts, as Thinking types, are not likely to approach humor as a means of connecting emotionally with others, but rather as a mental exercise. Analysts’ unorthodox but rigorously logical thinking can make them very well-suited to humor. Jokes often draw their power from the mismatch between expectation and reality and serve to highlight the logical flaws in other people’s thinking, or in systems and processes, by making them seem absurd. Sarcasm, satire, and parody are all excellent forms of humor for Analyst personality types.
Debaters (96%) fell just slightly behind Campaigners in showing the highest rate of agreement in our survey. The same talents that make Debater personalities naturally adept at selling an argument may serve them equally well when it comes time to sell a punch line, especially their flexible, quick wit and their charismatic style. Debaters also love to take positions they don’t actually believe in, just to test a theory, prove a point, or get a laugh.
This may sound like another character from The Office – Jim Halpert, the bright young salesman who, unchallenged in a job he doesn’t care about, spends most of his energy cracking jokes, making goofy faces, and playing elaborate pranks on his coworker Dwight. Like the time he convinced Dwight it was Friday instead of Thursday, or the time he impersonated Dwight for a day, or the time he stole Dwight’s stationery and sent him faxes from his “future self.” Jim is a Debater through and through.
Explorers and Sentinels (83% and 80%)
Thanks to their shared Observant trait, Explorers and Sentinels are more down-to-earth than Diplomats and Analysts, and they are often more interested in getting practical things done than in creative pursuits like crafting the perfect joke. Although it would be a mistake to characterize these personality types, who also agreed with our statement at high rates overall, as humorless, it may be true that their thinking is not as conducive to joke telling than their less conventional counterparts.
Explorers, with their spontaneous Prospecting trait, may excel more at one-liners, witty retorts, and other extemporaneous types of humor. Sentinel personality types, for their part, may find comedy to be too frivolous for their tastes more often than not. After all, even the tamest humor has an element of mischief, of poking fun at norms or disrupting order, and Sentinels have a harder time than most in pushing against the lines that they usually work to protect.
Logisticians (66%) were the least likely personality type to say that they are good at making others laugh. Logisticians take a no-nonsense approach to life, and even among friends and family, they tend not to be playful or spontaneous. That’s not to say they won’t use humor effectively to comfort or entertain those closest to them when a situation calls for it, but most of the time, Logisticians are more interested in practical, logical matters and in living up to their responsibilities.
Returning to The Office, the one character who never seems to have any sense of humor is Angela Martin, an accountant and a Logistician personality if ever there was one. A laconic stickler for rules who takes everything too seriously, we never see Angela laugh at other peoples’ jokes, let alone tell jokes of her own. The closest she comes to acknowledging some slight appreciation for comedy is during a three-line dinner conversation with Dwight that goes like this:
Angela: I heard a joke today.
Dwight: Oh, that’s funny!
Angela: Yes. It was.
People Mastery and Social Engagement (93% each agreeing)
As seems only natural, the Extravert personality trait was the single most influential trait in our survey: Extraverts (93%) were 16% more likely than Introverts (78%) to agree that they’re good at making people laugh. More surprising is that personal self-confidence, as determined by the Identity aspect, had little impact on the results: Assertive types (87%) were just 3% more likely than Turbulent types (84%) to agree.
Thus, we see the People Mastery and Social Engagement Strategies tied for the highest rate of agreement. Sociable and outgoing, Extraverted personality types often feel more comfortable in the spotlight than out of it, which is a vital quality in an entertainer – after all, if a comedian doesn’t appear to enjoy a joke, why would their audience? Even in more intimate settings, People Masters and Social Engagers enjoy lifting others’ spirits with their enthusiastic humor, and they are energized in turn by the laughter of those around them.
Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement (78% and 77%)
Members of the Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement Strategies were nearly tied in their responses, which are still high, but notably lower than their Extraverted counterparts. Introverts are certainly more than capable of cracking witty jokes, but they have to work at it more than Extraverts do. Introverted personalities must first get out of their own heads to consider what would make their audience laugh, then they must overcome their hesitation, however strong or slight, to engage with comedy in a social setting. Confident Individualists and Constant Improvers are much more likely to be found sharing their unique sense of humor with a small group of friends than up on a stage in an overstimulating environment with bright lights and noisy crowds.
Michael Scott can teach us all something about comedy: it’s a lot harder than it looks. Judging just how far one can push an audience – whether one person or a thousand – without crossing the line between genuine humor and cheesy, absurd, or offensive dreck takes great skill. That’s why personality types who are energetic, creative, and capable of reading others’ emotions, like Extraverted, Intuitive, and Feeling types, tend to be the most comedically inclined – even if they’re not always good at it.
Of course, making people laugh doesn’t have to be such a high-pressure endeavor. Casual jokes and small, silly moments in our everyday interactions can often be the most meaningful and enjoyable form of humor. Laughter is good for the soul, and even more reserved and serious personality types, like Introverts and Sentinels, can find their own space to relax, feel comfortable joking around, and leave people wanting more. (Cuing Michael Scott: “That’s what she said.”)
Do you enjoy making people laugh? Do your jokes leave people gasping for breath or looking for the nearest exit? Let us know in the comments below!