Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 19:12 UK

Joking about the credit crunch

By Arlene Gregorius
BBC News

As the credit crunch continues to spread feelings of fear and powerlessness, some are turning to humour as the only escape.

But can we really laugh as the global financial edifice crumbles? Well, even the normally dour British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been quipping on the crisis.

Q:
What is the definition of optimism?

A:
An investment banker ironing five shirts on a Sunday night

When he heard a mobile phone trilling as he gave a speech in London, he joked: "I don't know if another bank has fallen"."It helps particularly with difficulties that we can't do much about, or ones we can't solve."

He later tried to reassure his audience by telling them: "You'll be pleased I'll not be giving financial information this evening".

According to psychologists, at times of crisis, humour can provide a vital way of expressing frustration at a baffling situation.

Q: What is the one thing Wall St and the Olympics have in common?

A: Synchronised diving


Comedian Steve Punt

"Humour is a psychological coping mechanism, it helps us to cope with difficulties," explains chartered psychologist Mike Lowis.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the current financial crisis has inspired a rich seam of humorous material. Jokes are proliferating around offices, being published on internet blogs and swapped in chat rooms.

Laughing it off

The classic "lightbulb" jokes have been reworked to take in the credit crunch. In others, finance professionals are now taking the place of much-derided lawyers.

of the brain."

Q:
What is the difference between a pigeon and a merchant banker?

A:
A pigeon can still put a deposit on a Ferrari

Is this schadenfreude, or delight in the suffering of others? Are we relishing the misfortune of those richer than most of us? And are the jokers cruel to revel in the sufferings of those who are now losing their jobs and wealth? Not so, argues Mr Lowis.

"It is not callous, it helps us to cope," he says. "Logic is the first way of coping. And when that fails, then the coping mechanism switches from the more rational left side of the brain to the more creative right side The moral seems to be - if you cannot explain it away, try and laugh it off.

British comedian Steve Punt sees the credit crunch as a natural topic for jokes.

I went to buy a toaster and it came with a bank

"People laugh more at things they care about or are engaged with. Things they have strong feelings about," he says.

"Also, situations that they feel powerless in. With the credit crunch, everybody seems to be powerless, up to the very top."

Psychological need

The financial jargon, too, provides a great source of jokes, Mr Punt says.

"Everybody is suddenly an expert talking about Collateral Debt Obligations, or what the interest rate should be," which, he suggests, is quite amusing by itself.

comedian Steve Punt
Jokes tapping into feelings of unease are legitimate, says Steve Punt

Finance's euphemisms of obscure or opaque jargon are also ripe for satire.

"It's fun just to translate it," he says.

"When someone tells you 'I'm terribly sorry that the collateral debt obligations that were securitised as part of our ongoing risk amelioration programme have resulted in a capitalisation issue that affects our Human

Q:
What do you say to a hedge fund manager who can't short-sell anything?
A:
Quarter pounder with fries please

Resources capacity', what that means is: 'You're fired'."

There are, however, some rules of which the budding joker should be aware.

"You need to make a distinction between the subject and the target of the joke," warns Mr Punt.

"But if people lost their house, you can still make jokes about those who were responsible for the crisis, that's legitimate."

Q:
How many commodities traders does it take to change a light bulb?

A:
None, they don't change bulbs; but the trading price of darkness plummets due to oversupply

Jokes can have a psychological benefit for those who tell them.

"By joking, you use a mental process, so you feel you've done something about the situation," says Dr Lowis, who says there is a genuine need to make jokes about bad situations, even disasters.

Q:
Entries from a new financial dictionary:

Broker: What my stock adviser has made me

Standard & poor: Your life in a nutshell

Cash flow: The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.

According to the theory of a "just world", he says, we need to believe, at a subconscious level, that the world is basically an ordered place.

But if something happens to challenge that belief "we cope with humour, by joking about what is interfering with that basic belief".

Doctors have long suggested that humour offers tangible health benefits. Perhaps the governments' plans to rescue the sinking banks should include provisions for humour therapy classes for all concerned? Only joking.

Read a selection of your jokes



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