Using humor to connect locally and globally – workshop summary (part 2)

This post is the second and last about a workshop I conducted at the SIETAR Europe 2013 congress in Tallinn, Estonia. It will focus on how the social media can influence the ‘global sense of humor’ and will give an overview of the group activities I used in the workshop. Read the first part here and visit the SIETAR Europe website for a complete summary and PPT presentation.

Global sense of humor?

I started the second part of my workshop with a hypothesis, which I had been thinking already for a while then: Do the social media like Facebook and YouTube, and the spread of viral humorous content they bring, allow us to think about a global sense of humor and if so, how can we use its potential in our work as facilitators and trainers?

For example, a form of internet memes, where a recurring image is accompanied by various text, is an eminent example of humorous content that can go viral and be considered funny by thousands Internet users from different countries.

In the particular case I discussed at the workshop, there is usually a line at the top and a line at the bottom of a picture (where the bottom line is the punch-line, which makes combined together with the upper line the picture itself).

I used examples of two “grumpy cat” memes to illustrate that:

Grumpy cat 1

grumpy cat 2 big

Furthermore, when following various social media communities and Facebook pages I noticed that many of these global internet memes have been adapted to serve local contexts: written, locally comprehendible humorous content was used within the frames of a globally recognizable humor-structure, e.g. the ‘two-liner + picture’.

It sometimes struck me that I could actually learn something about the meaning of this local, written content comprising the meme. I could even guess why its juxtaposition was funny thanks to being familiar with the universal structure and despite having little or no knowledge about the actual, local-specific background for the joke’s content.

I then came up with an idea that perhaps this global humor-structure could be combined with local content to create what I call ‘glocal memes’, which could in turn be used to connect people from different cultures.

The rationale behind this thought was that one could use the universal structure of the internet meme as aid in explaining the more locally-dependant, and perhaps enigmatic, humorous content; and thus facilitate cross-cultural connection and exchange, for example, about what is funny in different cultures and why.

(An experimental group exercise based on that rationale is described at the end of the ‘Activities’ section below.)


  • “Get the joke!” – a group activity where the participants receive sheets of paper with jokes accompanied by punch-lines that didn’t fit. The task was to separate the punch-line from the joke, walk around in the room
    (picture below) and find the right ending. I usually use a pool of 4-5 jokes per workshop and the punch-lines are mixed within that pool.
"Get the joke!" activity at the humor workshop, SIETAR Congress 2013, Tallin, Estonia.

“Get the joke!” activity at the humor workshop, SIETAR Congress 2013, Tallin, Estonia.


  • A simple question for group-reflection: “Think of the last time humor made a significant difference in an interaction. Tell your neighbor.” – the people love sharing and they love to go back in time remembering when
    they had fun. As a facilitator, once you’ve built an acceptance for humor in the room, it’s a great conversation starter and a simple question that will get people involved and reflect upon humor in a more personal way.
  • “Glocal group-memes” – involves providing the participants with internet meme-blanks: just the pictures – no text; and asking them to create their local memes in groups. The content would then differ from group to group, but the base – pictures and the humor structure of each meme – would stay shared. Afterwards, the groups could present the memes to each other and explain with aid of the shared meme structure, why the content they have written is funny from the perspective of their local cultures.



Two more testimonials from the workshop participants; this time sent in by

The workshop on the use of humour across cultures Piotr ran at the SIETAR Europa congress was fantastic! He managed to combine the usual funny pics and videos with a solid theoretical background. He developed a unique learning experience for us all through the workshop by triggering both intellectual curiosity and comfortable laughing as a result. He created continuous interaction with the large audience and still managed to keep the whole process under control. No kidding!

Vincent Merk, Senior lecturer & Coordinator Center for Languages & Intercultural Communication at Eindhoven University of Technology


Piotr’s HUMOR workshop was enriching. It gave me ideas to use humor even though I am not a comedian.

The workshop gave us tips and guidelines as well as resources to start using humor right away in our work.

Patricia M. Coleman, President SIETAR Florida and Intercultural Consultant, A-Z Wrold Connections, Inc.



Categories: Cross-cultural, Educational, Events, and Workshop/lecture.


  1. Dominika Farley

    A very interesting hypothesis and worth testing! I think apart from the ‘memes’, one other kind of humour I’d suspect would be quite universal is the home videos, a kind of ‘slapstick’ comedy, often involving animals.