When You Can't Keep Up In A Joking Group Conversation

You're in a group conversation. Perhaps you're at a party with a bunch of people you don't know that well, or you're on break with your co-workers. Everyone else is bantering and joking around, and you can't keep up. Witty comments are flying left and right, but you're watching in silence and starting to worry that you're being too quiet.

Maybe you don't see yourself as a particularly funny person, and that's why you don't have any jokes to add. Or it could be that you can be amusing, but in this particular interaction everyone's using a different style of humor than yours, or they all know each other and are using well-worn in-jokes and routines. It could also be that the others are especially entertaining and quick-witted. In most conversations you'd be the funny one, but now you feel like a high school basketball player in an NBA game.

Here are my tips for what to do if you find yourself in this situation:

Remind yourself you don't have to be funny to be likable overall

When you're in the middle of a jokey conversation and not able to contribute, it can be easy to get down on yourself for not being as funny as everyone else. You can feel like you're boring and have nothing to offer. It's important to remember that while you may not have much to say in this particular discussion, plenty of people are likable even though they're not hilarious. There are lots of ways to contribute to a conversation, like making insightful comments or being a good listener.

Accept you don't have much to say right now, and wait for the conversation to shift out of its jokey mode

In group conversations there are always going to be times where one or more people are temporarily left out. Sometimes it's because everyone is joking around. At other times it's because three people are gossiping about a mutual friend the fourth doesn't know, or discussing a TV show all but one of them has seen. When the conversation shifts to an area where you don't have much to say, it's totally okay to make peace with that and sit back and listen for a little while. Ten minutes from now you might be in the middle of an animated exchange, and it will be someone else's turn to be on the sidelines.

While you're waiting for the joking to hopefully die down, do your best to seem engaged and like you're paying attention. You're not actively saying anything, but you can still seem like you're part of the conversation. Try not to look bored and checked out, even if you are waiting for all the riffing to stop.

Try to change the subject somewhat

If everyone's been joking around for quite a while, and you've been silent the whole time, another option is to try to change the subject. I wouldn't try to abruptly jump from light banter into some ultra-serious topic, but you could attempt to go from 'Joking Around' to 'Casual Conversation'. You could mention something you did on the weekend, or bring up an interesting video you watched the other day.

If everyone's joking around, the conversation may also be in that hectic, excitable mode where everybody is interrupting and talking over each other. If you want to try to change the subject you may have to jump in there to say what you want to say, rather than politely waiting for someone to give you a turn.

Make a meta comment about how you can't keep up with everyone's humor

This one is a bit more situational, but can take some pressure off. Make a quick, lighthearted observation about what's happening. For example, "Ha ha, you guys are all so witty. I'm not as quick at coming up with funny lines like you are." It's not that everyone may suddenly stop joking around and change the subject for your sake, but it can make you feel like you at least explained why you've gotten quieter.

If you're hesitant about making some jokes of your own, consider doing it anyway

This doesn't apply if you're not the type to joke much in conversations, and don't feel any need to change. However, you may usually joke around, but just don't see as many opportunities to do it in this discussion. Or you may want to develop your ability to banter and come up with witty lines. In that case a part of you may want to try making some jokes, but you're also feeling a tad nervous or inhibited - "What if I say a joke and it falls flat? What if everyone thinks I'm lame or trying too hard?"

Sitting back is also a valid option, but you may want to take a mild risk and expand your comfort zone. Try to make a joke or two, but go easy on yourself and don't feel you have to be a world-class comedian on your first try. If you make a joke that doesn't land, it's usually not that bad. People will mostly just not acknowledge it and move on. Even the funniest people sometimes make jokes that don't get a laugh. They're comfortable with it and carry on. If the joke really gets a groan you can be a good sport and laugh about how corny it was.

If you're interested in developing your sense of humor, treat the conversation as a learning opportunity

As I said earlier, you don't have to be funny to be worth hanging out with. But it also doesn't hurt to know how to joke around a bit. You can't hold your own in this particular interaction, but you might be able to pick up some things you can use in the future. Watch how everyone else is being witty. Are they using a certain style of humor, like being dry and sarcastic, referencing movies, or making exaggerated comments? Do they have certain reliable lines they go back to over and over? Do they start their own jokes, or mainly react to what other people say?