Virtual Event, Michael Fontaine at eCornellHow to Tell a Joke



Timeless Strategies for Winning the Room and Getting Ahead

Thursday, April 01, 2021, 1pm EDT



Can jokes win a hostile room, a hopeless argument, or even an election? You bet they can, according to Cicero, and he knew what he was talking about. One of Rome’s greatest politicians and lawyers, Cicero was also reputedly one of antiquity’s funniest people. He also knew that jokes are hugely risky. Powerful as they are, the line between a witty joke and an offensive one isn’t always clear. Cross it and you’ll look like a clown; worse, you may even be out of a job.

In this presentation, Cornell classicist Michael Fontaine will share Cicero’s timeless strategies for using well-timed jokes to win over any audience while avoiding costly mistakes. He will outline the history of jokes from Aristotle onward, examine the risks and rewards of humor, and offer basic tips for writing your own jokes.


  • How to tell jokes to win over any audience and get ahead
  • The history of telling strategic jokes, from ancient Greece and Rome to contemporary life
  • The dos and don’ts of telling jokes at work
  • The classic categories and kinds of humor you can use to write your own jokes