Laughing at Work is Totally Okay with Greg Schwem

Countless studies have shown that laughing is a good way to relieve stress. And even if we love our job and our teammates, there’s always an element of stress in the workplace.

So why not find ways to spice it up with some humor?

According to Greg Schwem, comedian and corporate speaker, humor is disappearing from the corporate world just when we need it the most. Organizations are shying away from using humor of any kind for fear of offending someone. But the reality is that the positive benefits of humor far outweigh the negative ramifications.

Human resource departments are charged with fostering a fun and healthy work environment. Employee experience is a huge part of that. On this episode, Greg shares how organizations can improve the employee experience through humor without risking offensive jokes. We talk about the best kind of humor to use, why humor and laughing is so good for us, how to navigate the fine line between good humor and bad humor, and what role communication plays in humor at work.

Greg’s presentation at the SHRM conference is Is it Okay to Laugh, and after listening you’re certain to say a resounding yes.

Listen on your favourite podcast player


About Greg Schwem

HuffPost calls Greg Schwem “Your boss’s favorite comedian.” He has spent 25 years making the business world laugh at itself, with clients ranging from Microsoft to the CIA.  He will be addressing the SHRM 2022 conference with his latest keynote, “You Can’t Cancel Laughter.”  Greg has appeared on Comedy Central, Drybar Comedy, opened for musical superstars such as Celine Dion and Keith Urban and can be heard regularly on SIRIUS/XM Radio’s Laugh USA. Follow Greg on Instagram and Facebook and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Mentioned In This Episode:




laugh, humor, people, funny, mental health, presentation, audience, comedian, joke, thought, workplace, meme, greg, agree, hr professional, communication, corporate events, organization, feel, emcee


Greg Schwem, Lindsay Recknell

Lindsay Recknell  00:01

You are a people leader or an HR professional, working hard to create an amazing employee experience for your team and your organization. But between the operational tasks of your job managing emotions and politics both up and down the corporate ladder, and trying to find some semblance of work life integration in your own life, I suspect you are also overwhelmed and burnt out. If even the thought of navigating the complicated world of mental health at work probably seems like too much to handle.

Lindsay Recknell  00:30

Let this podcast be your not so secret weapon to help fix that. I’m your host Lindsay Recknell. And my mission is to help great leaders like you feel less awkward and more confident talking about mental health at work. So you can stress less, take more action and continue to make a valuable difference in your job as a leader positively impacting the lives of your I’ll be bringing you the experts insights and actions that will give you the skills you need to navigate mental health in the workplace and foster a workplace where everyone’s mental health can thrive.

Lindsay Recknell  01:04

The Huffington Post calls today’s guest your boss’s favorite comedian, Greg Schwem has spent 25 years making the business world laugh in itself, with clients ranging from Microsoft and CIA. He will be addressing the SHRM 2022 conference with his latest keynote, you can’t cancel laughter, which I’m super looking forward to. Greg has appeared in Comedy Central dry bar comedy and open for musical superstars such as Celine Dion and Keith Urban. And he can be heard regularly on Sirius XM radio is laugh USA, he makes me laugh throughout this episode, and I imagine he’ll have you laughing out loud to enjoy.

Lindsay Recknell  02:35

Before we get started, I want your time to be valuable here. So in order to get the most from this podcast, head to my website at And download the  Guide to Influence & Impact at Work, which has the step by step action plan, you’ll need to embed a focus on mental health into the employee experience of your workplace, it’s totally free. And it’ll give you the start to your action plan steps to follow to create engagement to build a budget and a method to measure the value influence and impact that you are going to be making as you lead this transformational change in your organization. We haven’t been taught the mental health skills we need to truly lead our organizations into the future. So let this guide and this podcast be the advantage you need to elevate your career, your leadership skills and the positive impact you’ll bring to your organization, head to and download the free  Guide to Influence & Impact at Work now. The opportunity is yours, and I cannot wait to see what you’ll do.

Lindsay Recknell  02:35

All right. Now let’s get to our guest. Hello, Greg, welcome to the show.

Greg Schwem  02:39

Well, hello, Lindsay, how are you? Great to see you.

Lindsay Recknell  02:43

I’m doing so so good. And I’m really excited for this conversation, you have such a cool perspective on doing mental health in the workplace. And I can’t wait to hear all about it. So maybe we’ll just start with you sharing a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Greg Schwem  02:58

Yeah, well, I am a corporate stand up comedian, business humorist. And also, I emcee a lot of corporate events. But the main thread there is that I specifically do speak for the corporate community and have been doing so for the past 25 years. So I like to say I make the business world laugh at itself. So I have, I started out as a stand up comedian and got hired to do a corporate event years ago and was on stage. And I thought to myself as I was performing this, these are my people, these people really need to laugh. And they love to laugh at themselves. And I’m getting the sense that they don’t get enough of it. And that’s why I sort of made that my my niche, so to say, so to speak. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

Lindsay Recknell  03:44

That is amazing. I can’t I mean, you would have invented your own job. A corporate comedian, like, is that a title anyone else has? I can’t imagine.

Greg Schwem  03:53

I hope not. Less competition, the better. I mean, there’s it’s interesting that you say that there’s an awful lot of comedians that do corporate events. Don’t get me wrong. However, I like to think I’m one of the very few who tailors the presentation who researches the audience. I’ve always said I don’t think as a comedian, I don’t think you can take your comedy club, nightclub act, and pop it into a corporate event and expect to have the same response. You have to be different. And you have to let the audience know that you know about them, because they can’t laugh at themselves in until you give them the fodder to laugh at themselves.

Lindsay Recknell  04:37

Yeah, absolutely. And so thinking of corporate events where I got introduced to you because you are a speaker at the upcoming SHRM conference. Could you share a little bit about the about your talk and what we can expect as audience members?

Greg Schwem  04:52

Sure, now I am I’m going to be repeating my presentation so I actually did it at the last room conference in September. Vegas, I’m even more excited about this one because the the live attendance at Vegas was probably about 1/3 of what they normally have. And I like to think that we’re back at 100% capacity in terms of wanting to be live. So I’m expecting a lot more people. And the title of my presentation, just as it was last time, it’s called, is it okay to laugh? And as strange as that question might be, I think in the in the world of HR, it’s a very relevant question right now, because I think, sadly, humor is disappearing from the corporate environment at a time when it’s needed more than ever, and my presentation, first of all, it will make you laugh, I don’t believe you can have a serious conversation about humor, and its benefits unless you first get the audience laughing. But it’s more than just a stand up comedy presentation, I then the tone becomes a little serious. And I like to think that I challenged the audience a little bit, particularly since they all are HR professionals. And many of them have probably been in a situation that they don’t like to find themselves in as far as somebody said something and they thought it was funny, but this person didn’t think it was funny. And now what are we going to do? And we’re going to talk about that we’re going to talk about that we’re going to talk about I think the how the positive benefits of humor far outweigh the negative ramifications. That’s what the presentation about but I guarantee you it will be the most fun presentation that you have at SHRM or funding Brad Paisley. Sorry, sure.

Lindsay Recknell  06:30

No, no, don’t even funny. He’s a better player. As I say, I haven’t. I have never experienced a better concert. Okay, maybe Santana, but Brad Paisley’s guitar playing skills are out standing.

Greg Schwem  06:49

Yes, yes, they all right. It’s gonna be fun.

Lindsay Recknell  06:53

I’m gonna ask the question that I hope most audience members are are thinking in their heads as well. How much of your of your shtick of your of your spiel involves the movie The Office?

Greg Schwem  07:07

Ah, actually, none. I don’t I’ve although I will say I do bring it up. Because one thing that that you’ve did find during the pandemic, is people turn to situational comedies to feel better. Current ones and old ones, too. You had shows like friends, the office, even sitcoms that were maybe 4050 years old. And the Andy Griffith Show showed huge spikes in popularity. And it basically showed what did we turn to to comfort ourselves while we were at home? Humor? So why shouldn’t we be doing the same thing at work? And I do. So I do bring up the office in that in that regard.

Lindsay Recknell  07:52

Amazing. And you’re right. I mean, it. There’s the chemical response in our body. That is the stress chemicals in our body are lowered through humor by laughing. I mean, there’s evidence so much evidence to support that. What, you know, I imagine that you must talk about that a little bit in your in your in your work as well. Yeah,

Greg Schwem  08:15

I do. But I think the I think that’s a subject that everybody knows about. Everybody knows about the firing of endorphins. And that kind of thing. I’d like to focus more on what humor has done for organizations, if given the chance, whether it’s getting out of a, whether it’s rectifying negative publicity. I have examples of that companies who use humor, pandemic related humor, and yes, there is such a thing as pandemic related humor. I mean, is the pandemic funny is COVID. Funny, absolutely not. But there was a lot that we because our lives were turned upside down. There was an awful lot of things that we could laugh that whether it was virtual school, whether it was zoom meetings, whether it was all of this kind of stuff. And I’m going to show examples of a lot of companies. So we who embrace that, and actually use the pandemic, to sell products to make people laugh, and to make the people feel like it’s it’s going to be okay.

Lindsay Recknell  09:13

What is the there must be a really fine line between bad humor and good humor at work. How can you help organizations navigate that line?

Greg Schwem  09:24

That’s a great question. And there is no answer for that. There is no singular answer. And I’m very straightforward with my audience at the top. I say in this presentation. I said if you came into this presentation, because this guy is going to tell us what’s funny and what isn’t funny, then I can’t help you. I can because there is no answer. I mean, even even the best comedian even when Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke, only he thinks it’s funny. He writes it at home, and then but only he thinks it’s funny. He hopes other people think it’s funny. But until he gets on stage and tries it in front of a bunch of people, he’s not going to know that. All right. So all I can do is give people some suggestions on how to avoid bad humor. And part of that is working together. I, I talk about how, typically when somebody says, I didn’t like that, or I was offended, it’s a generational thing. You know, it could be black white issue, it could be a gay straight problem. It could be a Gen X versus a Gen Z. They thought it was funny any other generation did. But I think what we don’t do is we never put those two together and say, why don’t you come up with something that both of you think is funny? Because what that does is it forces people in an office to appreciate and listen to what other people think is funny. I have watched I have two daughters, that are probably what you call Gen Z or internet one is 26. One is 20. I have showed them movies that I think are hilarious John Hughes movies and they’re like, and, and I said, you know, I have an example. I said, Why don’t you just watch the whole thing with me? And then I’ll watch what you want to watch. And they did. And by the end, they were laughing and they saw Okay, there is some humor in this as opposed to, you know, swipe left after two minutes, which we tend to do if we don’t think something’s funny, right off the bat, and then I say, Okay, now what do you think it’s funny? Well, Dad, we think impractical. Jokers is funny. Well, honestly, I think that’s the stupidest show on television. I always thought it’s three guys just laughing at themselves with no audience. But I watched it. And by the end of it, I was laughing. I’m like, okay, I get it. But that’s a teaching moment. And I don’t think that goes on enough in corporate America.

Lindsay Recknell  11:51

I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean, everything comes down to communication, our interpersonal skill, and our ability to meet our other our the other person in an interaction where they’re at? Yeah, you know, we talk about mental health at work. And I think communication is one of those. It’s one of those top four skills that we need to learn is I agree invitation and with that the feedback to each other, right, like, Communication is a two way street. It’s not just one person speaking at another and I Yeah, we do.

Greg Schwem  12:25

Exactly. I agree. And I think also, you mentioned mental health, which obviously is a big buzzword. So as employee retention, HR people are dealing with both of those, how to keep the best employees how to keep them happy. That is that is going to precipitate good mental health? Well, a big part of that is humor. And I actually, when I spoke at SHRM last year, I wasn’t sure I was going to say this to the audience, but I ended up saying it anyway, I said, You people are in charge of fostering a fun, healthy work environment. That is one of the many hats that HR wears. Do you agree with me on that?

Lindsay Recknell  13:04

I do agree. Okay. Okay. The employee experience is part of HR.

Greg Schwem  13:09

Yes. So when you are taking humor away, because you think, well, we just don’t want to deal with that. To me, you’re kind of doing the opposite of what you’re charged with. And and I don’t think that’s a good thing. And as I said, I wasn’t sure I was gonna throw that theme out there. But I did. And I probably had about five or six people come up to me afterwards and say, You’re spot on with that. We do need more. And but again, it’s it’s a slippery slope, because you’re trying to please everybody. And when there’s controversy over a joke, or a meme or anything like that, I think you tend to just say, well, let’s just not deal with this. I have other things to do. Let’s just tell the the the person who posted the meme, you’re fired, you’re suspended. You’re this, you’re that whereas I don’t think that’s necessarily always the not always sometimes it is but not always the best solution.

Lindsay Recknell  14:07

And so how do HR professionals and people leaders bring more humor to the workplace? Is it posting memes on the company intranet, and you know, posters in the bathroom? How do we bring more humor?

Greg Schwem  14:22

Yeah, I think it’s again, I think it’s working together. I think any I give examples of memes that could be construed as hilarious when you first look at them and then when you start analyzing them, maybe aren’t i i wish i had it to show you it will be in the presentation but there’s one that it came out about two weeks after quarantine and it was a couple in the bathroom. And the woman has her has her head in the sink and she says honey, hand me the hairdryer and the husband is holding a gun. Okay, now when you write first look at that ever Everybody laughs and then they realize what they’re laughing at. And I said, Okay, there you go, okay, somebody posts that everybody thinks it’s hilarious, except the person who’s relative was a victim of gun violence. So I think a big thing, I again, I can’t tell you what’s funny, and what’s not funny, I do give some exercises. And one of those I think, is when you bring in humor, the first thing you do is make yourself the butt of the joke. That’s a good way. Maybe not posting a meme, but maybe posting something where you are. And I give some examples of this, I think people are more inclined to laugh. If they don’t feel it’s about them. That’s one way to start. And after that, I think, again, it’s communication. It’s bringing people together to discuss what’s funny, I’ve always said, you know, why not have two people from different generations create a five minute presentation about something, something in the office, it has to be funny, now, you’re not going to be graded on it, you’re not going to be fired if nobody laughs but you have to put an element of humor in there. And it forces people to work together. And now you’ve got two people who come together and say, Okay, we agree on this. We both thought it was funny. And twos better than one. Now you’ve doubled the amount of people who think it’s funny. So I think that’s, that’s really, the best way to do it is communication.

Lindsay Recknell  16:19

And what do you say? So let’s say people do this, let’s say they get their folks on board. And we’re not so skilled in having communication, effective communication yet, and somebody crosses the line into bad taste humor in the workplace. And now HR goes, I told you, I didn’t want to do this, because it’s turned into a big disaster. How do we navigate that situation?

Greg Schwem  16:45

Well, Boy, I wish I knew that one. I think that because again, it comes to a matter of perspective, it comes to who thinks this is in bad taste? And who thinks it’s not? I think you have to talk it out. I think you have to say, why did you think it was in bad taste, as opposed to that was in bad taste? The person who thinks it’s in bad tastes needs to defend it, I will give you a good example. And this is a joke that I do for technology audiences. I always say I love speaking for tech audiences, because what you do is so complicated, even you can’t explain it. So I always get some really vague answer, like, well, basically, Greg, our software solves the problems that keep you up at night. And my response is, Oh, that’s great. So if I buy your software, I can eat Indian food again. That’s the joke. All right. It goes over very well in tech audiences. However, you know what’s coming. After a show once I had someone come up to me, and she said, That joke, I found it offensive. She was she was from she was from India, okay. And she said, I found that offensive. And I said, because she said, You’re making fun of Indian people. I said, No, no, I’m not. I’m making fun of Indian food. Indian food is spicy. Do you agree Indian food is spicy? And she says, Yes, it is. I see. But, and that. And then she kind of got it. But the example is, there was a trigger word there. There was a trigger word. I said the word Indian, and that she shut down after that. She just heard the word Indian. And, and I think, I think a lot of times you have to sort of and that’s why I think me being a comedian and giving this presentation. Somebody who’s been on stage, somebody who’s been on the receiving end of a lot of people, just telling me how unfunny I was, and how offended they were not that that happens a lot. But it has, but then they they walk away. They just come up to me and say, I thought you sucked. And then they leave. And that has happened to all of us. So I’ve been on the receiving end of that. But I think that I have a better perspective. As somebody who makes their living, entertaining and making strangers laugh, then a lot of other people who might call themselves who’ve done you know, humor studies or call themselves laugh experts or things like that, but I’ve never set on a stage not to toot my own horn. But, you know, I think I have the experience to talk about laughs

Lindsay Recknell  19:10

It brings to mind the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon learns to tell a joke by reading the books about how to tell a joke. Ever see that line? The three he’s the three funniest words, scientifically proven the three funniest words and he puts them all together in a joke and clearly, the theory does not hold up in reality.

Greg Schwem  19:34

There was a Borat movie, I think was like that to where he actually sat down with a humor like a humor expert. And the guys in the guys like giving him taglines for jokes and boards tried to repeat them and it’s not working at all. And it’s it’s cringe worthy is what it was.

Lindsay Recknell  19:54

Oh, so funny, but that’s the kind of humor that we can we can understand we can build community around those kinds of shared experiences. And I feel like that’s what you’re talking about. That’s what’s bringing humor into the workplace is about that shared experience.

Greg Schwem  20:12

And I think you have to, I think every presentation at SHRM has to come with some solutions. You can’t just identify the problem without at least in your solutions might not be the be all end all, it might not be perfect, but you can’t just spell it out and then say, thank you very much. Please buy my book, okay, you have to come up with a few solutions. And that’s what I do. You know, it’s up to the audience, whether they want to try them. And I’m sure every audience member probably has an experience where they want to say, Well, what do you what would you do about this? And my solution might I might not have a solution or might not, my solution might be something they already tried. And it might have turned into a disaster. But again, I think that there is a way to make everybody laugh. But I think what you have to do first is you have to get rid of that animosity you have to get rid of I didn’t think it was funny. And because an awful lot of people in your office might have thought it was funny. And they’re just as their opinions. And their contributions to the office are just as valuable as yours.

Lindsay Recknell  21:25

Well, and I think you nailed it like so often, we hear people speakers, you know, podcasts who say you have to do this to be this kind of successful, well, that works for that person, cool. The perspective of listening to these talks with kind of a critical eye to think, ooh, I’m going to try that and see if it also works for me. And if it doesn’t, listen to the next person to think, oh, maybe I’ll try that instead. I think that’s a huge perspective and helps with the overwhelm as well. Because if we think we have to do all the things, that’s not effective, either.

Greg Schwem  22:02

Yeah, I get on my soapbox. Sometimes I’ve met some great motivational speakers. Don’t get me wrong. But I’ve also seen a lot who do exactly what you just said, who say you have to do it this way, this way, this way. And, you know, you can tell they’ve never worked in that industry, that they’re telling everybody how to do it. And I think the audience, if you start looking at the audience, I think the audience wants to say that like, Who is this guy, or this woman who’s telling us how to do our jobs, and you’re just telling us how to sell car parts, but it’s never worked in the auto industry? Should I listen to him or her? Yeah, well, I

Greg Schwem  22:39

consider myself you can listen, but that doesn’t mean that they have the right answer. Right? Yeah, you can listen. Yeah. But you know, and that’s why I do I never put I don’t pretend to be a motivational speaker. I say that right off the top, too. That’s not my job is to motivate. I think there’s plenty of other reasons that employees are motivated, like their mortgage or their car payments, or, you know, my kids college tuition. That’s what motivates me. But I think, I think motivation is within you. But now you also have to have fun. And you have to enjoy going to work and you have to enjoy what you’re doing. And you have to enjoy the people that you’re working with. And that’s where the humor comes in.

Lindsay Recknell  23:20

So when people want to bring you in to be their business comedian, their corporate comedian, how do they get ahold of you?

Greg Schwem  23:27

Well, probably my websites. That’s And what you’ll find out there, you will find links to lots of different videos that show me in different situations, whether it’s as a keynote speaker, whether it’s as a as an emcee for a three or four day event that just kind of keeps everybody laughing throughout. And it’s kind of the glue that holds the meeting together. And, you know, I have been fortunate enough to work for just about every industry, including some of the most unfunny industries, I did a show for the funeral home industry last September. And believe it or not, they were an absolute hoot. And, again, loved to laugh at the funeral business as weird as that sounds. It’s funny, it’s funny if you know how to how to play it. And I think a lot of times, I was just saying things that they wish they could say, but can’t.

Greg Schwem  24:25

But here comes the guy from outside the industry. To have them look at it in a different perspective.

Lindsay Recknell  24:33

Well, and it feels like you would be giving them permission for it to be okay for them to show up as their real selves at work because I’m sure around the around the kitchen table. They are laughing at some of the ridiculous things that happen at work. But at work, there’s that awkwardness that says we can’t have this conversation so it feels nice to you know, because you’re saying the things we want to say out loud and almost giving us that permission to to match our behavior. Great. This has been amazing. Is there any final parting thoughts you’d like the audience to know?

Greg Schwem  25:10

I think just, again, just go back and examine your work environment and say, Where can we add? Where can we add some fun to it, whether it’s virtually, whether it’s on site, whether it’s single, whether it’s in whether it’s in a group situation, just look at ways you can always find something funny. And and just realize once again, as I said, the beginning how, if you eliminate humor from the workplace, all the other things that you’re eliminating, and that’s that’s not good moving forward?

Lindsay Recknell  25:42

No, that is not good for organizational health at all. It is been a real pleasure to talk to you I cannot wait for your for your talk at SHRM. I very much look forward to meeting you in real life, also. And thank you so much for joining us today.

Greg Schwem  25:59

Oh, it was my pleasure. I cannot wait for New Orleans.

Lindsay Recknell  26:03

I will put all the links to your website that you just talked about in the show notes as well so people can get ahold of you real easy. Excellent.

Greg Schwem  26:10

Thank you very much.

Lindsay Recknell  26:11

Good seeing you. Enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.

Lindsay Recknell  26:14

Thanks for joining me for another awesome episode of the mental health for leaders podcast. To make sure you don’t miss any future episodes, please go to and subscribe to have these episodes delivered right to your inbox each week. You’ll also find all the show notes, links and resources that my guest mentioned on the show and the link to the Guide to Influence and Impact at Work freebie I mentioned at the beginning of this episode.  You’re listening to this podcast because you know our people need us more than ever. But being a people leader and an HR professional is especially hard right now. If the thought of figuring out how to best support your people and yourself feels overwhelming and impossibly hard. Let’s talk. I don’t promise I can make it easy, but I can make it simple. So let’s do that together. Go to and download the Guide to Influence and Impact at Work now. Until next time, take good care. And as always, call me if you need me.

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