If I have a funny story to tell, it is physically painful for me to keep my mouth shut. I love to make people laugh, and it doesn’t matter where the story came from. Sometimes it happened to me, but sometimes I’ve heard it from someone else.
I now have rules for telling other people’s stories, and this is why.
Remember that horror movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose? It came out when I was in college, and it became a common topic of conversation on campus. Some of the details are fuzzy to me now, but sometime after the movie came out I remember eating lunch with my friend Zach in the cafeteria and chatting about class. He got an evil grin on his face.
“Oh, I have a funny story for you!”
Zach was an education major, and one of his courses did classroom simulations. One student would run the class, and the rest would act the parts of unruly elementary students. Zach, as I expected, enjoyed playing a bothersome child.
“So we were all sitting in class, being as obnoxious as possible. It was total chaos,” he said, eyes twinkling with mischief. “And then Emily Rose…” he pauses to look at me, “You know her, right?”
“Not really, but keep going,” I said.
“Anyway, Emily Rose is in the class. She was just sitting there and suddenly she pipes up, ‘I just want to say that I am not the Emily Rose from the movie! I am not demon-possessed! So stop spreading rumors!” Our table snorted with laughter over our cafeteria food. He kept on describing the chaos that ensued. The laughter thoroughly ruined the simulation, and Zach nearly made me snort food out of my nose.
Sometime later I was invited to a friend’s apartment to watch a movie. I think I was a little late because I didn’t get to introduce myself to everyone. The movie ended, and I found myself telling stories as a way to open up small talk with the people I didn’t know. Suddenly I remembered Zach’s story! I knew the friend who invited me would love it, so I started off.
“Oh, so I heard this hilarious story. You know Zach?”
I couldn’t wait to tell this one. My storytelling style is quite theatrical, and this one was so much fun to tell. My friend was smiling, but the room got quieter and quieter. I realized every single person was listening intently but not laughing. I was vaguely worried that I’d said something wrong, but no one seemed angry. Just blank. Or confused? Maybe I wasn’t telling it right. I barreled on, pouring on the drama. I came to punchline.
“I’m not the Emily Rose in the movie! I am not demon-possessed! So stop spreading rumors!” I laughed and smiled, “Isn’t that hilarious?”
“Yeah, it was pretty funny,” said an unfamiliar girl sitting on the couch in front of me. “I’m Emily Rose.”
And that, boys and girls, is why you never tell someone else’s story unless you know exactly who is in the group listening to you.