The Best Way to Respond to Text Messages

“HA HA” stands alone here. This perfect little blue pill solves a problem that has always weighed on my relationships with comedians, or anyone who tries to tell me a joke – a felt reluctance on my part to “give up” appropriately. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this tapback saved a lot of my friendships.

I love comedies, but to my great disadvantage, I react to jokes the same way my 6-year-old son likes his toys – by taking them apart and trying to figure out what makes them work. I’ve also never been a “LOL” person, especially with lyrics. It’s uncomfortably performative, like typing “Ouch!”. if you accidentally sit on your car keys. Although I’ve tied my own deep source of distress to every joke I try, it still scares me when people use “LOL” too liberally. His motive feels questionable, like transactional flattery. If someone posts more than one “LOL” in a text thread, I can’t help but think that that person is going to ask me about a ride to the airport.

For a while I preferred a simple “Ha”, until some negative feedback taught me to switch to the more emotional “Ha!”. This felt like an appropriate response to a joke told over text until the fountain was poisoned by that informal series of “HA” s. You saw it and you probably did: “HAHAHAHAHAHA”. Looks good on paper, feels good on a thread of text, but it’s anarchic. Not only does it make the “Ha!” Suddenly appear condescending, it sets a terrible new standard because there is no standard. How many “HA” are enough? In any group thread, the string “HA” quickly leads to nightmare scenarios like this:

PERSON A: [JOKE!]

PERSON B: HAHAHA

[A fine response; all is well.]

PERSON C: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

[Wow, I guess Person B hates jokes!]

When you improvise those “HA” s like jazz music it becomes difficult to track your work and hurt feelings. Raise the bar a dozen or more too high, and at some point in the future even one less “HA” may indicate your support is clotting.

That’s the joy of the neat, attractive uniformity of the “HA HA” tapback: just one large “HA” and one of a smaller size underneath, suggesting that there is probably no longer where that came from. Gone are long, competing “HA” strings of different lengths. Also the arrogant “LOL” and the “tearful laughing” emoji are gone, which, let’s be honest, a bit much. The tapback shifts the entire joke grading system to pass / fail, and any professor assigned to grading knows that more people are likely to pass – maybe even a few who don’t deserve it. The special magic of the “HA HA” tapback is that it meets and lowers your expectations.

I once saw a comedian put his entire performance to an audience that responded perfectly appropriately with a thick wall of silence. At some point, after another slack joke was only recorded with surround sound, a viewer, possibly moved by the absurdity of it all, let out a tickled snort. The comedian on stage cocked his head slightly, like a cat hearing a can opener three rooms down, and said, “I heard a laugh. I’ll take it. “The” HA HA “tapback streamlines a vast network of complicated and exhausting needs to one thing: I’ve seen a laugh. I accept it.

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