General Question

archaeopteryx's avatar

To all Dilbert fans.. ?

Asked by archaeopteryx (873points) February 10th, 2009

I’m a big fan of the Dilbert comics, but the problem is that I find it hard to understand most its jokes.

Some of the jokes are pretty obvious though. But lots them seem hard to understand. Why is that? Or how exactly should I read them? (This is a silly question, I know, but, what else can I say..?) Or do I need some background in jobs, business, or companies (etc.) so that I can catch the joke?

For example, looking at today’s strip, can someone please tell me where is the joke in it?

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16 Answers

robmandu's avatar

You have to have a shared experience with the joke maker in order to “get it”.

Having someone literally explain a joke is a sure-fire way to make it not funny.

If you want more insight into how Scott Adams thinks and where he’s coming from, you should try reading his blog. He usually posts about 1 update per day.

archaeopteryx's avatar


That’s a good idea, thanks.

And enjoy the lurve! ;-)

marinelife's avatar

Robmandu is so right.

One reason Dilbert has always been a favorite of mine is because he so accurately captured the ironies of working in high technology. Scott Adams worked at Pacific Bell for a long time.

Today’s strip really rings true for anyone who has ever worked in or been in a call center of any type. They are very much “sweatshop”-style work environments, which is what he is poking fun at here.

Kiev749's avatar

i have a manager that looks like dilbert… no where near as bright though… No just think of it from a lower worker trying to approach his peers or upper management and hilarity ensues.

Judi's avatar

Makes me think of what happened with my daughter. She grew up with me saying, “Boy I hate when that happens!” From the old Saturday night live sketch. She never understood why when someone did something stupid I would always say it. When she was in her 20’s she finally saw an Old Saturday Night Live sketch and cracked up for her whole childhood! She called me and said, “I finally get it!”

dalepetrie's avatar

I’ll ditto what Robmandu said, you really need to be able to relate to it to get the joke. Those of us who’ve worked in an office setting see Dilbert as an exaggerated, yet still ironically accurate assessment of the corporate world. In today’s strip, Dilbert is working collections, and he is hearing the woe story that I’m sure he hears several times a day, as to why someone can’t pay his bills. The second panel is joke #1, Dilbert identifies himself as a collections person, and the person on the other end says “you win”, basically this is one joke. The humor here comes from the fact that what we expect is different from what we get. In “real” life, a collections perosn would identify himself and that would be the entrance to becoming more and more aggressive with the person on the other end, you’d expect the collector because a) he’s heard it all before, and b) it’s his job to begin being less sympathetic to the collectee. But instead, the person being called by the collections agent is essentially saying, “wow, you’re in collections…even though my life is literally falling apart in front of my eyes, I feel sorry for YOU…YOUR life sucks worse than MINE.” If you can fathom how difficult it must be to try to beat people who are down on their luck in every imaginable way out of money they clearly can’t afford, if you can imagine how awful it must be to have to be the person bearing all that baggage and still having to be a real asshole and get the money, you can relate to that…the idea is that even though this person is going through perhaps the toughest place in his life, he’d STILL not want to trade places with a guy like that.

Then in the final cel, after Dilbert has been told he’s “won”, the powers that be start cracking the whip, no rest for the wicked, and basically this is a social commentary on our economy. Winning ain’t what it used to be, like “YAY, I won…what exactly did I win…a horrible, draining job where I have to tolerate abuse from the people I’m calling, AND the bosses I’m serving, just so I won’t end up being one of the people this company calls?” If you’ve even been stuck in a dead end job, wishing that maybe you did something that MEANT something, something where success would actually bring you satisfaction, you can relate to this and can see the irony and the reversal of expectation here. What pleasure could one possibly derive from being told that your life sucks worse than someone who can’t pay their bills, whose wife left them and whose whole world is crumbling down, particularly when that success if not met by the bosses with praise, but with a whip cracking “do more” philosophy?

Now I know I’ve killed the humor in the strip, but that’s essentially the essence of Dilbert. It’s social commentary about the state of the work world these days. We go to work and do jobs we don’t like, we work with dysfunctional people, and it seems the least deserving and dumbest are the ones who excel, while those below are expected to live with indignity after indignity heaped upon them. The best way to enjoy Dilbert is to work for a Fortune 500 company for a while. I’ve worked for 3, and let me say, I ALWAYS get the joke.

MrItty's avatar

If you’ve never worked in an office (cubicle farm), are not a tech-geek, and/or have never been a programming or engineering discipline, many of the jokes will require explaining.

archaeopteryx's avatar


Well, I am studying programming.
I’m actually a CIS student. And yeah, I do have a pretty good background in programming.
But I haven’t worked in an office, yet.

I usually have no problem understanding a the tech/programming related jokes. But office/job related jokes usually seem pointless to me. (Not that I think they are pointless, but it’s just that I don’t understand them.)

Jayne's avatar

I don’t know, I’m still in high school, but I still ‘get’ pretty much all of the Dilbert strips I have ever read, unless I’m missing something. The humor is in the beatiful illogicity of it all.

galileogirl's avatar

Do you get this

I lived it

The bigger the company, the more appearance of productivity matters over actual productivity.

MrItty's avatar

See, I think you can see why that’s theoretically funny, but those of us who live it know that “it’s funny because it’s true.”

dalepetrie's avatar

YES, @galileogirl, I lived it TOO! I had SUCH a hard time working at a Fortune 500 company because I was used to working at smaller companies where hey, if you wanted to stop by the CEO’s office and chat about movies, you could do that. You get to the big, huge, monolithic company and EVERYTHING is done through channels. You have to figure out WHO the people are you need to work through. I couldn’t believe it when my boss’ boss was looking for some information, so I sent him the information, and my boss yelled at me because peons at my level can’t just gasp email a Director! Other things I got yelled at about/taught were that, and this was said to me by my boss and a co-worker, “there IS no reality, it’s ALL perception.” I was in this situation where if I did or didn’t do something, no matter what it was, if someone observed something that they didn’t like for any reason, it was actively ENCOURAGED, NOT to go to me to figure out what was reality and what was perception, but to bring it to my boss’ attention IMMEDIATELY, so she could call me in her office and chastise me. So, it didn’t matter if I could say, “no, this is what ACTUALLY happened,” that didn’t matter. What mattered was what anyone who decided to put their noses in my business (also encouraged) thought was going on. It was not THEIR responsibility to try to find perspective, it was MY responsibility to manage THEIR perspectives, because “there is no reality, there is only perception.”

I was used to an environment where you did your job, you rolled up your sleeves, you did what needed to be done. Here you had to do things the way they were to be done, you had to get the input of the right people, and you needed to figure out WHO those people were. So, these two comics just ABSOLUTELY summarize what it’s like in that environment. The first one, yes, it was often that level of ridiculous, where something small that someone could perceive in a negative light could be debated by these highly compensated higher up people for hours on end. Basically, no one did any WORK during work hours, it was ALL meetings, it was all about “alignment”. In the second strip posted, there was a VERY clear message to stay in your cubicle. We were actually equipped with a white board, and if I was EVER going to be away from my desk for more than 5 minutes, I was to write where I was going to be on my whiteboard!

One other thing really resonated with me after I had that experience of being yelled at for not being at my desk when some person decided they needed to talk to me right then and there and apparently had to talk to someone else because the three minutes I was away from my desk was too much to wait. One of my favorite movies is Office Space. When I got the DVD and saw the special features, I saw this deleted scene where Lumberg is asking Peter where he was during this one ten minute period a week ago Tuesday, because he came by Peter’s desk and he wasn’t there. So he says he was probably in the bathroom, and Lumberg asks him what kind of shoes he was wearing because he looked under the stalls and didn’t see his shoes. It was literally that bad, if I had to go to the bathroom, I could hear about it 2 weeks later that someone came by during that 5 minutes.

You really want to get Dilbert, work for a large company for a year.

90s_kid's avatar

Dilbert was in my paper all the time. Only about ½ I actually get, and ½ of those are funny. Too much office terms. Maybe it is more adult humor, which I actually sppreciate a lot.

Jeruba's avatar

If you don’t get Dilbert jokes, consider yourself fortunate. You haven’t submitted to enough torture in the corporate nuthouse for the sake of a paycheck.

I once heard that you could gauge the health of a company by how many Dilbert strips were posted in (or outside) the cubicles. That turns out to be false. When people still dare to post the Dilbert strips, things haven’t yet got as bad as they can get.

peridot's avatar

@Jeruba Agree. It’s when management gets their panties in a twist and prohibits Dilbert comics from being put up that you’re really in the cacky. Some management types are self-aware enough to see themselves reflected in the Pointy-Haired Boss’ habits, but just… can’t… seem to knock it off. Management types are not exactly renowned for their ability to laugh at themselves.

Jeruba's avatar

No, no, @peridot, it’s not about prohibition. I’ve never heard of any company doing that, and chances are good it would backfire. No need, anyway: fear will do the job. You know it’s really bad when people are afraid to display subversive Dilbert cartoons because that would call attention to their attitude. When the threat of layoffs looms every quarter, most people lie low—or kiss ass, just as in a Dilbert cartoon.

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