I played golf last week with a judge, who asked me how close his tee shot was to the green. I replied: “your on her, your honor.”

We have been training and coaching professional speakers for over 20 years.

The most common question we receive, by far, is this:

“Do you recommend using a joke?’

There’s not a yes or no answer to this question. We love jokes. We tell them, we laugh at them, we borrow other people’s jokes and tell them ourselves, sometimes not even giving credit to the person who first told it to us.

And yes, sometimes speakers can effectively spin a joke, even when presenting on a serious topic.

But here’s what you need to consider if you’re asking the question: Do you like to tell jokes? Does the situation warrant a joke? Do you have one that will help people connect with you and decide to engage in what you are saying? Most importantly, are you comfortable telling THAT joke to THAT audience in THAT situation?

If you’re still wondering whether or not to tell a joke, be sure to watch Don West, the defense attorney for Florida murder suspect, George Zimmerman, on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. He decided to include, in the opening of a very tense trial, the following joke, delivered so dryly that people had no idea how to react:

Knock Knock

Who’s There ? (Answered by himself in the same monotone voice)

Robert Zimmerman.

 Robert Zimmerman Who?

OK, good. You’re on the jury.

Funny? Yes, a little.

A joke that this person should be telling? Maybe a good lawyer out there could make a case for that.

But appropriate in this situation by this particular speaker in this particular situation?

We’ll give you a hint: This particular joke, this particular teller, and this particular situation–one already being covered by media from across the world and followed by many millions of people–made its way through the entire news cycle within 24 hours, with big features on all the major news outlets, plus The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Yes, EMS, but that could mean it was either a riot or it dropped like a lead weight. Did it bomb?

Another hint: he apologized for it before he even told it!

“May the good lord take a likin’ to ya and blow ya up REAL good!”

John Candy in SCTV skit

This blew up REAL good. West didn’t make it any better by acting amazed that he didn’t even get a smile from the six-woman jury. Then he repeatedly made reference to his poor sense of humor. It’s sometimes a good practice to acknowledge a mistake and move on. For West, it just seemed to bury him deeper.

Oh, that’s our other consideration. Will you be comfortable if no one laughs at your joke and it bombs? Will it affect your relationship with your audience? Is it a risk worth taking?

We often encourage our clients to take risks, such as trying new ways to reach out to the people you’re addressing (throw wet sponges, walk on stilts, hang upside-down, for example). They say hindsight is 20/20, but most people we have trained would have steered clear of this particular joke at the beginning of this huge trial well before the joke ever made it to the drawing board.

And, for the record, most of them didn’t even go to law school.