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How To Do Small Talk Right

If you're a human being, you no doubt dread the tedium of maintaining a pointless conversation with another human being — idiomatically known as small talk. The following guide will arm you with the necessary tools to alleviate its pain.

If you're reading this, and you are not a human being, please apply the lessons gleaned in this guide to your own species—I suspect whether you're a human, a chinchilla or a bat, intraspecies conversations are universally unpleasant.

Conversely, interspecies conversations are invariably desirable.

My uncle once spent an entire year talking exclusively to a colony of fire ants. He was amazed by how pleasant each interaction with the little bastards was, absent awkward pauses, petty disagreements, and other irritants endemic to intraspecies conversations.

There was little doubt in his mind that the ants were equally content talking with him, welcoming the opportunity to shun the mindless blather they would normally endure from their own kind.

Alas, for most of us, talking only to ants or koalas is an unrealistic pipe dream; work, family, friends and parole officers demand that we exchange words with other humans—a terrible fate.

To help mitigate the horrid necessity of intraspecies communication, let's look at some of the most common small talk scenarios and consider how to best navigate their shittiness.

Someone You Don't Know at a Party

If you've been to prison, you know how important it is to join a gang.

Prison gang affiliation provides benefits similar to the benefits offered by a group heath insurance plan: whereas employers purchase insurance plans to cover their employees, each prison gang (symbolically) purchases a 'don't shank our members in the prison yard' plan for its members.

Many people unfortunately don't realize that it's just as critical to find a group to coalesce around at a party full of strangers, because:

  • Just as in prison, loners are 20 times more likely to get shanked at a party (Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology)

  • Standing alone and pretending to be studying a chachka or perusing a boring book builds anxiety and makes it more likely that you yourself will snap and shank an unsuspecting party guest

To sidestep these landmines, it's important to find someone to talk to, and that person or group of people become your gang by default.

Let's say as you reach for an hors d'oeuvre, you lock eyes with a plump middle aged fella plucking an appetizer off the same tray.

Right on cue, he opens with the standard, "Hi, my name is Jehovah. And you are?"

After you state your stupid name, he stays faithful to the Fundamental Theorem of Small Talk with, "so, how do you know [name of host]?"

This is the point at which your brain releases a hormone called resentment. You know exactly where this conversation is going: you'll say you know him from college, he'll say he knows him from insurance fraud, and a stream of insufferable words will flow like sewage through a rusty pipe.

To counter this noxious hormone's effect on your mind, body and soul, try this:

"How do I know ___? Well, let me tell you how I don't know him: I certainly never ran over him with my car. Good day to you, sir."

Your inquisitor will be so perplexed by your reply, he will be rendered speechless—that is, speech will not pour out of his mouth like garbage being emptied from a dump truck into a landfill, which is precisely the desired intent.

Human speech

Now of course, the peril of disgusting people from talking to you at a party is that you will again find yourself alone and therefore vulnerable to getting stabbed in the abdomen, throat or heart. To prevent this, simply repeat the above process with numerous guests, thereby forming a continuous series of short-lived gang affiliations.


"Boy, how about this weather?" are words that elicit blind rage in the calmest of men.

It would be one thing if the weather were anomalous—perhaps twenty feet of snow or acid rain—but of course, 99.9% of the time someone brings up this topic, the weather is perfectly quotidian.

What the fuck are you supposed to say? "Yes Bob, it's five degrees colder than it was yesterday. I bet tomorrow it will be within 2 standard deviations of the average temperature this time of year. Fascinating stuff Bob; now could you please do me a favor and put a bullet through my temple so that I never have to talk about the weather again?"

The problem with this approach is that assuming Bob has a loaded gun on him is wishful thinking. And even if he did, he would probably be too much of a coward to put you out of your misery.

So here's what you do.

Whenever the topic of weather is broached, pull out your gun and put a bullet through your temple.

Sports small talk

This is the only tolerable category of small talk. It can last hours with the same 3 talking points spewed incessantly, somehow never losing steam.

If you find sports talk unpleasant, I will pray for you.

Where are you from?

"None of your fucking business" is the most sensible rebuttal to this inquiry. Regrettably, contemporary society scorns psychotic overreactions. This is a modern trend that like eye contact is antithetical to human nature.

Our ancient ancestors were prone to outbursts in response to questions prodding their past, as well as their present and future.

In the olden days, if you asked a man where he was from, he would stare at you with unbridled hatred before unleashing a fierce barrage of profanities in retaliation for interrogating an innocent man.

Today, due to a mysterious evolutionary glitch, we must find an alternative to the psychotic outburst. Your best bet is to implement the "mirror principle":

"So, where are you from?"

"Where are you from?"

"Ah, I was born in Delaware, and moved to Madison Wisconsin when I was 5."

"Yeah, me too."

By activating the mirror principle, you neutralize the discomfort of telling your life story to a random fucking idiot.

What do you do?

Anyone who asks you this question is begging for your fist to connect with their chin. But yet again, modern society's war on our beautiful nature stigmatizes violence in response to a perfectly harmless question.

So instead of winding your arm five times like a cartoon character to deliver a knockout hay maker, try this:

"What do you do?"

"I wait to die."

Conversation over.

What's your favorite food?

If anyone tells you they have a favorite food, they're lying and likely racist.

Do you eat sushi for breakfast? If you don't, then sushi cannot be your favorite food. Your "favorite" food is based on the time of day, your mood, your environment, among other transient factors.

This question, therefore, is an assault on God. Confront this blasphemous small talk as follows:

"What's your favorite food?"

"Gandhi fasted. What makes you think you're better than Gandhi?"

Once again, the small talk is nipped in the bud, and the earth from which the

bud sprouted doused with gasoline so that nothing will ever grow from it again.


"What was the last country you traveled to?" The person who engages in this brand of small talk falls into one of four categories:

1. Asshole

2. Presumptuous Asshole

3. Dipshit

4. Presumptuous Dipshit

Don't worry about placating this particular breed of small talker with a quip a la the above examples. Just go ahead and walk away without saying a word.


"What do you like to do for fun?"

Since you have no hobbies, this question demands a swift and merciless rebuttal.

"I like to watch you while you sleep" is the strategically sound reply.

Other acceptable alternatives:

"I like to stand outside TJ Maxx brandishing a knife."

"I follow geese around for hours."

"I yell at strangers."

"I camp out at busy intersections and collect change from motorists stopped at red lights."

"I sit in my living room in total darkness and drink until I black out."

"I collect dog shit."

Any of the above replies will achieve your goal of neutralizing your inquisitor.


As much as we wish it weren't so, small talk is an inescapable bane of human existence. On the bright side, armed with these tips, you can now withstand the vile verbal spears launched at your peace of mind.


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