When we laugh at somebody, the joke works because we lower somebody’s status. When we laugh with somebody, more often than not, we elevate their status.
Whether you are elevating or lowering somebody’s status comes down to permission. When we laugh at the unfortunate butt of the joke in our friends circle, we don’t have their permission. However, when somebody is a good sport or a professional comedian, our laughter elevates their status. Most of us have laughed at Mister Bean, and thereby turned Rowan Atkinson into a respected professional.
Before we crack a joke, it helps to ask if we have its target’s explicit or implicit permission. If you find yourself at a joke’s receiving end, you can have your status elevated by granting people your permission.