Thursday, June 14, 2012

I ain't got jokes, I got problems...

I was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation after running some errands today, and they had two people on that are part of a show in New York called Old Jews Telling Jokes. The host, Neal Conan was also having listeners call in with their own jokes. I only caught the tail end of it but these were my two favorites:

Q: Why don't WASP's go to orgies?

A: Too many thank you notes to write.

Two Jewish guys were walking down the street. They passed a Catholic church with a big sign out front that said, "Convert to Catholicism and get 50 dollars!" The first guy looked at the second guy and said, "I'm gonna go do that." He went in the church and came out about 20 minutes later. The second guy looked at him and said, "Well, did you get your 50 bucks?!" The first guy looked over and replied,

"Is that all you people think about?"

And this is the joke that I would have called in to share if I had time.

Q: What do you call a black guy flying a plane?

A: A pilot, you racist!

ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho (:

One thing I noticed is how important timing is when telling a joke, because there were a few people who had funny jokes that fell flat because they didn't deliver them all that well.

I also noticed that they only wanted you to call in and share jokes if it was a joke about a group that you were a part of (lawyers telling lawyer jokes, Irish people telling Irish jokes, etc.). That got me thinking a lot, and is what compelled me to write this blog post.

It's obvious why they made that qualifier; because they don't want a bunch of people calling in and telling racist jokes. But it's the radio, so they have no idea if the person calling is actually a member of the said group, but as long as they said they were--it somehow made it okay. It makes sense, I only shared the first two jokes here because a person who claimed to be a WASP and a person who claimed to be Jewish shared them with me.

But is it racist/racish of me to repeat those jokes since I am not a member of either of those groups? Is it racist/racish of me to laugh at those jokes since I am not a member of either of those groups? Was your reaction to the first two jokes different than your reaction to the last one? Why or why not?

I also noticed that while all of the jokes played off of stereotypes, none of the ones that I heard would be what I considered offensive. Like, I know two other jokes about black people. And I would not share them here because I consider them offensive and not that funny. If I were to repeat them, people that aren't black might think that it's okay with me for them to go out and start saying them. I wonder if that was true of all the callers: they know other jokes about their group that they wouldn't share, because they think the jokes cross the line somehow. I also wonder if the TOTN producers were inundated with jokes that they refused to share because they considered them too off-color.

So lots of questions for you, dear readers. The ones I posed above, and...

How much should a person's own group identity influence what they are allowed to say?
How much should a person's intention influence how we respond to what they do or say (i.e. I was only joking)?
Are jokes about groups of people sometimes funny, or should we move beyond such juvenile humor?
Should comedy get a pass, or should we hold comedians to the same standards that we hold others to when it comes to being kind and compassionate? How do we know when people have crossed the line, so to speak?

I am interested to hear your thoughts. And I know I said I would talk more about my stamps post, I haven't forgotten. I also have more to say about #whitepeopleproblems. But you know how it is, sometimes public radio throws a wrench in your well-laid plans.

I'd love to hear what's on your mind, leave me a comment.


  1. Chunk Hotzumomo4:01 PM

    I am going to vote for moving beyond this juvenile humor. I know its super buzz kill of me to say so, but its true.

    I have heard that laughter is an over-stimulation of the brain. It tries to make too many connections at once, and has a bit of a electrical storm. I think these multiple connections come from the fact that you are seeing an idea make sense in many different ways, and you dont know which one is best. That is why people say "Its funny because its true."

    Given that. I dont think these jokes are true at all. Don't black people like to write thank you notes as well? ( Aren't catholics concerned with money as well? And finally, its only funny to the teller, when the listener is made to be the butt of the joke (in your favorite joke example).

    The point is, jokes about groups are only funny if you buy into the idea that groups of people have common behaviors and beliefs. This is called bias, and therefore, these jokes are only funny if you are biased.

  2. I think it gets dangerous when we start to make certain topics or types of jokes "out of bounds." That being said, there is a definite difference between someone joking about their own "group" (whether that group is an ethnicity, a gender, a sexual orientation, etc.) and someone from outside the group making the same joke.

    Some of my favorite comedians are people who make jokes about what it is like to be a member of this society who are ostracized for being different--done the right way, these jokes actually illustrate nuances, and create a shared understanding of what it REALLY feels like to be black, or gay, or a woman, or whatever. In these post-politically-correct days, it is sometimes so easy to say racism doesn't exist anymore, or sexism doesn't exist, when it so OBVIOUSLY DOES. And joking about it--recognizing the realness of a joke, when it resonates, you step back and say, "Oh, wait... that's true." Racism doesn't look like lynching anymore, and sexism doesn't look like state-sanctified wife-beating anymore, but the ideas, and the prejudices, still resonate and still need to be healed on a very deep level.

  3. I think it's dangerous to start making certain jokes or topics "out of bounds". That being said, there is a definite difference between someone of a certain group (be that an ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and someone outside that group making the same joke.

    In this post-politically-correct society, it is so easy to say "racism doesn't exist anymore" or "sexism doesn't exist anymore" when they SO OBVIOUSLY do. On their best level, these jokes create an opening -- when you hear a joke like the pilot joke, you may laugh at first, and then you step back and say, wait a minute, there is truth in that. And it is in that moment that we recognize that even though racism doesn't look like lynching anymore, and sexism doesn't look like state-sanctioned wife-beating anymore, those things still happen. And there are deep, DEEP psychological roots that must be addressed in order for all of us as a society and as human beings to heal.

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  5. I thought all the jokes were funny. All jokes have an edge of truth, and all jokes have to have someone be the butt of the joke. Sometimes it's me, sometimes it's someone else. Laughter is balm, and if we over think this too much, there won't be any.

    Here's one I identify with from both sides, having been raised a Baptist and later attending a Methodist church. What's the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist speaks to you when you see him at the liquor store. (As opposed to the Baptist, who pretends not to see you and hopes you didn't see him.)

  6. A thought i have is that jokes can be racish or not depending on when they are told. If i go to see a comedian who is known for his humor i sit with an audience who is like myself set up to hear what we hear. That is different than if i repeat one of those same jokes at work on Monday morning.
    And, a quip that escapes my lips as a reply to someone gaff, or that i hear that causes me to spit out my drink and then feel sheepishly guilty, said spontaneously, is different than a set-up joke. In this case we in the group hearing it may all feel some shame and still say, "But that was really funny." What is the element that causes us to say that? Utter surprise at the irony, double ententre that allows us to admit we "like" some naughty otherwise unspeakable content, . . . we "like" violating a taboo.
    BTW, I do not get the joke about the black pilot at all.

  7. Sabria6:39 PM

    You see, I didn't get the first two jokes. I guess it's because I'm not very familiar with stereotypes outside of those plaguing black stereotypes.
    We all know that if we are not prone to laughter, we shouldn't enter a comedy club. We all should know that should we enter a comedy club, we should not dress to be noticed and we should sit as far away from the stage as possible. Alternately, having the timing down pat enough to tell a joke doesn't make one a comedian any more than standing in a garage makes one a car.
    That aside, let me tell the ONLY joke that I can actually remember... and keep in mind that I am a senior citizen, so it's okay:
    Q: How do you find an old man in the dark?
    A: It ain't hard.


  8. I think joking and laughing are important even when it is sometimes at the expense of a possibly racist stereotype because laughing is what we do when we are slightly uncomfortable and what usually makes things funny, psychologically, is that line that you step just over from proper day to day life. And also it helps us to be honest even if we are playing it off as "a joke." Think about situations at a party or socializing with people you don't know that well. You might not make a joke that you aren't sure will go over well, but often people use humor to break the ice and gauge the temp of the room, it breaks that slightly uncomfortable feeling to share a laugh over the mutally feeling of being slightly uncomfortable. I also just think in general it's important to be light-hearted and be able to laugh at ourselves.
    It's interesting when talking about race and society, some of the people who made the most mainstream impact on people talking about race and changing their ideas have been comedians. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Lopez, and my peronsal favorite, Dave Chapelle, have made great strides in helping Americans see their racism, under the guise of entertainment. Chapelle's short lived show on Comedy Central was one of the most inappropriate and hilarious things I've ever seen. And it's not because I'm a racist laughing at "black jokes" (although I can admit, as a white American, I am not above or immune to humor in stereotypes or realities I have seen). It's because a comedian, a good one like Chapelle, can expose through humor some of the most fucked up ideas and patterns in society in a way that people can absorb, when they are able to laugh, realize why this is funny, and why the premise may be something real that is wrong, and be open to it rather than defensive. Laughing puts our guard down, and it's bonds us together. I'm all for it. And I'm all for dropping the Politically Correct police and really talking, and laughing, about what ails us.

  9. Anonymous12:24 PM

    If blacks get a pass for telling white jokes then whites should get a pass for telling black jokes. When you stop telling white jokes without consequence I'll stop telling white jokes without caring what you think about it.