Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A sense of humor

Two muffins are baking in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, "Boy, it sure is hot in here." The second muffin looks at the first muffin and yells, "OH MY GOD! A TALKING MUFFIN!!!"

(Is anyone laughing but me? Can you visualize the 2 muffins baking in the oven and the look of horror on the second muffin's face? Still nothing?)

I open this post with the above joke to give you an example of the kind of humor I find funny: dumb kid jokes. The kind that is both inoccuous and (for most adults) not funny. Or at least not side-splitting, laughing so hard I cry funny. I don't know why I find dumb kid jokes so hilarious--and it's not all kid jokes--it's what I would call the IRONIC dumb kid jokes (if there is such a genre) and I place the muffin joke at the top of that list (do I have to break down why it's ironic that the second muffin is horrified that the first muffin has talked to him?)

Anyway, for most of the other adults reading this blog, humor is probably something that runs the gamut of visual slapstick to subtle irony--with stand up comedians probably falling somewhere in-between. And on the Racialiacious blog I found this news piece from The Boston Globe about a documentary called Crossing the Line which looks at 18 different multi-racial comedians (click here for the article link).

So this started me thinking about ethnic humor and racial jokes and Comedians of color (like Dave Chappelle and Margaret Cho) and what happens when their humor is misconstrued and/or taken out of context and/or when people don't find their brand of racial humor funny. I have seen Cho do live performances and I have seen her DVD's and find her to be pretty funny for the most part (although I think her best work was on her first DVD, I'm the One That I Want). But I have to admit that I get uncomfortable with people imitating Margaret Cho imitating her Korean accented Korean American mother. One acquaintance, a gay, white man, felt entitled to own Cho because she was a fag hag exemplar and thus as one of his "people" he felt he could own Cho.

But his imitations of her imitating her mother made me uncomfortable--and I think claiming one "marginalized" or "minoritized" status as a way to claim affiliation or, even more problematically ownership, of a different marginalized identity is, well, wrong. I don't get to make gay jokes or black jokes or Latino jokes with impunity just because I'm Asian American. Heck, I don't even think I get to make Asian American jokes just because I am Asian American.

I'm guessing this is all part of what Crossing the Line deals with--that very line of racial humor and when you can laugh at things and when laughing feels oppressive. When are you laughing with someone and when are you laughing at someone? And the thing is, race is such an absurd entity in our midst (as one astute commenter pointed out in the Scrubs post), that I do think we have to be able to see, and laugh, at the absurdity. I just wonder what the limits and costs of that laughter are...


Jason Clinkscales said...

I think that sometimes, we forget that kids (ideally) have little to no concept of the fact that we come in different skin tones, economic backgrounds and what-have-you. So even the slightest, seemingly most corny kids joke still makes me laugh because it takes me back to a time where the only colors that mattered were blue, red, yellow, green and purple.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the support of my fondness for dumb kids jokes. It's a quirk of mine that my close friends know all too well--I like your particular spin on it though, rather than my deep suspicion that my funny-bone is just set wrong.

dance said...

Jason, how young kids?

By the age of seven, I had noticed the paradox that the earlier your ancestors came to America, the better--unless those ancestors came in slavery, in which case, never mind.

And god knows I understood different economic backgrounds *well* before that. It's not hard to notice some other family has a newer car that always works.

And what-have-you--the Jehovah's witness down the street who couldn't play on Sunday is a pretty early memory too.

CVT said...

I seem to have found this blog at the most perfect time - the first post I read corresponded exactly with a conversation I had had with another mixed friend of mine that very day, and now you post my favourite joke to start your blog.

I tell the joke as two pieces of toast - with the same hilarious results. As a middle school teacher, I may just like these jokes because my maturity more closely matches my kids every day - and they are the only appropriate jokes I can tell.

Here's another one for you:
A grasshopper walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender looks at him and says, "Hey - we have a drink named after you."

The grasshopper looks back at the bartender with confusion and says, "You have a drink called 'Larry'?"


Jennifer said...

Good observation--kids often do notice difference. But I wonder (and Jason, if you are still out there, you should definitely chime in since I don't want to be misconstruing your comment or speaking for you) if what kids don't do is to make judgments about difference. Of course at a certain age they do--and perhaps this is most true of class issues.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine about the smelly kid in the class (this is all his take on it by the way). There is often a kid (boy or girl) who is a little disheveled and messy, who make not wash his/her hair and may be a bit smelly. Maybe because they wore their clothes without getting them washed too often. And often the smelly kid is also the poor kid. Anyway, my friend recalls the smelly kid in his class getting picked on and being unpopular (this is 4th grade so we're talking 9, 10 years old) and that my friend stood up for the smelly kid because he didn't like the fact that he was getting bullied and that he was aware that it had something to do with his difference. It's not that at 10 he was able to recognize the class variables and variations and to break that down for his peers, but he did recognize that this kid was different and that his difference had something to do with him being unpopular which was linked to his economic situation.

So I guess one way to put this in very unelegant terms is: at what age does the smelly kid become smelly? At one point do you become the Asian girl, the black boy, the poor kid, the rich kid--and at one point are there judgments (and jokes?) made about you and about those groups?

Recently my friends' six year old son asked me if I was Chinese and whether I was going to marry someone who is Chinese. This is a multiracial child who asked this question, and his family is very progressive, so he wasn't mimicking some conservative point-of-view--he was starting to understand race and to understand that sometimes like goes with like (at least I'm guessing). Of course this also coincides with him being in the first grade, so perhaps we shouldn't also discount peer socialization.

By the way, I told him that I wasn't sure if I was going to marry anyone--figured it wasn't a bad time to also give him a take-home message that marriage, while great, doesn't have to be the inevitable consequence of adulthood.

Jennifer said...

CVT--I just saw/published your post after that very long comment I wrote after Dance's comment and I just have to say:


(I'm still chuckling...what is wrong with me???)

Larry! Too Funny!

dance said...

There are lots of situations in which it's almost impossible to notice difference without making a judgment--eg, not having a car, not getting to come out and play. Others less so, including skin color.

I have this conversation in my class, when I discuss the historical construction of race. Does noticing difference *always* equate to prejudice?

I'd bet money the child heard a friend say in 1st grade "your parents look different from each other. That's weird!" and he's trying to figure it out.

My mother says I could only have picked up the "earlier you arrived, the better" attitude once I left the one-room progressive schoolhouse she ran and moved to the public school, and I suspect she's right. I think it's all about peer socialization, and it starts at a *very* early age.

Studies have shown people use different voice tones for infants in pink or blue, thus projecting gender even before the child is really conscious of the world around them. Something similar could easily be true--if difficult to measure!--for the "oh, how exotic" undertone/subtext for mixed-race children. Any impact even more difficult to measure, of course.

Jason Clinkscales said...

I appreciate the conversation, I just couldn't respond quicky because of work.

My intent was not to say that kids (say, 4, 5, 6) were completely blind to the concepts of economics and race. Again, I emphasize ideally because we all started in some sort of cocoon and were shown the basics before being exposed to the outside world that showed these immense differences.

You're talking to a black kid whose upbringing involves the projects in the Bronx, the transition of slums and dilapadted housing to prime real estate in Harlem and the priviledged world of Wellesley, Massachusetts. I remember the envy of being a have-not as a kid (and, still a have-not as a young adult). While I don't have a ton of time tonight to go further in depth, I understand and relate to many of those sentiments of being 'different' at a very young age. However, I wanted to make it clear that I didn't believe that children were blind, but wanted to emphasize the ideal.

Until tomorrow ;)

Jennifer said...

Thanks Jason (and everyone else) for your comments/observations about this post (and each others' comments).

This whole discussion brings to mind nature/nurture issues--because I do think that different kids respond in varied ways to their environments. It's like the whole issue of sense of humor--why some people find things funny and others don't.

It's why I started with the dumb kid joke. Although I tend to think that everything is culturally inflected, the muffin joke translates pretty well across cultures/nations/lanaguages (well, if I spoke another language fluently enough that'd I'd know how to say "muffin" in Spanish/Flemish/Ilocano).

And yet, while I may think it's hilarious, I aware I'm in the adult minority here. Why? Because my humor is different--I respond differently to humor than others do. (I'm not trying to be self-deprecating--it's just simply something I"ve noticed over the years--what I tend to find hilarious in terms of jokes (oral jokes I suppose) others don't).

I have once again gone off into a tangent, so let me just once again repeat that I appreciate all of the conversation/dialogue on this posting and hope that y'all will continue to come discuss with me (wow, I used a y'all--talk about the effects of region!)