Thursday, 5 February 2015
Tons of stuff has happened. Chanukah, Christmas,Kwanzaa, New Year's, Martin Luther King Day, my youngest's birthday. Tons. I can't remember New Year's -- I must have had too much fun. (I can't remember MLK Day either.) I've been to Florida to visit my dad. I've been to a bunch of schools to talk about stories. I've finished editing my magic camera book. And I've had a haircut.
Gonna talk briefly about humour today. Kind of my bread and butter, since I tend to write funny-ish books (that's my story, anyway). Is anything off limits for humour? Off the top I'm going to answer, No. You can tell a joke about anything. Yes any subject. But for me to find a joke funny, it can't be mean. Tasteless, stupid, pointed - sure. But not mean.
I like to push boundaries a bit, to shock or surprise the reader or listener. Without surprise there's no humour. The whole point of the joke is the unexpected element. When the grasshopper hops up onto the stool and the bartender says, Hey there's a drink named after you, and the grasshopper goes, Really, there's a drink named Bob? we laugh (maybe not anymore -- it's a pretty old joke) because we don't expect the bug to have a human name.
Shock can be funny -- Robin Williams' favorite joke features incest, and the shock is part of the humour. There's the one about the homicidal pedophile taking the little boy into the woods -- that's pretty funny too. When I was a kid we'd roll on the ground laughing at dead baby humour. These jokes are not mean. If some people find them offensive, that says more about the listener than the joke. I'm happy to ignore any response that begins: How dare you ...
BUT is there a funny racist joke? Is there a funny joke that makes fun of the way some people speak? Not to me. Because they're mean jokes. I happen to think Leminy Snickett is a smart and talented guy, and I have tons of sympathy for an emcee trying to be funny and grabbing what he thinks is an easy laugh (I have done this myself - and got in trouble for it). But that joke at Jacqueline Woodson's expense is a loser because it's kind of mean. If Leminy were African-American it would still be a lousy joke because it makes fun of a stereotype, and that's not good. Mort Sahl standing up halfway through the premier of the (very long) movie Exodus and shouting at the director: Otto, let my people go! is funny because he is making fun, not of a stereotype, but of something that happened to the Jews. So, Holocaust humour - sure. But jokes based on how Jews, or any group of people, are perceived will be a harder sell. That's victimizing. You'll have to really surprise me.
Is there a funny Ghomeshi joke? I'm going to say it's possible. Because the only one you'd be victimizing is him, and he kind of deserves it.