“The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” -Mark Twain
Every time a very funny person tells a very funny joke about a serious, offensive topic, somebody feels the need to say, “That’s not funny. You can’t joke about that.” Racist jokes, rape jokes, dead baby jokes, Holocaust jokes, Hurricane Katrina jokes, cancer jokes– these are all off limits to some people. They get uncomfortable, they get offended, and they feel the need to scold the joke teller for crossing into off-limits territory.
It occurred to me the other day that my sense of humor doesn’t heed any of these limits. A friend recently said to me, “I’m glad they found Balloon Boy, it was like Michael Jackson was ordering takeout from Heaven.” BAM, a joke about child molestation and a recently deceased celebrity all rolled into one! Too soon? No, why would it be too soon? I don’t think child molestation is funny, nor do I think Michael Jackson’s death was funny in the least. But that joke was damn funny, and I’d laugh at it even if MJ was my brother, because the ability to find humor in a sad, awful situation is an important and healthy coping mechanism.
A week after Hurricane Katrina, while there was still a search & rescue mission out for my grandmother, the galoshes jokes started rolling in. People would shut other people up in my presence, saying things like, “Shhh, she’s from Louisiana! You can’t tell that joke here!”
Well why not? Katrina was a devastating tragedy. Being able to laugh about it relieves all of the awful emotions surrounding it for a few minutes. Why is it preferable to limit ourselves to a state of sadness and reverence? When David Cross makes anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-everything jokes in his stand-up routines, the whole audience roars with laughter because we all know that these jokes do not reflect his character or beliefs. He’s not mocking gay people with his gay jokes, he’s mocking the homophobic people who actually take those sentiments seriously.
And this brings me to the one exception to the above stated rule: racist people making racist jokes is never funny. Dave Chappelle or Sarah Silverman can tell a very ballsy joke about slavery and make me laugh, albeit slightly uncomfortably, but as soon as that guy with the rebel flag tattooed on his arm starts to make that joke I’ll punch him in the face and call the authorities. I don’t ever want to hear an anti-Jewish joke from the Neo-Nazi across the street. Jokes that come from a real place of hatred or ignorance or intolerance are not acceptable.
Otherwise, hit me with your best shot. What, you think my momma’s fat? Well yo momma’s so fat she has smaller fat women orbiting around her. You got a Catholic priest joke? I’ve got 20, and my whole family’s Catholic.
America really needs to loosen up, don’tcha think?