Is funny always funny? Or does the sense of what’s funny change with the cultural ebb-and-flow over time of what certain people find funny? In a recent thread of comments here, one regular commenter made a “joke” about work where the new management team were “Nazis” and the workers were “Jews.”
I didn’t find that strike at Holocaust humor funny and I said so in my reply and I provided a link to The Truth in Eli’s Blue Tattoos. However, in the commenter’s culture that kind of Holocaust joke is acceptable. Is it appropriate I put the kibosh on the commenter’s fun and attempt to share a social truth? Is it politically incorrect to correct someone else’s perception of humor?
Where is the universal line drawn between “fun” and “funny” and “never funny?” Some of the best comedians in the world are famous for their terrible taste and their mocking of society’s sacred covenants. I followed up my comment on the Holocaust joke with further clarification:
You can tell a Nazi joke. You can tell a Jewish joke. A Holocaust joke doesn’t go over well. You can tell a dead baby joke. You can tell a doctor joke. An abortion joke doesn’t go over well. You can tell a “dumb guy” joke. You can joke about Poland. A “Polack” joke doesn’t go over well.
The commenter accepted my point and we moved on — but I still wonder if I wrongly pressed my moral values into the commenter’s cultural norms. It’s easy to say — “this is my blog and what I say stands” — but that is always the most heavy-handed and hardest stand to take and sometimes you end up pushing people away instead of bringing them into a different light of understanding.
Today, on a brand-new show on national television, I just heard a Helen Keller joke followed by a roaring, canned, laughter. Are Helen Keller jokes still funny? It’s amazing to watch television and — when someone doesn’t hear the other person — the next thing said is, “What? Are you Deaf?” Is calling someone Deaf still funny? Are the disabled and the downtrodden always safe fodder for punch lines? What other cultural minorities find barbs at the butt-end of a joke? (I almost used “fag end” instead of “butt end” but I didn’t want to be perceived as being politically incorrect — but does telling you that give “butt end” a whole new meaning? I think I’ve just mocked my own article!)
My mother used to date a man who would overwhelm you with innocent one-liners one-right-after-the-other in a desperate attempt to be liked. He was not funny, and was never well-liked, but you always had to force a laugh to be polite. You’d humor him while he humored you.