Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Humor in disaster

I have been hearing lately about several Middle-Eastern comedians and comedy troupes such as the Arabian Knights taking on some quite serious issues. Among them are Palestinian, Israeli, Iraqi, and Iranian comedians who make fun of the excesses post-9/11, or the vagaries of the current Peace Process, or Roadmap, or Both of You Sit in the Corner until You Are Willing to Play Nice Together program that somebody or other puts forward.

I greatly favor this development, especially in cases where supposed adversaries get together on the same bill or in the same sketch. We have had many examples in the past in the US, and it is one of the more promising cultural exports of our age. I think of Chevy Chase, as an interviewer, giving Richard Pryor, as a job applicant, a word association test.

Chase: Spear chucker.
Pryor: Honky.
Chase: Jungle bunny.
Pryor: Dead honky.

and so on.This approach works (for me, anyway) for 9/11, the total failure so far of reconstruction in Iraq, the Palestinian question, the former Yugoslavia, Burma, North Korea, Liberia, the Congo, Chechnya...well, maybe not Chechn

This is nothing new. See, for example, On the Damned Human Race, by Mark Twain, published posthumously

"...untimely laughter to stave off far more untimely tears."--James Branch Cabell, in Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, 1919

In the 1930s, they say, the Gestapo in Berlin, Germany, hired a Jew to carry a sign reading "Jews, get out! Make room for Germans." The Jew was so poor he took the job, but when he came back next week, the Gestapo refused to pay him, saying that none of them had seen him carrying the sign. "Oh, you just looked in the wrong place," explained the Jew. "I was carrying it around the Jewish cemetery."

Actually, in some places we are still recycling the same jokes.

"They're rioting in Africa,
There's strife in Iran.
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man."
Merry Minuet
The Kingston Trio
Live from the Hungry i

"I got fired from the Post Office [beat] for putting mail for Alabama in the Foreign slot." Dick Gregory, in the 1960s

This next is one of mine.

In England they tell jokes about frog-eating Frenchman. In France they tell Belgian jokes. The Belgians have put-downs about the Dutch, the Dutch about the Germans, and the Germans about the Poles. Poland has a long line of black humor about Russian Communism, and a new line of putdowns about the current Russian economy. In Russia, they tell Armenian Radio jokes, and the Armenians have their own line of black humor about Turks, Azeris, and Persians, who in turn all put down the Arabs.

To Arabs, however, Jews are no laughing matter. We have to do something about that.

Now the Jews tell jokes on everybody, including themselves. Jews say that when you tell a joke to a Jew, he says, "Oh, that's an old one," and he can tell it better.

I wonder what the first Simputer joke will be. Suggestions?
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