When I was first aware of humor (late 1950’s/early 1960’s), it was typically referred to as “slapstick humor”. The “pie in the face” kind of humor. There was nothing subtle about it! It quickly developed into satirical humor, usually with political tones and that was often termed “dry humor”. The Monty Python crew took humor to a point of absurdity, and it survived rather well against political satire and slapstick humor.
In my teen years (all in England), I had a good laugh at Tommy Cooper (slapstick); David Frost (political satire); and around 1970… John Cleese “and gang”. Filtered into my life within that range of humor were Polish jokes.
Based on the WWII experience, there should be no antagonism between the English and the Poles, but the Polish jokes were very derogatory. The most common inference in the joke being that they were rather simple in their thinking.
As I moved into my early 20’s, the Polish jokes seemed to lose popularity, but were replaced by Irish jokes. These had the same basis of humor as the Polish jokes i.e. The Irish were assumed to be rather simple in their thinking.
When I came to Canada, it was the Newfoundlanders who bore the brunt of cultural jokes (known as “Newfie” jokes), and the connotation was exactly the same as the Irish and the Polish jokes!
Why we see a need to make fun of another culture, using a benchmark which could never be supported with data, rather puzzles me.
My first experience of a compromise being made was with Dave Allen. He would make jokes about the Irish, and also about the Catholic faith… but his rationale was interesting. He felt that he could do that because he was both Irish, and raised Catholic! This same perspective seems to have filtered down to other comedians now in that there are a number who openly “bash” their own culture… but why?
The answer presumably is that it gets a laugh and, if you are dependent on laughs for your living, then it is simply the law of supply and demand. The question therefore becomes “Why do we find it funny, when an individual presents an absurd circumstance that is culturally based?”
With my background, I could probably tell a Polish joke, an Irish joke, and a Newfie joke and at least get some smiles. If I made a similar joke about a Canadian, the reaction could be quite different. It was not that long ago that woman/wife jokes were often presented, but I suspect that the upswing towards equality, and the sensitivity towards negative sexual identity has effectively minimized those. I cannot remember the last time that I heard a “gay” joke, but it was a long time ago.
In one of my numerous pre-volunteer work training programs, I recall an explanation for negativity. It was basically an attempt, on behalf of the negative person, to feel better! To that person, being very negative, their natural goal is to bring “you” down, because their sense of well being is relative to yours (or anybody else). Assuming a fictitious “well-being” scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is border-line suicidal and 10 is total ecstasy. Then if I rate myself as a 4, I can feel pretty good about things in general if I can drag you down to at least a 4… or preferably lower!
Given that perspective, are we “bashing” other cultures because we are dissatisfied with our own? Why did we used to make fun of people with mental challenges? Our perspective has certainly changed as a result of much publicity, but why did we ever feel the need to mock those people in the first place?
Somebody once said “Comedy is a serious business.” I prefer “Comedy is no laughing matter.”
Comedy is defined in numerous ways, but always includes “the desire to cause laughter.” I can laugh at Ray being silly because it means that he is happy. I can laugh at children being silly because they are enjoying their childhood. I can even laugh at people I know when they are being silly because they are in control, and it is part of their character… so what happens when somebody makes a joke about another person being silly?
Is humor always good for a laugh? I would suggest a decisive “No!”