By John Prince
A good joke, as I’ve said many times, requires a butt—a person, place, or thing around which the punch line revolves. A stereotype on which everyone can agree. “An Irishman, a Greek, and an American walk into a bar.” You can bet that one of them will come out badly in the end.
Jokes used to be, back in the days of humor, taken in a friendly manner. For the most part. Sometimes they grated on the thin-skinned and caused mild indigestion among the “butts.”
“How many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb?” “New Yorkers might retaliate: “How many Californians does it take to change a spark plug?”
Comedians told jokes in bars, night clubs, resorts, and on college campuses. Now some of them are refusing to perform for the college crowds.
In an opinion piece in the March 2019 issue of theaggie.org, Benjamin Porter at UCLA Davis, quotes Jerry Seinfeld: “The younger generation just want to use these words, ‘That’s racist, that’s sexist, that’s prejudice.’ They don’t even know what they’re talking about… I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me don’t go near colleges—they’re so PC.”
Porter continues: “Chris Rock is perplexed by this phenomenon, saying in 2014, ‘I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because [the students are] way too conservative… Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.’”
One college event organizer has famously said: “We don’t want to sponsor an event that would offend anybody.” As Steve Martin might say, “Weeelll, ssoorrry!”
That would probably rule out the late George Carlin, who was an equal opportunity offender and once a darling of the college comedian circuit. Dubbed “the dean of counterculture comedians,” Carlin’s “Seven words you can’t say on TV” rocked many campus auditoriums during the 80s and 90s.
A couple of years ago I visited the Comedy Club in New York. Sitting just a few feet from the mic, I was “picked on” by various performers for (a) wearing a tartan scarf, (b) being male, and (c) just being there as a big target. Australians, social drinkers, and New Yorkers were also among the butts. Jerry Seinfeld previewed a new routine that made New Yorkers look like complete idiots.
Did we care? I squirmed a bit, but I was secretly delighted to be in the spotlight. The New Yorkers in the crowd loved Jerry’s put downs. The Australians raised glasses and yelled, “Cheers, mate.”
The state of humor has devolved in the last decade from being one of “fun and good cheer” to one of “aggressive personal loathing.”
No more butts. Words cause hurt. Creatures have feelings, too. Places have people in them, and they might be hurt. Things are linked to people and so… well, you get the picture.
(For those of you needing more info, it’s a framed color photo of the Cathedral of the Perpetually Offended & Enraged in beautiful downtown Poughkeepsie. If you come from said city, “Ssooorrry.”)
Democrats make fearful personal attacks on Republicans. Republicans make dreadful personal attacks on Democrats. Everybody (well, most everybody) seems offended, enraged, pissed-off, angry, and personally insulted. And that’s just the beginning.
Then there’s the constant spontaneous visceral reaction to this excess of spleen.
Sports teams are changing their names faster than you can keep track. Jeep has been asked to change the name of their “Cherokee” model vehicle. Politicians are changing the names of schools and SNL “jokes” are thinly disguised assaults on people or topics that are out of favor (with the people who really matter) that weekend. That’s what is passing as humor today.
Not funny. Not even “Dad joke” funny. Imagine a bathroom book of “The 100 Best Jokes of 2021.” It would make people stop going to the bathroom. That could be a public health crisis of epic proportions.
I have a request of authors, writers, scribes, and screevers-at-large. Write more humorous (real make-you-smile, grin, or laugh out loud) scenes, characters, and plots.
We’re hopefully nearing the end of a global pandemic, damnit, and we all need to lighten up. A LOT. Humor will certainly help. At the worst, it won’t hurt. And some of us could use a good laugh.
It’s up to you. Don’t let me down.