Leave ‘Em Laughing

I love ethnic jokes. I hate racist comments or epithets, but I can’t resist a good joke, even it includes racist epithets. Emphasis on good. It has to be clever; otherwise, it’s just hateful. And, I’ll lay this out upfront, I’m always on the lookout for jokes that make fun of us Cubans. I haven’t heard that many. Sure, there’s the one about the Cuban in Puerto Rico looking for a good arroz con pollo like the ones we ate back home. And another about the Museum of Rare Latin American Specimens that manages to insult a number of nationalities. Interestingly, they both end with the word mierda. 

Here’s one I can tell in this semi-public space. How many Cubans does it take to change a lightbulb? Three. One to change the lightbulb. One to hold the ladder. And one to stand on the side saying: these are not like the lightbulbs we had in Cuba, those really were bright.

You didn’t laugh? OK, OK, it’s not that funny. Maybe because it doesn’t end with the word mierda.

I used to justify my fondness for blatantly racist jokes by arguing that it was better than going around shooting and bombing one another. I no longer do that, and I simply admit my like probably comes from some ugly corner of my soul. As with so many things, mea culpa.

There are ethnic jokes that make fun of the Other, which are often mean-spirited, though that doesn’t mean they’re not funny. And there are ethnic jokes that make fun of one’s own. At some point, comics learned that they could get the crossover market by sharing that humor with the dominant Other. Crossover Jewish humor is not always explicitly ethnic. When it is, it requires some cultural savvy. Mel Brooks as a Yiddish-speaking Sioux chief in Blazing Saddles.

Black comedians push the envelope. Their standup for a crossover audience makes fun of their culture’s foibles and uses epithets without restraint for white audiences that eat it up. Here I wasn’t far off the mark with my hypothesis. White folk are laughing because it’s a guilty pleasure to laugh at blacks — though black comedians make fun of whites as well — and that pleasure is authorized by the comic’s black skin and exaggerated ethnic language and demeanor. Minstrelsy? I’ll let others judge.

There is Latino standup, of course. Sometimes I find the ethnic self-deprecation forced, but probably a black person would say that about black comedians I find hilarious. It can be brilliant. I once saw Paul Rodriguez do a bilingual set for a mixed crowd of Spanish and English speakers, the former all bilingual themselves, the latter primarily monolingual. He claimed to be translating faithfully, while he spoke about mutual understanding in English and launched into a militant Latino rant in Spanish. The best.

I had a friend, now gone, who would email insider Jewish jokes. To me they were funny. To some Jews, particularly Jewish women, maybe not so much. They sounded genuine. But what do I know from genuine?

Gay humor can have a poisonous sting. Still, I laugh. Though maybe it’s because, as with my friend’s Jewish jokes, I’m doing so because I’m enjoying the privilege of an outsider allowed inside the culture for a moment. One thing I learned, though, is not to share identity humor other than my own’s. I just come off as a racist, misogynistic, anti Semitic homophobe with absolutely no sense of humor at all. 

So I’ll stick with Cuban and other Latin American jokes. El subdesarrollo slows down political correctness, which in itself is a politically incorrect statement. ¡Mierda!