Monday, December 29, 2008

Humor Can Be Elusive

In yesterday's post, I referred to someone whom I consider quite humorless at times. At other times, however, I've seen some humor come from his pen, such as in a lighthearted limerick. It raises the question as to what makes something funny to some people and not to others? I think a lot of variables must be involved.

For instance, I have always loved Joel Stein's columns in the LA Times. He makes me laugh hysterically. Today's column made me think though. I started reading it, not knowing whose column it was. It started out with "I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22 percent of Americans believe 'the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews,' down from nearly 50 percent in 1964. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood."

As a Jew myself, a few little red flags were raised, but I read on.

He went on to enumerate all the Jews in Hollywood. He was right; most were Jewish. He made me smile with, though I was finding this column perilously close to being anti-Semitic with comments like, "The person they were yelling at in that ad was Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg (take a guess). "

He makes his case quite convincing: "The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies. When I called them to talk about their incredible advancement, five refused to talk to me, apparently out of fear of insulting Jews. The sixth, AMC President Charlie Collier, turned out to be Jewish." Now I was getting absolutely nervous about this column so I checked to see who wrote it. was Joel Stein! Of course! suddenly I found column hysterical and no longer even close to being anti-Semitic. Joel Stein is Jewish so everything was okay. Had the author been a gentile, I am not so sure how I would have taken it.

Humor is indeed elusive. Who can explain it?


Bob Hale said...

The most interesting thing here isn't actually the humour it's the perception. This is really a variation on things like "nigger" being offensive if I use it as a middle-aged white guy (and be assured I don't use it except in illustrative examples like this one) but totally inoffensive when used between two black teenagers.
This reclaiming of offensive words goes on quite a lot. The article that you quote seems to be doing something similar, deliberately writing something that would from another writer be offensive.

Kalleh said...

Yes, I agree, Bob. After I wrote about the humor aspect, I realized there was a lot more to it than humor. It's the same reason I can laugh at anti-woman jokes told by a woman, but a man had better not tell them to me!

I am so glad this isn't posted on Wordcraft!

Cat said...

Yes, I thought of the word "nigger", also.

I think humor has a lot to do with trust. It's about how much you trust the person saying the potentially offensive things. Have you ever had a new friend who joked a little too soon about your shortcomings?