One trend that’s becoming alarmingly apparent in my life is people (usually those who don’t know me so well) telling me to lighten up and have a sense of humour. Particularly this little bit of aggressive conditioning comes up when I express any faint discomfort with a particular joke or topic being joked about- Usually in my case the category of ‘unfunny shit’ could be a big bin with the label SEXIST BULLSHIT written on it, with little supplementary recycle bins around it representing jokes expressing homophobia or racism (and whole stinking skip dedicated on it’s own to RAPE JOKES). Now ALARMINGLY ENOUGH considering that so far what I’ve listed is Sexism, homophobia, sexual assault and good ol’ fashioned racism, still I’ve often been asked the question ‘Well then what do you think *is* funny, Niamh?’
See lately it seems everyone’s gotten generally okay with joking about race, gender and sexuality because the assumption seems to be that we’re sort of ‘over’ all those little hurdles of intolerance- You’re gay? Tra La! You’re of a different ethnic group to mine? Splendid! You’re a woman? Well have some equal pay and full access to contraception, dollface! All these blowjobs and sandwiches jokes and the ‘fake n’ gay’ sort of stuff we see bandied about as humour is given this mask of ‘ironic’- Like it’s okay for me to make gay fairy sterotypical biker lesbian jokes because I’m TOTALLY FINE with Gay people. I can make get back in the kitchen and iron jokes because I don’t actually believe women should serve me, and I can make racist jokes because in my heart I don’t believe in all that. It’s irony, they say! Lighten up, they say!
Well I have a problem with this whole attitude for a few reasons, firstly- I don’t like being told what I should think is funny.
Now, I should probably qualify this rant with one thing- I’m not saying you are a horrible person if you giggle at an off colour joke. Oh no, make all the vaguely offensive to some but still light hearted jokes you want- that’s your free speech and as long as you’re not marching off to machete people or force me back into a kitchen pregnant and barefoot I’m alright with your weird nasty half ironic sense of humour- just don’t expect me to join in and applaud what I think isn’t funny. See my problem is this whole ‘it’s a joke get over it’ knee jerk reaction to things gets on my nips a bit because I’m basically being told what to think- Someone is saying ‘You cannot object to this thing because I think it’s funny therefore think as I think and STOP MAKING ME LOOK WITHIN MYSELF.’ Being told what you should think is amusing is kind of… ‘Oppressive’ is a very loaded word but it’s apt here, yeah. Telling me what I should laugh at is oppressive and I don’t like it. If I call bullshit on your rape joke, don’t stamp your foot and tell me to stop being mad. Just because I think running up and KICKING YOU IN THE BALLS (or PUNCHING YOU IN THE TITS) is the absolute pinnacle of modern wit and hilarity doesn’t mean you’re going to chuckle, congratulate me or do much more than roll around clutching your nethers while wheezing expletives at me. Humour is kind of subjective like that.
Secondly and this kind of returns to my outlying introduction up there, but I do have problems with the whole ‘Well if we can’t joke about this than WHAT CAN WE JOKE ABOUT? WHERE WILL THE ENDLESS STOMP OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS END WHERE IS THE LAUGHTER WHEN WE CAN’T LAUGH AT RACIAL STEREOTYPES’ sort of attitude to comedy. I think it’s sort of weaved into the fabric of Irish humour that chuckles can be taken from even the darkest of dark situations- I for one had the absolute bant with my mother while sitting by the deathbed of my very ill grandmother. I don’t have any problem with dark comedy but I do think it’s situational. A lot of the finest dark comedy comes from the sheer absurdity of what’s going on. The Roddy Doyle books, for all their darkness, managed to get through without much in the way of overt racism or cheap shots at minorites (That one bit about being the N words of Europe aside).
What seems to happen now is people just make these outrageous, awful jokes for a kind of shock value- that’s the whole sticky taped premise that keeps Dead Baby jokes circulating. I personally find having teeth removed more amusing and mood lifting than Dead Baby jokes but still if you say one in front of me, I shant tackle you with a PC POLICE helmet and proceed to duck tape your mouth; I might look vaguely unwell and say ‘that was a bit disgusting’ and then it will be up to the person’s own personal etiquette to realise their faux pas and shut the fuck up. My question is really- Why do we need to keep the jokes up about sexism, racism, all the other ‘isms’ when we have a whole wealth of human experience to laugh about? There is literally an entire UNIVERSE of sensations, intrigue, literature and politics to crack wise on, why do people get so protective about these few kind of polarizing topics?
So yeah, that bit about ‘irony’ that I’m finding it difficult to articulate. Maybe an example will help illustrate what I mean-
One Spring evening, in Spring, My friends and I toddled along to a screening in the Sugar Club of the cult classic ‘so bad it’s funny’ movie The Room. In the grand tradition of bad movie screenings there are some traditions to honour, such as hucking spoons at the screen, and cheering whenever there’s stock footage of San Francisco. One of the traditions centered around the pretty sexist and ignorant writing personified in the main characters love interest,Lisa, who’s cheating on the saintly author insert main with his BEST FRIEND. The tradition was that the crowd heckle her whenever she starts going at it with the best friend- And at first yeah, I was all into it, fuck yeah shouting at that screen, calling her a whore! What a bitch, wooo! Slut Shaaaaaaame! But as I lost myself in a bald faced EUPHORIA of insults tossed at this character (ironically, she adds half heartedly, trying to defend herself) I began to notice my best friend looking increasingly uncomfortable. And on my come down from the high, I realised it too- People weren’t yelling ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ at the woman anymore as a commentary on how badly written she was- they were just enjoying shouting awful, awful things at her. They were sincerely, genuinely taking glee in Slut shaming and whoring her. And that’s my problem.
We’ve so internalized the concepts of Homophobia, Racism and Sexism (along with other unacceptable frowned upon ideas) that we kind of take for granted that they still exist. There are still people who don’t like Gays, or women being equal, or whatever- and as long as we have this culture of ‘its just a joke, get over it’ we’re not really allowed have an honest, critical look at ourselves and our generation and how we sincerely deal with these issues. Homophobic bullying is a massive problem still,the entire concept of femininity is considered inferior and racism is everywhere, it’s just less ‘out there’ than before. Instead of marching out and declaring women shouldn’t be considered as equal citizens, we have to get a bit more underhanded with our put downs- practically nobody (who is sane anyway) is okay with good old fashioned overt racism or Homophobia anymore and anyone who is is considered woefully out of touch with reality, so it has to be processed through subtext and humour and at the end of it all, anyone objecting is told they have no sense of humour.
And coming full circle to that initial question, let us ask again- Niamh, you mangy smelly flip flopper feminist hippy, do you think ANYTHING is funny?
Well yes! I do. I happen to think Eddie Izzard is the best thing to happen to comedy since sliced bread, sliced bread in this instance being monty Python.
Seen here being bloody amazing talking about doing the washing. I’m not even saying *don’t* joke about race or sex or whatever, I’m saying… I don’t know, have something of an observation behind it? I like jokes about situations where the teller what put into a scenario of excruciating embarrassment. I like when the laughter is centered around the teller themselves and not an abstract ‘woman’ ‘gay’ or ‘minority’. I like weird stream of consciousness rambles that are silly and you can sit watching with your parents without getting really acutely awkward. And if I still don’t think your gay joke is funny, don’t try and cast me as a harpy because you’re an unfunny poo head (To my sensibilities anyway)
(PS I am totally saying to stop joking about rape because that shit will never be funny)
Niamh ‘Is a humourless cunt‘ Keoghan