Joking about differences knit us into tight, supportive teams. We need to bring that back before the left’s Fragile Flowers destroy us.
Oh, you can’t do this today.
Before the tyranny of oh-so-politically-correct social media run amok, I worked at two highly politically incorrect companies. Now you can lose your job over something you said and did before anyone even heard of the Internet, but back then the world wasn’t yet ruled by unemployed, mentally unstable fragile flowers.
In a past article I weighed in on the Dave Chappelle The Closer controversy and analyzed a dying type of humor Chappelle employed. I don’t know if there’s a commonly-used label for it, but I call it ‘humorous bigotry appropriation’, for lack of a better term. We employed it at both companies.
Before the humophobic ‘woke’ replaced Christian fundamentalists as the world’s leading judgmental sourpusses, humorists like Dave Chappelle — or people working in an office that wasn’t on TV every week — helped us bond by making fun of differences.
It’s dicey to do it with strangers, but once you get to know, like, and accept your colleagues, you can make jokes outsiders might find offensive but which unite rather than divide.
Not a good idea today given everyone’s growing hostility to everybody — declining civility, COVID Brain, police brutality, growing inequality, precarious living, and the moral degeneracy of Trumpism and the Republican Party.
Chappelle sarcastically employed it when he joked about pushing his transwoman friend away from a hug ‘because I’m transphobic’, and feminists needed him to be their leader and all they needed to do in return is ‘suck my dick,’ and blithely dismissed his dogmatic trans-extremist critics by announcing proudly, ‘I’m Team TERF,’ for stating inconvenient biological trans truths.
Humor making fun of bigotry, delivered with a winking sardonicism, by humorously appropriating those bigotries is what I call ‘humorous bigotry appropriation’.
It’s only for those with strong, healthy egos, and it unites rather than divides. Its mortal enemy is the Fragile Flower.
Years ago I worked at a Canadian IT company with a diverse team. It was startup-small and tight. Everyone had a great sense of humor and confidence and we joked about everything. Including race and culture and all the other now-taboo topics. (Oh hell, they were taboo even then!)
Making fun of ideas, people, or things that scare us is a time-honored way of dealing with them.
Humor can defuse a tense situation. It can be employed self-deprecatingly to show others you’re not scary and can take a joke. I call myself the ‘middle-aged dumb blonde’ when I make a mistake.
In our office, the Jamaican guy was the ja-mon weedhead, even though he didn’t smoke weed and had lived so long in Canada he had no accent. The Pakistani guy was ‘the terrorist’. He also claimed Jewish and black heritage and occasionally called himself ‘the colored guy’. His Jewish and black heritage were debatable. I pressed him on his alleged blackness once and concluded, “Essentially, your African ancestors and mine are so far back in time they hunted together in Olduvai Gorge!”
The Jamaican guy didn’t even look black. He was so mixed-race even he wasn’t sure how much he was of anything.
I was the violent sarcastic American gun crazy, despite never owning a gun in my life. One guy was a genuine privileged white guy, but self-aware about it, another was the horny European. Later, a visible black guy joined us, and I taunted the Pakistani — “Ha ha, you’re not the staff black guy anymore! We have a REAL black guy now!”
The new guy fit in perfectly, jests and jokes flying all day long. No one got offended. No one complained to their manager. (We were too small for HR). One day something went missing and the black guy joked, “Yeah, I bet everyone thinks it was me!”
I responded, “We don’t think you’re a thief because you’re black. We think you’re a thief because you steal stuff!”
“Okay,” he said, “that’s fine, as long as you’re not being racist!”
Double whammy — dissing the stereotype by pretending to meet it and poking fun at the progressive view that there’s no worse crime than being a racist.
The Pakistani guy was the most outrageous. I’ll never forget the day he freaked out the Xerox lady, before the black guy joined us.
She visited to demonstrate the office’s new multifunctional printer. We gathered around while she conducted the demo and noted as part of her spiel that you can’t use it to counterfeit money. It was simply impossible with this printer.
“Oh yeah, everyone thinks the colored guy is going to do it!” the Pakistani guy exclaimed and everyone burst out laughing. Except for the Xerox lady. She froze in absolute horror, rigid, eyes wide.
“Daniel, stop freaking out the Xerox lady!” I said and we laughed again. “I’m sorry,” I said to her. “He promised to be good if we let him out of his cage!” I turned to Daniel. “You can’t behave yourself for even one minute!” and everyone laughed again.
We explained we were a tight team who made jokes like this all the time and she relaxed and allowed herself a cautious smile.
The other IT office was homogenously white and American. It was pre-9/11's less divided era. We didn’t talk about social -phobias and divisions the way we do today. We were a small tight office with a great supportive culture encouraging office-wide teamwork. None of us were hyper-sensitive.
I was a Pagan, so my Catholic co-worker called me the Satanist and the baby-eater and I called him the Demon Papist, in the style of historical Protestant critics, a remnant of my days in a medieval re-creation organization, the Society for Creative Anachronism.
One guy got hammered for being a pervert, even though there was nothing perverted about him. We didn’t stop teasing him about being a perv even after he became our boss.
His wife, one of our technicians, was half-French Canadian and got teased about being a ‘Frog’, although, as someone half European French, I claimed she wasn’t a real Frog, she was that fake Canadian crap, who couldn’t even speak real French, but that silly-ass Quebecois gibberish. I was the real Frog around here, and don’t anyone forget it!
We hammered each other all day long and the very few times anyone crossed the line we handled it with each other rather than telling a manager (we had no HR department here either).
We made lasting friendships, so tight we attended en masse the funeral of one co-worker’s grandmother which greatly surprised and touched his family. We attended after-office functions together at local bars and our Christmas parties were lawsuit-free. Our headquarters in another state wished their office was as much fun as ours. They loved visiting us for special projects.
The Canadian office’s camaraderie was the same. It was more hard-drinking than any American one but both were the most fun ever because of the tightness of our team. The bonding we experienced with humor making fun of bigotry was racism vs racist humor, sexism vs sexist humor, religious bigotry vs bigotry against religion. The first kind unites and makes fun of bigotry, the second divides and reinforces it.
That’s why ‘the woke’ don’t understand Dave Chappelle.
There’s a thick cloud of censorship hanging over any attempts at humor today. Maybe we’re less in the mood for jokes with a never-ending pandemic and its conveyor belt of viral variant hits (“Are you ready for the new Delta? Coming soon to a mouth near you — bigger, badder, more transmissible, possibly featuring the long-anticipated Zombie Mutation!”), not to mention on ongoing War on Democracy launched by a treasonous former President with an attempted coup d’état by a violent terrorist mob.
Then again, the far left had been growing increasingly humorless long before either.
Dave Chappelle commented in The Closer that he didn’t like the modern gays — they’re too ‘sensitive and brittle’ — which I thought applied to far more than only LGBTQ. The far left, or the ‘woke’ (which means what? We woke up and realized someone somewhere was having a good time and we vowed to crush it?), have declared a War On Humor.
Humor targets something. It could be a person, a group, a place, a thing, an idea, a concept — or, in the edgiest humor, hypocrisy. The left’s initially well-intentioned drive to become more tolerant, more sensitive to the feelings of others, more civil and more inclusive in an ever more divided society has inverted itself and become the enemy. A growing portion of the left has lost its self-awareness for knowing when it’s going too far.
Gen Y is the ‘Self-Esteem Generation’ raised to believe everything revolves around them and only their feelings matter. Their anti-apotheosis is Joe Rogan and “Fuck your feelings!”. Love or hate Rogan, even progressives still in possession of rational thought occasionally wonder whether there’s too much emphasis on feelings and not enough on facts.
It’s why we urge the Fragile Flowers to lighten up a bit. Learn to laugh at yourself as well as the foibles of others. We’re human beings; we’re hilarious!
Collective personal fragility is a genuine obstacle in an increasingly critical battle against growing aggression, ‘acceptable’ xenophobia, and a willingness to tolerate lunatic theories and delusional thinking on the right. Fragility is moral and spiritual weakness, and you can’t fight an enemy armed to the teeth with real weaponry when you fall apart at a simple joke.
I’m serious about this. Left-wing fragility is in no condition to fight the far right. It’s too busy destroying its own side. The enemy thanks them.
Humor about race, culture, religion, sex, gender, politics and anything else related to the human condition can, for sure, be mean-spirited and hurtful. But it depends on the context and the company you’re with. It also depends on the time period. What’s offensive today wasn’t twenty or thirty years ago. Keep that in mind the next time you open your mouth to say something that will offend an as-yet-unborn generation.
Today, people take offense under the pretense of looking out for others (taking, ironically, a fairly patronizing view of them) when in fact they object to the poke at that group’s hypocrisies.
Hypocrisy is always fair game for humor.
When everyone is in on the joke, when everyone genuinely accepts others and all their imperfections, we can all laugh together. It’s why my favorite comedian is the Canadian Russell Peters, who grew up in Toronto in an Indian immigrant family. They moved to middle-class Brampton, a nearby suburb commonly known as ‘Bramladesh’ for its large Indian and Middle Eastern population. The Greater Toronto Area is one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the world, with over 140 different languages. He’s had plenty of time to mix and mingle with a lot of different people, and he knows everyone hands-down.
My favorite Peters routines are the ones making fun of white people. Why? Because he freaking nails us! As he does everyone else. I don’t get mad because he’s part of my tribe — a humorist. Someone who can laugh at everything.
A friend tells me how her husband laughed uproariously when Peters joked about the Chinese, including the way they spoke English (he’s great with accents) and their mannerisms. “That’s exactly what we’re like!” her husband guffawed.
Peters’s audiences are diverse too. He singles people out and jokes with them, employing humorous bigotry appropriation with stereotypes. We laugh not because he’s reinforcing racism, or ethnicism, or sexism, but because he’s making fun of all of it.
The ‘brittle’ don’t get this.
I don’t feel more hatred for people who aren’t like me when I listen to Peters, I feel a kinship with them.
We’re all funny. We’ve all got quirks, mannerisms, values, judgments and actions that don’t always make sense to others, but we can laugh about them.
When you can laugh at stereotypes, they cease to hold power over you.
There’s vicious, ugly bigotry disguised as humor, but there’s a great case to be made for the Fragile Flowers of all generations to lighten the fuck up.
Removing the ability to laugh together and bond, with a constant threat of ‘cancellation’ hanging over everyone’s heads, divides the world as effectively as a MAGA rally. It’s silencing when you become afraid to speak your mind or debate ideas the same way you can’t in Communist or Islamic-dominated countries or the Fascist regimes of World War II. Proponents can call it a defense against offense all they want, but we can also call it something else: Censorship.
And it stinks as much from the left as it does from the right.
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