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Students enrolled in RU197 (“Comedy Across Cultures”) have the choice of writing a paper or posting a creative project on this blog. This can be any manner of project that demonstrates engagement with course ideas or materials. It may be a monologue, spoken word or stand-up comedy routine; something in the visual arts; a short play, a poem, or a song; a (mock?) lecture/news program in a comic modality specific to a culture; a mime or dance. Students posting their material should include their name, title of the project, and any relevant information that may help viewers contextualize the piece.

Viewers: Please feel free to post your responses!

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Anna and Gabriela Project!

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Parallels between Jewish and Black Humors

Cassandra Smith

Comedy across Cultures

December 16, 2012

 

Black Humor and its parallels to Jewish Humor

 

Note: The ideas presented in this paper are my own. They do not represent the ideas of all Black people everywhere and are not affiliated with any Black organization. This is all my own personal opinion. I have consciously used the term Black instead of African American because I myself identify as Black, although in many cases the terms can be interchangeable.

 

Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it . . . Humor is what you wish in your secret heart were not funny, but it is, and you must laugh.  Humor is your unconscious therapy.

–Langston Hughes

 

Before this class I knew little to nothing about Jewish humor. I knew much more about Black or African American humor. I admit that as a biracial individual my cultural identity can be complicated and not universal. I would identify as half white and half Black. A closer look reveals that these terms mean nothing without further cultural analysis. Both white and black are names of colors. They in theory should have no bearing on humor. What gives these terms their meaning are the historical, social, and cultural contexts.  What I seek to understand are the parallels and differences between Jewish and Black humor and how they both relate to the bigger category of American Humor. I would argue that while each has its own distinct historical and cultural implications; both Jewish and Black humors serve similar cultural functions.

From my own experience, there are three different ways I would categorize Black humor: self- depreciation, historically influenced jokes, and jokes demeaning non- blacks. Most of Black humor comes from a place of being held back in some way or making fun of stereotypes within the “Black community” that may be true. I would think that Jewish humor can also fit these categories. Minority based humor tends to follow similar patterns in which they try and make an identity in the larger American culture.

Here is what I know about Black Humor. Black people love to make fun of other Black people. It is not usually attached with negative implications, but with a tone of friendship or understanding. If you have Black friends that don’t make fun of you in at least some small way then you probably aren’t very good friends. Making fun of each other is a way to show each other that you are comfortable enough with each other to point out the others flaws and mistakes. This also extends itself to jokes about people in the Black community that represent fully the stereotypes that the media and dominant culture portrays about Black people. There is a general consensus in the Black community that the stereotypes about Black people are true and flexible, but it’s only okay to say that they are true and make fun of them if you are Black. The reason for this exclusion of others from making the same jokes I believe can be attributed to the deep historical injustices that represent the Black community today.

Many groups in American history have been discriminated against, including the Jewish community, but the pervasive discrimination and racism that Blacks have felt historically, greatly influenced the current humor of Black people today. Black humor is obviously influenced by Black culture. For over 250 years, the American economy was driven by racial based slavery. The institution of slavery and racial discrimination has truly kept many Blacks from having access to upward mobility well past the end of slavery. Much of Black humor today challenges the idea of the American dream through creating humor on the status of the Black community today and the historical situations that have kept Blacks down. A current popular phrase in the Black community is “The struggle is real.” This phrase is meant as a joke on how Blacks have struggled and are currently struggling today. It is usually applied to comical situations that are mundane and can range to actual situations of struggle. So next time a situation occurs that happens to be particularly bothersome say “The struggle is real.” You will sound really Black and make everyone laugh around you. So what does it mean to be Black, to act Black or to sound Black? The connotation of being, acting, or sounding Black usually contains a negative connotation within and outside of the Black community. I think that by owning ones’ own Blackness that they try and use it as a relief from the social tension that exists in a white dominated culture.

Jewish humor itself has developed in part because of discrimination as well. Both sets of humor find relief in carving out a distinct cultural identity through humor. Both sets of humor make fun of the non- Jews or non-Blacks. It is because they cannot be a part of the joke. People outside of the culture cannot understand the stigmas of that culture, the historical connotations, and possibly even the religious aspect.

I think that the parallels between historical discrimination and self-deprecation can be found in both Jewish and Black humor, but I also there are some distinct differences in the ways that these humors have developed and persist today. I think a distinct difference between the two is that Jewish humor is usually literary in nature and seeks to use knowledge to best another. While I think that all humor is about using the truth to best or make fun of another, Black humor is not often literary in nature. Jewish Humor also has global connotations and a religion attached to it. The type of Black humor which I compare has origins in American culture and although historically has been affiliated with Christianity, that is no longer the case for many Blacks people today. The more obvious difference has to be the phenotypic differences. I would say that a lot of Black humor comes from looking different that everyone else. While some would argue that stereotypes of what Jewish people look like has lasted well into today’s society I think that the category of white has opened up to Jewish people in a way that cannot be possible for Blacks. But the most important factor to either of these subsets of humor is the cultural differences from the dominant white culture.

Both Jewish and Black humors are minority based humor. Although I would say that Jewish people are a much smaller minority that Blacks, I would also say that Black humor does not have as long of a history.  The religious aspect of Jewish humor makes it unique in its definition of who is in and who is out, while it can usually be obvious for Blacks who is the in group and who is the out group. My experience of Black humor and my small understanding of Jewish humor both lead me to the conclusion that what may be funny to one group could not be funny to the next and without the cultural understanding of any kind of humor you might miss out on the joke. Jewish humor and Black humor can have a lot in common in their ways of trying to define themselves in the larger cultural context, but they both had different paths in becoming a part of the culture and how they define themselves within that context.

 

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Jewish Political Humor

A while back in the semester, I participated in the 24-hour Political Satire Film Contest with two of my friends. We created a 5-minute short film based on a character, and it took a while for us to get to the real “punchline” of the film. During Rabbi Rachel’s talk about Jewish Humor, she discussed the fact that a lot of Jewish jokes are famous for being long stories that take a while to develop an actual punchline. She even showed us a few clips of Jewish comedians telling jokes that went on for a while until we finally realized the funny part of the story. This kind of humor is exactly what my friends and I were aiming for– Lloyd’s character is meant to be a Conservative who seems to not understand the sarcasm of a popular Liberal radio show. He visits the show, thinking that it completely supports Mitt Romney, and in the last minute of the movie, we see the “punchline” where he realizes that the show is making fun of Romney instead of supporting it. I was looking for parts of the class that correlate to this video, and the Jewish Comedy lecture just really fit the bill. I think Rabbi Rachel did a phenomenal job of introducing us to a unique comedy style, and I realized that the humor I used in this video really connected to what she was talking about.

You can watch the video here:Lloyd’s Big Day or on the film contest’s website.

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Comedy via the Internet

Comedy via the Internet – This is a video overview of how people use the Internet to communicate comedic ideas, created by Dan Sunderland.

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British Comedy Project

This is our own version of a very popular British comedy panel show called QI (Quite Interesting). The topic of the comedy quiz show was comedy itself. There are some mature topics in this video.

by Allison Frank, Rachel Haines, Katherine Fecteau

 

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Racial Comedy (Accents)

We decided to create a short video on how people discriminate based on accents. This video is in response to Dr. Joe Atkins’ presentation on racial humor.

Enjoy!

You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRplVO8OuU0&feature=youtu.be

– Claudia Aviles, Jenny Chen, Jasmine Phillips

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Dissection of Racial Humor

In our project, we took a close look at how people tell and receive racial jokes. It was clear there was a link between source and their audience. It was of no surprise to find out that the background given in a racial joke made laughter welcome. We tried to recreate a scenario that could happen on any given day. Through its brevity we tried to display how easy it is to often overlook deeper meanings and messages in what can become almost daily trends of us.

Comedy Video

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Limericks of Colby

Jacob Kandel and Annie Kuttler

 

There was a young boy named Jake

Who wondered why the room always quaked

He looked down and around

But nothing was found

Until he realized it had just been fake

 

Their once was a girl named Anne

Who had 12,000 cousins in japan

She did not know them all

Not once did they call

But of sushi they all where a fan

 

The once was a boy in a class

Who had to write limericks in order to pass

He couldn’t think of one

Neither a rhyme nor a pun

He never had been a smart lass

 

Two students were studying at home

When a ring they heard from the phone

They were scared and silent

But were not violent

For it was only a garden gnome

 

There once was an exit sign in Heights

It was pulled down on many different nights

By drunkards in shame

And freshmen to blame

No longer are the lights in Heights

 

 

 

 

 

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Queer Humor

Jade Enright

11-29-12

Comedy Across Cultures

Class: Queer Humor

 

Shared Identity, Shared Humor

            Comedy is a vehicle for social communications. It demonstrates similar understandings often by provoking a sense of comradery among those that are privy to the intent or the objective of the joke. It can address difficult issues by combining a light-hearted, well-intended manner with societal problems where standard dialogue may prove ineffectual. Comedy can bridge gaps between those of one community with that of another by addressing differences through this medium of common ground.

The gay and lesbian movement has formed a community with a culture that is very much its own. It holds a commonality between persons with experiences and values that provide a cultural background that they all share. Humor in the queer community also moves to speak to the obstacles they face in a way that is accessible to all audiences by combing ideas of both communities to demonstrate a clear understanding of the others’ point of view. Stand–up comics seem approach queer comedy from many of these directions. While there are many kinds of this stylistic humor, there are two, which provide an interesting contrast. There is that which addresses an audience consisting of members of this queer community, an audience that is able to understand a more detailed comedic artist that adopts their specific cultural context. Or, there is the comedic style that moves to bridge the gap between two or more identities within the larger community.

Stand-up comedians, as they aim to address their own demographic, elaborate on jokes and anecdotes that the queer community appears to understand fairly exclusively.  They talk about issues and topics that are unique to their experiences.  Through highlighting their lack of assimilation to mainstream society, they capture the essence of the qualities of the gay community. A defining characteristic of the LGBT community is one of openness about sexual innuendo and sexual relationships.

Julia Stretch in her stand-up routine discusses willingly her stories of random hook-ups, poking fun at the beneficial qualities of being lesbian. In a story about a one-night-stand that she later finds out to be under legal age, she addresses the situation lackadaisically saying, “whoops, it was almost statutory rape, but it’s not because we’re both lesbians… that’s what I like to call a loop hole.” She is satirical about mainstream ideas, which inspires the humor in her routine. She plays on nuances of sex amongst lesbians to play off this inside joke.

The LGBT comics maintain the sense of community by isolating themselves from conventional society through poking fun at the straight normative.  Holly Lorka makes fun of her relationship with men as she describes their positive interactions and many similarities right up until those similarities include sexual relationships with their girlfriends. She poses the possibility of homosexual superiority (satirically) and lesbian abilities that a straight man wouldn’t be capable of. She continues to push the distinctions of her sexuality by deliberately understating the obvious as her point of humor. The only difference between the boyfriend and her “is the little skateboard,” while similarities lie in their looks and the fact that her “penis comes in any size and color [the girlfriend] could ever want.” This again highlights the details of lesbian sexuality that may only be apparent if you are “in” on it. The fact that she doesn’t actually have a penis is obvious, but her reference to the lesbian replacement may be more convoluted for those that do not have that shared experience.

Holly Lorka makes very simplistic comparisons as she tries to explain lesbian sex to straight women. Many of the references I didn’t understand as they, again, focused on details of the shared lesbian experience. Ellen Degenerous is open about this phenomenon. In one of her stand up routines she acts as one of her straight audience members who may now be looking self-consciously around as they think, “do they think we’re gay because we’re here… I knew this would happen, now we’re not going to get any of [these jokes].” She illustrates the accepted uniqueness of queer humor. Thus, amongst audiences that are predominantly members of the queer community, the jokes remain fairly inaccessible to outsiders, fostering an inner circle encouraging queer identity.

Then, there is the aspect of queer humor that is directed at a broader audience, intended to make a social commentary on the many injustices queers face. Wanda Sykes illustrates the absurdity of the coming-out process by aligning the identity of being gay with being black. She equates homosexuality to this social norm when she says, “there were some things I have had to do as gay that I didn’t have to do as black… I didn’t have to come out black.” Through such an over analogy between the two identities, she reveals the ridiculous nature of the current approach required of those that are gay that it cannot help but be hilarious. The humor reveals Sykes’ clever critique of current social norms.

Chris Doucette plays off a similar comparison when he does a bit about a discover card commercial. In advertising this credit card he says, “Discover card, not accepted everywhere, and neither am I.” The comparison illustrates to his diverse crowd that having similarities between his own identity and that of a credit card is ludicrous, making a criticism of the close-mindedness of our society today. The hyperbole of the analogy is comic yes, but also telling of the social standards that need to be readdressed.

Many communities with a common identity often share values and practices. Humor is included in that broad umbrella of commonalities in a group of individuals. Queer comedy is a representation of shared histories, hardships and beliefs, and thus, requires a cultural context to be effective. Queer comics rely on humor to both encourage a united identity within the queer community and make connections with those outside of that. It provokes an understanding of available interdependence amongst queers as well as approaches topics that may not have been breached before, invoking productive thought within the audience. Queer humor is a vital part of supporting the LGBT movement, including fostering a common identity within its community.

 

Works Cited

YouTube. Dir. Chrisdoucettecomedy. YouTube. YouTube, 07 Mar. 2011. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mxnzem2GWoI>.

YouTube. Dir. Holly Lorka. YouTube. YouTube, 03 Sept. 2008. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNbRtV7JEW8>.

YouTube. Dir. JuliaStretch. YouTube. YouTube, 15 Aug. 2007. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CysdAvfCw2g>.

YouTubeYouTube. YouTube, 01 Feb. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_wWJ-_4uSY>.

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Creative Project- Political Satire Article

             For my creative project I decided to write my own political satire article in the style of “The Onion.” I’ve always been really interested in how people can laugh during a time of dire importance at extremely serious issues, inspiring me to do this piece. I think that laughing at candidates brings them down to our level and makes them much more relatable because they are, indeed, human. It also allows us to get some sort of relief from the stress of the outcomes of different elections that involve so many key issues. Baratunde Thurston’s visit was very timely because he is so active in political satire and so many people love his work. I think it’s really inspiring to see someone like him who can have an effect on people’s political views just by making fun of the issues or candidates. It also relates to the comedic work that Professor Allbritton discussed from the Spanish economic disaster. Naturally it is a very serious topic but creating funny material about it can make people feel a little bit better.

I felt that this particular topic related to the multi-cultural class theme because political and civic activism is a very respectable activity but a lot of times can be annoying. The people who I am specifically mocking here are extremely admirable and hard working but when any of us are in a bad mood, they can be very annoying. But the great part is that even though a Colby student would probably appreciate the inside joke a little bit more, people from all over the world can understand how activism can be quite intrusive at times. Activism and comedy are global, two themes that I’ve combined in this piece!

 

Registration Volunteers Spread Throughout Campus, Terrifying Students

 

Colby College, Waterville, ME, USA, Earth- As election day approaches, more and more students are terrorizing their peers with endless requests to register to vote. Initially they were stationed exclusively in front of Roberts Dining Hall but their terror has spread to other areas. A few of the mongrels were spotted in the Spa, Dana, and even Foss.

 

There are many students who have decided to stop eating on campus because of the “activists.”

 

“I never eat at Bob’s anymore. I heard they were gaining power, spreading out to the other dining halls,” said the famished junior Dave Stanton. “Hopefully the Papa John’s delivery people can get through the blockade.”

Sodexo workers have also been complaining about a stark drop in students over the last month.

 

“I don’t know why they have to hang out in front of my dining hall,” said that Foss manager with the white beard who is normally very jolly. “I called security on them a few times but they refuse to do anything. Next time I’m just going to take care of them myself.”

 

The ironic part about their loitering is the fact that most Colby students already voted, either over Fall Break or through absentee ballots. Despite this fact, the invasion continues. Some reports even claim that they have infected so many followers that they are spreading into the dining halls, knocking on doors, and invading the last private space that Colby students have.

 

There have been other similar instances of terrorism over the past few years at Colby. Included are the General Announcements, Colby Volunteer Center, and all of those young women who plaster photos all over the walls when their friend turns 21. These acts have created a hostile environment around campus that has caused an increase in off campus dining and living.

 

“It turns out when you leave campus things are a lot worse than they are on campus,” Stanton said. “I guess I’ll just stay in my room and hope things get better.”

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