Can’t Take A Joke

TRIGGER WARNING:  There’s something in here to offend everyone.

Q: What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A: A good start.

Does that bother you? Most lawyers will say no, at least to the extent that they aren’t bothered by the fact that they’ve heard the joke a thousand times already. But there will be some who are offended, who believe that this diminishes our worth.  Bullshit. It’s a joke.

What if we replaced “lawyers” in the joke with, say, feminists or, God forbid, lesbians? Does it change from funny to unacceptable, outrageous?  The answer likely turns on your sensibilities.  If you feel deeply about the target of the joke, the joke becomes unfunny.

You can explain your reaction by wrapping it up in rhetoric about historical prejudice, insensitivity, anecdotes of horribles that happened to a suspect class, or just string together empty, meaningless words that convey some vague impression of butthurt, but ultimately it comes down to one undeniable point: you can’t take a joke.

I’m Jewish, and love Jewish jokes. How wrong I must be to be able to laugh at the foibles of my identitarian groups. Don’t I understand anti-Semitism? Am I unaware of the Holocaust?  Jews are being killed for their beliefs, and yet I tolerate jokes about us?  Yes. Exactly.  Being able to laugh at the things that make us funny, and there is something about all of us that makes us funny, diffuses the anger and hatred that builds up.  It normalizes us. It humanizes us. It lets us laugh at ourselves and at each other.

Nobody murders another person when they’re laughing at a joke.

But you don’t think it’s funny?  So what?  Humor isn’t whatever meets the fragile sensibilities of every person on this planet.  No joke plays with everybody, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t laugh because you don’t think it’s funny.  You hate the joke?  Don’t laugh. Hang out with others who share your sense of humor, assuming you have one, but don’t hate others because they laugh at things you don’t.

Unsurprisingly, the most unfunny places in American have become its college campuses.  Instead, it’s where humor goes to die at the hands of the perpetually offended.

Today’s “snowflake” college students need “safe spaces” in which to take refuge from things like “microaggressions,” and while screaming about how delightfully “tolerant” they are, the slightest bit of intellectual, academic, and even comedic discomfort will suddenly send them into a paroxysm of self-righteous indignation and hurt.

What if our snowflakes suffered paroxysms of laughter instead?

Humor is dying on campus – and it isn’t funny. Increasingly, jokes can’t be told, or laughed at, at least not without fearing backlash or a verbal lashing from the campus thought police.

As the old saying goes: “Grow thicker skin.” Or better yet: “Grow a pair.”

But instead, students, with the help of administrators, have infantilized themselves in what’s becoming the “safe space” era of college. From the padded walls of an insane asylum, we’ve reached the padded walls of a campus classroom, and now the inmates run the place.

I heard that Chris Rock won’t play universities anymore because of the backlash of offended students.  Chris Rock is a very funny guy, and if you’re a college student, you won’t get to see him if this is true.

Maybe you’re okay with that, as his humor offends chipmunks and misgendered eunuchs.  And if so, you’re probably okay with denying all the other students who lack your sensitivity to small rodents the opportunity to see Chris Rock as well.  Because it’s not funny. It’s hurtful and insensitive, and it promotes hatred.

April Fools’ Day satirical articles in the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily wereretracted after a backlash with accusations of racism. One mocked “themed” frat parties accused of racial undertones (think “Taco Tuesday” or “Islander Fun”). The other mocked police brutality. The headlines were: “Zeta Psi hosts ‘Rosa Parks’ party” and “ABC officers tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels.” The latter was a jab at a violent arrest of a black student at UVA by alcohol enforcement officers.

Distasteful? Maybe. Funny? A little bit.

Not your flavor?  Fair enough.

But rather than having a backbone, the Cavalier Daily self-flagellated itself: “We are embarrassed that our empathy for these immensely serious issues [in the black student’s arrest] was undermined by this piece. We had no intentions of victimizing another underrepresented community in the process.”

What a bunch of gutless cowards.  Of course they had no intention of “victimizing another underrepresented community,” nor did they do so. Because it was a joke. No, you cry. No, their intent (which should be obvious to every moderately sentient being) doesn’t matter, as it was an expression of hatred!

No. You promote hatred.  In your misguided effort to promote tolerance, you’ve twisted and contorted reason to your outcome, just as people who hate lawyers, or Jews, or lesbians, or any other group, do.  You’re angry.  You’re indignant. You search under rocks (but not Chris Rock) for reasons to be offended so that you have a purpose for the day, a target for your umbrage.

You need a windmill to tilt at, a cause in need of a champion.  You need to be that champion, as it makes you feel as if you have a purpose.  And so you search for something to hate. You are a hater.

It’s not that your purpose is necessarily wrong, or bad, even though it’s extremely likely that you are far more overwrought about it than anyone needs to be.  There are bad things happening in the world, and these things can use the help of thoughtful and caring people. But not all the time. Not every second of every day.  And not in the most convoluted and distant minutiae, where the merest hint of potential offense is so overwhelming that you can’t see anything but hatred.

I represented a friend, a lawyer, involved in a brutally nasty child custody battle. Both my client and her adversary were lesbians. When she called me on the phone, she would announce herself as “it’s your favorite lesbo.” It was damn serious business, but still we could laugh at the ironies and ourselves.

And if you don’t think that was funny, you’re gonna hate the things my black and Hispanic clients say to me. Or even worse, to each other.  But they don’t. And I don’t.

If what you’re aiming at is a society that’s moved beyond prejudice, then you’ll find it when we reach the point where we can all laugh at each other and laugh together.  There is enough substantive pain in the world in need of your attentions that you don’t need to check under every rock for a reason to be offended.  If you need something to hate, hate the real stuff, not the funny stuff.

And if you think American Sniper is an offensive movie, when is the last time you watched Dumbo in your Safe Place?  Don’t cry. It’s a movie, and watching it at worst reminds us where we came from so we know where we’re going.

Get over it. Have a sense of humor. If you can’t possibly muster one from your hole of indignation, then at least stay out of the way of the rest of us who enjoy a good laugh.

That’s our history. We won’t be past it until we can laugh at it. Laugh. It won’t kill you.


42 thoughts on “Can’t Take A Joke

  1. Dissent

    Amen! Having a unisex pseudonym and interests like car racing, many people assume I’m male. That’s as background for what happened when I tweeted a link to BMAZ to point him to a very fun used car ad for a 1999 Cavalier. The ad started:

    “Ok, this car is an absolute piece of shit. Seriously, if you are a guy hoping to get laid this summer, don’t even bother reading this ad.” The whole ad was very funny, but the line that absolutely cracked me up was, “The gas gauge is like a drunk girl on her period, confusing, and mostly useless.”

    So with tears streaming down my cheeks from laughter, I tweeted a link to the ad – only to have some non-follower start in on me that it’s only funny “if you don’t mind the sexism.”

    When BMAZ retorted that he thought the ad was funny, too, Mr. Sensitivity doubled down:

    “just imagine you heard this kind of thing every day: ‘drunk girl on her period…confusing and useless’. Pretty offensive and grating.”

    Well, no, fella, I don’t find it offensive and grating at all. I’m the one who tweeted a link to it, remember?

    Now I don’t know whether Mr. Sensitivity realized he was lecturing an early member of NOW, or if he assumed I was male (I suspect the latter). Either way, as BMAZ correctly instructed him, he needs to lighten up.

    We all do. We’ve all seen what happens when people don’t have any sense of humor about themselves. So yes, I’ll laugh at jokes about women. I’ll also laugh at jokes about men. It may even be in my ketubah that I have the right to laugh at my husband and by extension, all men.

    In the meantime, maybe I’ll look around for my old political buttons and make the “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” one my avatar.

    1. SHG Post author

      I was thinking of using that as a title (“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”), but realized that, to the extent anyone reads SJ who could benefit from this concept, they wouldn’t with that title. It’s a shame.

      1. Chris Ryan

        That phrase was the one of the biggest life lessons my father tried to teach me. When I was young it was used specifically to talk about jokes, but as I got into my late teenage years he showed me that it applied to life in general. It wasnt until I hit my 30s that I began to really understand that those of us that really understand that phrase, dont need the lesson, and those that need the lesson wont get past the phrase.

        My dad laughed the first time he complained about a major decision I made and I threw the phrase back in his face. Our relationship improved a ton after that.

      2. bmaz

        Man, you should have seen the whining occasioned upon me and Dissent for saying that ad was hilarious. The stupid, it burns.

        1. SHG Post author

          I always wonder if those doing all that whining aren’t actually laughing privately to themselves, because that ad was totally hysterical. What kind of tool wouldn’t laugh at that?

          1. Dissent

            “What kind of tool wouldn’t laugh at that?”

            A guy who describes himself as “a liberal-minded techno-person with a dash of old school hippy?”

            He’s giving us old hippies a bad image.

  2. Jim Tyre

    TRIGGER WARNING: There’s something in here to offend everyone.

    Damn you, Greenfield! I was going to rail away about not being offended about anything in your post. But then it occurred that, because nothing in your post after the trigger warning offended me, I was offended deeply by the trigger warning. So you actually spoke the truth.

    Yo, commenter Dissent, would love to see that ad. Tweet me if you want, @TyreJim

  3. CLS

    About a year ago, I decided to knock an item off the bucket list and go on stage for a comedy open mic.
    My first time was at a place called Sassy Ann’s–a historic house in Knoxville that used to be a brothel. Their open mic is a touch notorious in that you will get railed into by the hosts if you are performing.

    I got a couple of lawyer jabs thrown at me. I could have wilted like a delicate flower. Instead, I fired back.

    Funny thing is the hosts respected that. They kept exchanging verbal barbs every time I went up, and I’d throw a few right back at them before going into my set. Eventually they started warming up to me, because they knew I was a big boy and could take a joke, and began offering feedback.

    I’ve become friends with a lot of comedians since that first fateful night. Most of them don’t understand the whole “privilege” thing; while they’re definitely more in the “social justice” camp than most they tend to make fun of those who get offended by the latest arbitrary outrage target.

    And dabbling in stand-up has helped reduce a little compassion fatigue from this profession.

    Overlord Blog Czar, this one hit home today. We all really do need to learn to laugh more.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s the odd thing; appreciating humor isn’t at odds with those overly-developed social justice muscles. This point was nailed home more than 50 years, and still we learn nothing.

      1. CLS

        Bruce, Carlin, Hicks–all great men who had a very keen sense of “social justice,” and yet managed to get very powerful points across to the masses.

        I blame the damn millennials for ruining everything.

  4. Charles Platt

    I don’t think this is as simple as you suggest.

    Legally, I do believe that speech should be protected, with possible exceptions for libel and credible threats.

    But I was laughed at, for various reasons, when I was a kid, and when a group laughs at an individual, that can be scarring (and was–I still don’t trust groups).

    The question is how to protect vulnerable people (some kids are vulnerable) from being the targets of malice. I really don’t know the answer to this. Scolding students for the slightest variance from ideological correctness has become absurd. But still, I don’t think the topic is simple.

    1. SHG Post author

      The question is how to protect vulnerable people (some kids are vulnerable) from being the targets of malice.

      This may be your question, Charles, but it’s hardly the question. You’ve made this personal by superimposing your childhood onto the issue. Aside from your commenting straying afield, this is why we don’t let victims decide sentence. The urge to make it complicated comes from the complex feelings you have about it. It causes one to miss the forest through the trees.

      That said, when a kid is ridiculed, others should come to his aid and stand up for him. There’s nothing wrong with human beings take a stand when an individual is attacked. But to extend that to random jokes that attack no specific individual is the question, such that people create offense when there is no one attacked, no one complaining, no one hurt. That’s my question, even though it’s not yours. And it’s that simple.

      1. Charles Platt

        But surely, you already made it personal by arguing from anedotal examples in your life?

        I agree if “no one [is] attacked, no one complaining, no one hurt” it becomes a much simpler issue. But I think you just added those provisions. I don’t find them in your original statement. In any case I think some of the people who are offended (your original point) do feel attacked and hurt, and they are certainly complaining.

        I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for them, but I do have some. That’s all.

        1. SHG Post author

          No, Charles. They are “surely” not the same. Not even close. I realize now that allowing you the catharsis of posting your orthogonally-related comment and accompanying personal story of childhood angst was a mistake. I will not make the mistake again.

  5. Pingback: Humor is funny no more « Hercules and the umpire.

        1. SHG Post author

          That makes it even better! Actually, if only it was done be a three year old, it would be perfect.

    1. L

      “The word is “Polak” — at least in Poland.”

      I can’t believe it – those Pollacks are so dumb they misspell their own nationality.

  6. Bartleby the Scrivener

    If you control what is allowed to be said, you can control what views are allowed to be held.

    I’ll take messy freedom over ‘safe’ restrictions.

      1. Bartleby the Scrivener

        Actually, yes…and it really depresses me.

        The great fictional dystopias were meant to be cautionary tales, not examples to follow. Somehow we got that backward.

  7. L

    I see far far far more complaining about the “perpetually offended” than by the “perpetually offended.” I see far more people “triggered” by trigger warnings than “triggered” by racism, rape jokes, etc., etc. I see far more people demanding of others that they learn to take a joke than demanding of others that they stop saying offensive things.

    So, has it occurred to you that you, in fact, might be the very perpetually offended snowflake you’re complaining about? Constantly offended by the way others express themselves, expecting them to change their expression to suit your preferences?

    I say: Rule 1, Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. Rule 2: Fuck ’em if they’re always whining about how other people can’t take a joke. Take a joke, don’t take a joke, what do I care? What do you care?

    1. SHG Post author

      You blew it in the first two words, “I see…” Is there a reason why you think anyone gives a shit about what “L sees” other than L? Do you suppose the nobody else sees for themselves and thus must look to “L” for their foundational grasp of what is happening? And, of course, if you fail to see it, is there a reason why you think what you see is more worthy than what someone else sees?

      And if you don’t care, then why comment?

      1. L

        1. No.
        2. No.
        3. No.
        4. Because even though I don’t care whether someone else can take a joke or not, I do care about people (apparently unwittingly) being guilty of the very thing they’re complaining about.

        I hope this has helped, and I’d be glad to answer any other questions you might have.

  8. L

    “I heard that Chris Rock won’t play universities anymore because of the backlash of offended students. Chris Rock is a very funny guy, and if you’re a college student, you won’t get to see him if this is true.”

    Holy crap, are college students not allowed to leave campus anymore? Things have gotten bad.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you were trying to be ironic, this would be funny. But I don’t think you were, so it’s just lame.

      1. L

        It was a joke (and I thought a pretty obvious one), and your reaction is more than a little funny, considering what post this is.

  9. Vin

    I was out recently and heard someone make the following joke.

    “Raping kids with downs syndrome is fucking retarded.”

    After reading your article, and knowing that you don’t like the word “retard”, I was wondering what you thought of the joke.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not my taste for a variety of reasons, and I probably would think that anyone who found that funny was an asshole, so I would slowly back away.

      By the way, I do not dislike the word “retard,” but think it’s best used in its proper medical context, where is holds a clear and appropriate meaning. What I dislike is its use as a pejorative.

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