Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.


Bad Jokes

I've spent the last two months busting my hump on a massive assignment for my day job, which explains why I haven't been updating this blog. It also explains why my spine remains torqued into a question mark and I spend half each night applying the binomial theorem in my sleep. But! I finished that assignment this morning, which leaves me free for at least part of next week to start revising my novel. The timing worked out nicely, as my memory of what I wrote in the first draft has faded to a level that'll allow me to work through it (mostly) objectively.

In the meantime, I've found myself thinking a great deal about the subject of offensive communication. It started when Daniel Tosh, a comedian whose work I enjoy to widely differing degrees from set to set, got himself in trouble with an off-the-cuff rape joke. I won't repeat it here, nor will I say whether I found it "funny" or "unfunny." What I will say is that in my opinion, the definition of funny is simple: did I laugh or not? A lot of people laugh at Jeff Dunham. I don't. That doesn't mean he isn't funny to somebody, but it does make my definition highly subjective. Well, maybe it always was, but that doesn't discourage moral thought police from stomping all over racy jokes as if there were some grand, galactic, inviolable definition of comedy.

Unless something is seriously wrong with you, it isn't funny when a person gets raped. It may, however, be funny if someone makes a joke about a fictional person getting fictionally raped. A joke about a rape is not a rape, it's a joke. A joke about rape doesn't make more rape happen, it either makes people laugh or it doesn't. That doesn't mean we should all be proud of our laughter, but sometimes jokes expose flaws in our moral reckoning. Maybe that's part of the reason why jokes are so important.

They really are. A major chunk of my worldview was inspired, or at least encouraged, by comedians. I think I've written before about Sam Kinison's Jesus routine: "There's always thirty or forty Christians standing around [the cross], saying, 'It's a shame that he has to die.' And Jesus is saying, "Well, maybe I wouldn't have to if somebody would get a ladder and a pair of pliers!'" That joke is wrong, wrong, wrong. It's also funny, in my subjective opinion. It made me gasp when I first heard it, even as it Heimliched a laugh out of me. But y'know, it does make you think. It makes you think about piety over practicality. It makes you think about the dubious moral value of the crucifixion story. And, like a lot of voices that broke into my consciousness throughout my formative years, it made me question the Sacred Truths I'd received from my religion. I've since learned many of those supposed truths were misunderstandings, propaganda, or, in some minor cases, outright fraud. I feel better for knowing that. Your mileage may vary.

They say laughter is a defense mechanism against pain and humiliation. If that's true, then in order for a joke to be funny, it has to at least hurt somebody's feelings. For centuries, minority members were acceptable punch lines, as were women, homosexuals, and people with various physical or mental disabilities. We're starting to feel so much empathy for folks in those groups that, as a culture, it becomes harder and harder to laugh at their struggles. I think that's all for the best, as long as we recognize that a self-aware sense of humor is still healthy. For most of us, jokes about rape can be funny, not because it's funny when someone gets raped, but because it's shocking and awful when someone gets raped. A cleverly crafted joke plays off our horror. A rape joke isn't nice, to be sure, but I'm of the opinion that comedy is sometimes obliged to be not-very-nice.

Yet somewhere along the way in Western culture, we started telling ourselves that being pleasant was more important than being funny or even being honest. That's the feedback I get when people object to my blog entries, theatre criticism, or snarky remarks. "Carv, you aren't being nice. Why do you want to make people feel bad?" I don't. It's not how I get my kicks, swear to God. But the monologue I hear in my head was informed, not only by moral guides or skilled instructors, but also by comedians like Bill Cosby, David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K.--the list goes on and on. They were crusty, impolite dudes (yes, even the Cos) who thought their take on the world was worth hearing, maybe even at the expense of my own tender feelings. And I love those guys. In no way whatsoever do I intend to compare my insights or talents to theirs. I just know they taught me how to talk, for worse and better.

There ought to be a word in the English language for supposed "jokes" that were only clever once, if in fact they ever were, but then get chirped ad infinitum by unfunny nice people. "Hot enough for ya?" "Pie aren't square, pie are round." "My get-up-and-go done got up and went!" You know the type. Nice and funny aren't comfortable companions. Much like Elvis and Beatles fandom, ya gotta lean a certain direction, no matter how hard you try to walk the line. We all think we've been gifted with fabulous senses of humor, but the truth is most of us don't possess a great deal of originality. Don't believe me? Log onto Facebook. "I don't always blah blah, but when I do..." Ugh. Just ugh. Jokes like that are what happens when nice people try their hand at sarcasm. It doesn't suit them. It's like me pretending I'm good at ballet. It's simply not something I'm built for.

Over the next few months and years, you'll probably see more on this site about sex--as if my years of digging deeper into religion weren't obnoxious enough--because it's the subject of my novel-in-progress. I'm likely to crack jokes about the subject, given my nature, and they'll probably strike some of you as impolite. I suppose they might even offend you--though most of us, in actual fact, have lost the capacity to be truly offended. Rather, we get off on staging moral attacks by saying we're miffed and no one has the right to challenge our fragile little mythscapes. Well, phooey on that, Gentle Reader. If you've been having sex for years, I'm not all that interested in hearing how "offended" you are to learn I might've had it, too.

Just know going forward that my views on sexuality are no longer informed by what Christian fundamentalists preach or believe or claim to believe when other fundamentalists are listening. I don't care what Paul of Tarsus thought about gay people. He didn't know squat about the subject. I don't care what your grandma thought about how proper ladies and gentlemen should behave. Behind closed doors, your sainted granny was a freak. I don't care that children might be reading my blog. If they're smart enough to find it, they're unlikely to be surprised by anything I have to say about sex or, for that matter, anything else. I don't care about cultural taboos or God's supposed distaste for knocking boots. It's a great pastime, and He should be proud of having invented it.

Lastly, you should never assume my comments about sex, religion, or any other topic have been approved or endorsed by the management; and by "the management," of course, I mean my wife. Love you, honey. And that's no joke.

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  1. There’s no controlling ya, tho I’ve sure tried. At least you make me laugh.

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