Archive | February, 2013

Can’t you take a joke?

15 Feb

“When I said that I’d be faithful

When I promised I’d be true

When I swore that I could never

Be with anyone but you

When I told you that I loved you

With those tender words I spoke

I was only kidding

Now, can’t you take a joke”

–    Weird Al Yankovic

Comedy and tragedy are old bedfellows. They are the very symbol of the theatre, the two sides of the human coin. Being human, we flip between them – and I believe it is essential that we do so. I am a strong proponent of comedy, of laughter, of a basic need for the silly, happy and cheerful in our lives. I believe comedy can serve many purposes, from lighthearted entertainment to thought provoking boundary pushing satire.

I particularly believe that we need laughter in hard times. When Charlie Chaplin made “The Great Dictator” he said “we must laugh at Hitler”. We need humour to help us survive. To give us perspective. To feel less alone. To give us hope. To remind us what it’s like to be happy. We need humour to cope. When I am feeling miserable, one of the things that helps me most is this picture:


But that basic human need for comedy doesn’t mean we should turn everything into a big joke.

What many comedians, jokers, and assholes seem to forget, is that just as you have the right to make a joke, I have the right not to laugh. Or even to be offended by it. Yesterday I tweeted that I couldn’t take the Oscar jokes, and I was going offline (which I happily did). That was my personal response to the situation, and it is just as valid as saying that some people cope with death or tragedy by making jokes. Absolutely, people do. Warren Robertson makes this point eloquently in his article on the same subject , where he looks at John Cleese’s eulogy of his friend and colleague Graham Chapman.

There’s a world of difference between joking in a context of friendship, knowledge, a career forged in comedy that treads the line of taboo, and making crass jokes about women “forcing” their boyfriends to kill them, or being “taken out” for Valentine’s Day. And these jokes, piled endlessly on top of one another, in a context of a country grappling with horrifying rapes and domestic violence, should not go unprotested. Too often any complaint about a joke being distasteful is dismissed as the complainer not having a sense of humour. In some instances, it may be the “joker” who is devoid of humour and compassion (or even a basic grasp of spelling).

Humour is one of the most subjective things there is. Sometimes I don’t find jokes funny because I think they’re weak jokes, or jokes I’ve heard before. Sometimes I don’t understand them. Sometimes they piss me off. Because often humour, especially black humour is very close to the bone. And the thing about bones is, my bones are different from your bones.

As the incomparable Weird Al so delightfully illustrates for us: not all jokes are funny. And this is particularly true of those which are at someone’s expense. If you want to make those jokes, great news, you can, you are free to. But don’t be surprised if someone has a funny bone to pick with you.