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Title: ETHNIC HUMOR See also African American English Cultural Diversity Indian- American Humor Jewish Humor and Spanish-American Contrasts


1
ETHNIC HUMORSee also African American
EnglishCultural Diversity Indian- American
HumorJewish Humorand Spanish-American
Contrasts
  • by Don L. F. Nilsen
  • and Alleen Pace Nilsen

2
ETHNIC HUMOR AS SWORD OR SHIELD
  • Depending on its context, humor can be offensive
    (aimed at ridicule of an ethnic group),
  • Or it can be defensive (aimed at protecting a
    group from ridicule),
  • Or it can be both at the same time.
  • (Rappoport 2)

3
ETHNIC STEREOTYPES
  • HEAVEN is the place where the cooks are French,
    the police are English, the mechanics are German,
    the lovers are Italian, and everything is
    organized by the Swiss.
  • HELL is where the cooks are English, the police
    are German, the mechanics are French, the lovers
    are Swiss, and everything is organized by the
    Italians.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 162)

4
  • Many jokes contain ethnic stereotypes.
  • Christie Davies says, To become angry about such
    jokes and to seek to censor them because they
    impinge on sensitive issues is about as sensible
    as smashing a thermometer because it reveals how
    hot it is.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 116)

5
ETHNIC VS. POLITICAL JOKES
  • Alan Dundes says that Americans have more ethnic
    than political jokes because America has a free
    press where politicians and politics are
    lambasted on a daily basis.
  • Americans therefore have little need for oral
    political jokes.
  • But because people are often uncomfortable
    discussing such subjects as sexuality or racism,
    these tend to become the hidden subjects of joke
    cycles.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen)

6
INSIDERS VS. OUTSIDERS
  • Why arent Jews concerned about the abortion
    controversy?
  • Because they dont consider a fetus viable until
    after it graduates from medical school.

7
  • If the tellers or listeners of this joke are
    gentiles, it may be anti-semitic, criticizing
    Jews as being overly ambitious and arrogant.
  • But if the tellers or listeners are Jews, it may
    be an expression of Jewish pride and the
    extraordinarily high standards of child rearing.
  • (Rappoport 2)

8
  • When a group member tells an ethnic or religious
    joke, it opens the door for inner-group
    communication and invites group members to
    examine their attitudes and behavior.
  • But if outsiders tell the same joke, the effect
    is the opposite, because the outsider focuses on
    the groups most obvious characteristics and
    implies that these characteristics belong to
    everyone in the group.
  • Because outsiders have little power to bring
    about internal change, the effect is to
    stereotype the group, and this lessens the
    chances for change.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 117)

9
JOKE TARGETS
  • Americans consider Poles, Italians, and
    Portuguese stupid, and Jews, Scots, New
    Englanders and Iowans as canny.
  • Canadians consider Newfies as stupid and Jews,
    Scots and Nova Scotians as canny.
  • Mexicans consider people from Yucatan as stupid
    and people from Monterey as canny.
  • Nigerians consider Hausas as stupid and the Ibos
    as canny.
  • The English, Welsh and French consider the Irish,
    Belgians and Swiss as stupid, and the Scots and
    Jews as canny.
  • (Davies 8)

10
M.I.C.H.
  • Robert Priest, a psychologist at West Point
    Military Academy, has proposed what he calls the
    MICH Theory of Moderate Intergroup Conflict
    Humor.
  • He says that people will not use humor with each
    other unless there is some kind of tension or
    strong feeling.
  • However, when feelings go beyond the moderate
    level then humor exacerbates, rather than helps a
    negative situation.
  • Therefore, the most amusing jokes are usually
    found in the middle ranges, because this is where
    the hostility does not overpower the humor.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 116, 293)

11
LARRY MINTZS STAGES OF ETHNIC HUMOR
  • Critical Humor Targeting the Ethnic Group (e.g.
    Harpo Marx)
  • Self-Deprecatory Humor about the Ethnic Group
    (e.g. Chico Marx)
  • Realistic Humor Accepting Integration (e.g.
    Groucho Marx)
  • Critical Humor Targeting Mainstream Culture (e.g.
    Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks)
  • (Boskin and Dorinson 167)
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 116)

12
RADIO ETHNICITY
  • During the golden age of radio, ethnic voices
    were fun to hear.
  • One radio which ran during the 1940s was entitled
    Allens Alley, and featured Fred Allen.
  • There was a loudmouth Irishman named Ajax
    Cassidy, a farmer named Titus Moody, and a
    pompous Southerner named Senator Beauregard
    Claghorn, whose signature line was thats a
    joke, son!

13
  • Kenny Delmar modeled the Claghorn character after
    a Texas rancher who had given Delmar a ride in
    his Model-T ford.
  • Even today there is a Warner Brothers cartoon
    character by the name of Foghorn Leghorn who is
    modeled after Beauregard Claghorn.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 102)

14
TARGETS OF ETHNIC HUMOR
  • The most common targets of ethnic humor, live on
    the geographical, economic, or linguistic edge of
    the society or culture where the jokes are told,
    live in small communities, or rural areas on the
    periphery of a nation, are immigrants
    concentrated in blue-collar occupations. There
    is no evidence that the targets are stupid, but
    they occupy stupid locations.
  • (Davies 10)

15
AFRICAN-AMERICAN ETHNICITY
  • See PowerPoint on African-American Humor.

16
CHINESE ETHNICITY
  • Chinese writer Frank Chin has criticized Maxine
    Hong Kingston for Woman Warrior, Amy Tan for The
    Joy Luck Club, and David Henry Hwang for his
    plays F.O.B., and M. Butterfly.
  • He accuses these writers of boldly faking
    Chinese fairy tales and childhood literature.

17
  • Kingston responded, Sociologists have criticized
    me for not knowing myths and for distorting
    them.
  • In China, pirates illegally translate her books
    for publication in Taiwan and China.
  • These pirates correct her myths, and revise
    them to make them conform to traditional Chinese
    versions.
  • They dont understand that myths have to change,
    be useful or be forgotten.
  • Like the people who carry them across oceans,
    the myths become American.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 117)

18
GERMAN ETHNICITY
  • Between 1931 and 1936 The Jack Pearl Show was on
    radio. Baron von Munchausen was the central
    figure in a running skit.
  • The Baron spoke with a strong German accent that
    contrasted with the ordinary language of Charlie.

19
  • BARON Und dere in frundt off me wuz a green
    elephant.
  • SHARLIE Now wait a minute, Baron do you mean
    to tell me you actuallyl saw a green elephant?
  • BARON (with great indignation) Vas you dere,
    Sharlie?
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 102)

20
INDIAN ETHNICITY
  • See PowerPoint on Indian Humor.

21
IRISH ETHNICITY
  • Since Irish humor developed out of the oral
    tradition (the telling of jokes and stories in
    Irish pubs), it is very epiphenal in nature.
  • Like Jewish humor, Irish humor developed out of
    pain and tragedy that resulted in a diaspora.

22
  • Irish humor, like Jewish humor, contains much
    wordplay, and like Jewish humor, much of Irish
    wordplay is bilingual and/or bicultural, relating
    to both the Gaelic/Celtic and to the English
    language and culture.
  • Many Irish, like many Jews, are trying to
    reestablish their roots, and it is the humor in
    Irish written and oral literature that is helping
    them to do so.
  • (Nilsen Humor in Irish Literature xv)

23
ITALIAN ETHNICITY
  • In the late 1970s, comedian Don Novello spoke
    with an Italian accent and dressed in clerical
    garb when doing comedy skits about Father Guido
    Sarducci.
  • He was a hit on Saturday Night Live and on The
    Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but when he went
    to the Vatican to pose for publicity photos he
    was arrested for impersonating a priest.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 115)

24
JEWISH ETHNICITY
  • See PowerPoint on Jewish Humor.

25
RUSSIAN ETHNICITY
  • Russian immigrant Yakov Smirnoff entertained
    Americans through the cold war and beyond with
    such jokes as,
  • I have a Russian Express Card. It says, Dont
    Leave Home! and
  • One of the biggest differences between America
    and Russia is that in America you can always find
    a party, but in Russia, the party always finds
    you.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 115)

26
SCANDINAVIAN ETHNICITY
  • Garrison Keillor exploits Scandinavian
    stereotypes in his Lake Wobegon.
  • Swedish flu is the usual flu with chills, fever,
    diarrhea, vomiting, achiness, but its
    accompanied by an overpowering urge to put things
    in order.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 116)

27
SCOTTISH HUMOR
  • Whats the difference between a poor Scotsman, a
    rich Scotsman and an old Scotsman?
  • A poor Scotsman has a can o pee under the bed.
  • A rich scotsman has a canopy over the bed.
  • And an old Scotsman can na pee at all.

28
SPANISH-AMERICAN ETHNICITY
  • See PowerPoint on Spanish-American Humor.

29
CONCLUSION
  • We must keep some basic principles in mind as we
    look at ethnic humor
  • Someone elses ethnic identification does not
    seem as important as does our own.
  • The appreciation of ethnic humor correlates with
    how much we know about, and identify with, the
    joke target.

30
  • !
  • Humor is a tool that can be used either for
    building up or tearing down relationships.
  • A joke told by a member of the targeted group is
    quite different from the same joke when it is
    told by an outsider.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 118)

31
  • !!
  • We must also be aware that ethnic humor now has
    an edge it didnt used to have. Toward the end
    of his career, Groucho Marx began to worry about
    some of the most talented comedians he knew who
    would soon be out of work because dialect humor
    was falling out of fashion.

32
  • !!!
  • The inscrutable Charlie Chans pidgin English
    disappeared from the airwaves and so did Tontos
    manly grunting.
  • Children no longer read El Gordo comic strips,
    and both Beulah and Amos n Andy disappeared.
  • In 1970, Bill Dana gave up telling jokes through
    the voice of his popular Jose Jimenez character,
    and Frito-Lay discontinued its Frito Bandito
    commercials.
  • (Nilsen Nilsen 103)

33
  • Web Site
  • Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor.
    http//www.greenwood.com/catalog/OXHUMOR.aspx

34
  • References 1
  • Belois, Nathan. The Evolution and Function of
    Ethnic Humor. Tempe, AZ ASU LIN 515 Research
    Paper, May 1, 2006.
  • Boskin, Joseph, ed. The Humor Prism in
    Twentieth-Century America Detroit, MI Wayne
    State University Press, 1997.
  • Boskin, Joseph, and Joseph Dorinson. Racial and
    Ethnic Humor (Mintz 163-193).
  • Davies, Christie. Ethnic Humor around the World
    A Comparative Analysis. Bloomington, IN Indiana
    Univ Press, 1990.
  • Dundes, Alan. Cracking Jokes Studies of Sick
    Humor Cycles and Stereotypes. Berkeley, CA Ten
    Speed Press, 1987.

35
  • References 2
  • Mintz, Lawrence E. ed. Humor in America A
    Research Guide to Genres and Topics. Westport,
    CT Greenwood Press, 1988.
  • Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen.
    Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor.
    Westport, CT Greenwood, 2000.
  • Nilsen, Don L. F. Humor in Irish Literature A
    Reference Guide. Westport, CT Greenwood Press,
    1996.
  • Rappoport, Leon. Punchlines The Case for Racial,
    Ethnic, and Gender Humor. Westport, CT Prager,
    2005.
  • Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise Jewish
    Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot Berkeley,
    CA University of California Press, 1996.
  • Winokur, Mark. American Laughter Immigrants,
    Ethnicity, and 1930s Hollywood Film Comedy New
    York, NY St. Martins Press, 1996.
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