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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » I'm a real boy! » » Ethnicity in humor...dead on arrival when writing Routines? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Doug Higley
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I would like this to be a serious discussion if it's still possible here on the Café.
Just a request.

Growing up in the 50's in the fabulous melting pot of a New York neighborhood, one learned to appreciate racial and ethnic humor as more a celebration than anything else.

The biggest laughs were always from the 'sounding' on the other guy's race or background. It was equal opportunity territory. Of course these days you can't do that unless you are Rickles who always picks that one black guy out of his audience or that one Japanese tourist.

But underneath, you know this stuff is still funny. I guarantee George Wallace would have you in the hospital with his riff on black jokes...but we can't do it really anymore as vents because even if it's funny there will be one in the crowd who can find it offensive by rote and kneejerk even if it's mild...BUT what is the line?

Does anybody attempt it? Using stereotypes in humor (besides for the usual targets of the 21st century, Red Necks.)

For example: Do Mexican Witches ride Leaf Blowers? Where do all those pictures go taken by Japanese Tourists? Do all Polish musicians start with Accordians?

Can these 'themes' be developed?

Now I just made those up as the mildest form of what I'm asking.

Or is just the mention of a specific race or ethnicity now completely taboo in your mind?

I am NOT talking of using offensive language or obviously derogetory terms or those terms frowned on by everybody (except maybe Michael Richards and Snoop Dog, but they are not funny anyway)

Example of the next step up: A Black guy goes into a bar with a Parrot on his head, the bartender say's "Where did you get that?" And the Parrot say's "Africa...there's milions of 'em over there!"

That joke told to me by Wallace as: A White guy goes into a bar with a Parrot on his head, the bartender says "Where did you get that?" and the Parrot say's Ireland there's millions of 'em over there!"

Certainly a mild use of racial identification in either version. Is one Racist and the other not? Or is it just silly to even think so?

In talking with Wallace he said that joke if told by a black person would have the Irish connotation and if told by a white guy, use the black connotation....still the same joke but a slight edge is added by speaking of other than the type you personally represent.

So these days of Political Correctness taken to ridiculous hieghts of stupidiy and thermonuclear sensitivity is ethnicity dead or in your opinion can it be 'fudged' and alluded to without a firestorm of ruffled indignation.

Those of us who write routines should think of these things, not to be careful of what not to use or do but to be aware of how far we can go to make it better and in the end get laughs from the widest portion of our audience.

What do you think?
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olivertwist
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Doug,

I think this type of humor can be done successfully if the intent is clearly 'to entertain' and not ridicule. Russ Lewis does a very funny bit in one of his tapes. Brooklyn: "Do you want to tell a Polish joke?"
Russ: "No. Never do humor based on another's discomfort. There could be Polish people here"
Brooklyn: "So. We'll do it slow".

The way he handles it is by making the figure say the questionable joke and then he gets upset and tries to keep him in line. It's an old joke but it's still very funny to me. Much of the humor comes from the apparent discomfort that the figure causes the vent by saying these risky things.

I had a situation last week where I was performing in a talent contest at work. In the routine my Axtell Orangutan does an impersonation of Pres. Bush and follows it with one of Hillary Clinton. I work at a defense company and I wasn't sure how the Bush bit would go over. To make it worse one of the top execs in the division was in the small audience. I thought about substituting someone else for Bush, but I knew it wouldn't be as strong, so I kept it the way I wrote it. It went over very well. After the performance a woman exec told me she'd just come back from Vegas and had seen a vent there, and that I was better. My jaw dropped like Buffalo Billy's at that one. The end result was I won $500 and a chance to compete for $1500 in the final round.
Flying Magus
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There is a great article on this sort of discussion here:

http://www.nj.com/entertainment/arts/ind......ant.html
Magically yours,

Michel Fouché
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olivertwist
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Magus,
Thanks. Interesting article and right on topic.
Oliver.
Doug Higley
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Excellent article! Thanks Michel. That is taking it a bit farther than I was expecting it to go but I'm glad to see the freedom to perform outside of a PC constriction is alive and well.

Now that's the Big Time...my question still relates to us small time guys and how we handle it without the security blanket of a vast audience to draw from.
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Wanlu
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In my country, I did a joke about a nanny and the family driver and it got a wild laugh...I've been saying that joke since the first time it killed Smile

Then one day...I got a comment that the jokes is nanny degrading Smile

So I took out that joke from my family show act...and kept it in my comedy bar act Smile

My point is...whether a joke is politically correct or not...using it with success depends on the type of audience your are performing for or maybe the type of event.

Just my idea Smile
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Doug Higley
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Question: Is it worth it to EDIT your act because of ONE comment, one persons perception and probable over sensitivity?

Should one person be given that power to alter what all the others can hear? Isn't that just where Political Correctness goes awry?

Or do you feel it's justified?

Probably if I liked the joke and the majority always liked the joke, I'd check ahead of time if there were any Nanny's in the audience so I didn't get an umbrella over the head. Smile
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Wanlu
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Hi Doug,

I removed the nanny joke in my family show script because I do agree that the joke is politically incorrect or degrading to the part of the nanny.

But I kept it in my adult act because the joke is funny!!! and in an adult comedy bar, a line like this is acceptable.

Just my idea Smile
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tacrowl
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Doug,
I've always been politically incorrect. When my wife worked the show, we called the act: Tom Crowl & the Mrs. - which we considered a parody on other husband/wife acts that used the husband's full and the wife's first name. Over 15 years full time, we did lose work from people who were afraid feminists may be offended by the show title. (Although we had women who wanted to dislike the show and ended up enjoying it!) It was our identity and we would not change it.

Some people will be offended and say something. Others will be offended and never say anything. Others will laugh like hell. The question is, will it offend the person or company paying you? If it does, then the question is, do you care enough to change or do you value your artistic integrity? I guess the final question would be - do you need the work to eat? That sometimes makes things easier to justify!
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Doug Higley
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Absolutely tacrowl! Bottom line is the ability to continue with further oportunities to put food on the table.

A kids party act sure would have the issue when word of mouth is so important.

Stepping up into the corporate show level one has the oportunity to, in advance let the rep precede you on another level and offer an edgy(er) show IF appropriate.

A street performer should not have that issue and have the freedom to push the envelope risking only a punch in the mouth. A great arena for testing new material.

For the sake of debate, let's say you are prepping a show/script to be the only one you will do...no changes regardless of the venue or audience...does it then come down to YOU and your agenda (if you have one) as an artist standing on principle? Is this how Otto and George got rolling you think? "To hell with 'em...this is MY act, like it or not!"

When does catering to the bottom of the food chain in any audience IQ detract from your performance...do you miss THAT missing joke you took out...will the rest of the audience? Thus is it worth it?

If you do leave it in, do you feel guilty (on some minor level at the most) take it out on the fly, ad libbing the moment?

Do you think of these things? In what way? To make your show safer or better? Are the two compatable?

Thanks for the answers so far. Smile y the way I do NOTmean working BLUE, let's stick to Ethnicity and sensitivity...
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Bob Baker
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Doug:

Thanks for opening up an interesting topic worthy of careful consideration.

In my vent act I do not do ethnic humor because the humor I do use is situational, not jokes per se, and the vicious lines are directed against myself. (Always a safe target!) But the most important reason I don't do ethnic humor is that I don't want to risk making anyone in my audience feel bad. That's not why I'm there.

The thing about ethnic humor, to me, is the intent of the person telling the jokes. I'm Jewish and have heard about every Jewish joke in the world. When my friends, Jewish or not, tell the jokes I'm not in the least bit offended. I know their intent is only to make me laugh, and Jews take pride in laughing at ourselves. But I've had people tell me such jokes who did not know I was Jewish (Baker is not exactly a Jewish name!), and I got a clear vibe of derision and anti-semitism from them. The offense and hurt and anger ran deep.

Now, if a ventriloquist figure picked on me from the stage and made a Jewish joke about me, I'm sure I would laugh and enjoy it because I know it's all for entertainment, but as a performer, I could not count on everyone feeling that way. I never want to risk hurting the feelings of someone in my audience. I can't think of a quicker way to get an audience to turn on you.

I often think of a scene in the Eddie Murphy movie "The Nutty Professor" when Eddie Murphy's obese Sherman Klump character is sitting in a night club being made fun of by the then very young Dave Chappelle. Although the Murphy character puts on a show of trying to be a good sport, you could see the pain in his eyes. I never want an audience member to experience that.

Does this mean one can never poke fun at an audience member? No. But it must be generic and must not make the person feel bad. For instance, Jeff Dunham does this brilliantly in the "Arguing With Myself" DVD when he get a good 10 minutes out of a guy who gets up in the middle of the show to go to the men's room.

I'm all FOR edgy humor. I don't shy away from offending sensibilities, political or otherwise. For instance, I'm pretty sure I'm the only vent around with a talking colon puppet. BUT, there is a big difference between offending and hurting.

In a final thought, I think the best humor aims a big targets, for instance Bush and Clinton in Oliver's post above. That's why the figure making fun of the vent works so well.

I apologize for this long post; I didn't have time to write a short one.

Bob
Doug Higley
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Bob...I think you wrote something above other than you have a Talking Colon...but I don't remember what it was...is it named Powell?

But seriously folks, good point about not wanting ANY member of your aud to feel bad. Full agreement. I remember the most aregious example of that I ever saw was the pigdog "comic" Joan Rivers who came on stage and selected a couple of women in the front row and proceded to make them feel lower than whale dung. Mostly bits about their body fluids, PERSONAL hygene etc. One of her opening lines was...Lady close your legs there's an echo in the room (that was the kindest) and got totally personal and more gross from there...the aud barely chuckled through that whole act...they instantly sympathised with the fellow aud member (who eventually walked out. This was the Big room too (I think at Harrah's or Caesars). I was in that front row and I could see the results on the women she targeted. She was mean, vicious and not at all funny...nothing ethnic though except some Jewish references.

On the other hand I wached (more than many times) Don Rickles work the big stage and devistate an audience with quick snipes all over the room...his choice of material was no more demeaning for one than the other and nothing really personal....he saved that for his own racial background and his Jewish humor was deadly funny (but agin, you could substitute other racial types with most of the jokes)
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