My thoughts on jokes…

After hearing a joke, I often wonder about the nature of jokes. Specifically, most jokes, although seemingly funny, appear to have a real edge to them, if not a downright ugly side. What brought this on was a joke told recently by a colleague that, while fairly benign, nevertheless had a racial tone. It was about asking God if zebras were white with black stripes or vice-versa and was a play on dialect of a racial group. I really only remember one joke at this point that didn’t put down an individual or group. It was about Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy and was very funny. I wonder, however, if Walt would have enjoyed it?

At this point in the blog, I should point out that my wife, Barb, said I should either tell both the jokes or give a different example, but I am respectfully declining. The one told recently to me just isn’t that funny and I don’t want to repeat it. The other has a play on words that some might find offensive. However, if you need to know the jokes to place this blog in context, please e-mail me.

I know one objective of jokes is to release tension around one’s work. Nowhere is this found more prevalent than where I am employed, we sometime joke at the end of the day in our debriefing about a client that was especially taxing. Certainly, that boy or girl is the “butt” of the joke and an outsider would probably be offended and think us insensitive, however, this kind of “gallows” humor is actually therapeutic, cathartic and helps let off steam. Further, it can even be said that jokes about a celebrity that has committed a social gaff or broken the rules the rest of have to follow is a way of processing the transgression, Tiger Woods being the latest target.

The same cannot be said about an unsolicited joke that is directed at an unsuspecting individual or denigrates a group due to their race, religion, or socio-economic status. Why do we humans, with our supposedly superior intellect, still feel the need to verbally wound a fellow traveler or travelers on this journey we call life? Can’t we remember how we felt as the object of a cruel joke? Where is our compassion and empathy for others? And why do we join in the laughter when our guts are telling us, to paraphrase John Bradford, there but for the grace of God go I? Even worse, how much comfort did we feel when the joker tried to appease our feelings with “I was only kidding?”

When are we going to realize that different, and it seems to me that being uncomfortable with anything different, is the main reason for most jokes, is neither good nor bad. It is just different. As Hamlet said, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” When are we going to start simply being positive to other individuals and events in our thoughts and actions? Finally, can we not comprehend that we are just as different to the one that is on the receiving end of our ridicule and probably figure prominently in their jokes!

Paradoxically, whether we are initiating the joke or partaking of the supposed humor by laughing, we are simply revealing to the world that which we secretly find disturbing in ourselves. How quickly we seem to have lost the peaceful messages of the 60’s. As the Youngbloods said almost 50 years ago, “C’mon people now, Smile on your brother, Ev’rybody get together, Try and love one another right now, Right now. Right now!” (

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