Have you heard the joke about the sky? It goes over your head
Actually, this is the only sort of humour that is a no-no, jokes that you don’t get. Everything else goes.
Jokes are meant to be funny, and that’s it. Fullstop. Political correctness is for politicians. Jokes are meant to let off steam. They can be crass, mean, off colour, misogynist, racist, casteist, ageist, sexist, anti something or the other, hurting the sentiments of someone or the other. Damn it, it’s a means of letting off steam. It has to be this way. Irreverence is a must.
In the medieval period, courts had jesters or fools or bhands, whose job was to crack jokes that would cause an ordinary citizen to have his or her head adorn a spike. But the king needs the truth, which the yes-men can’t provide, and so the jester does. The village idiot had a similar role in rural society.
Today’s humorists, cartoonists, satirists, comics play this role. Therefore they should be provided latitude that is greater than the societal norm.
Another thing, humour is situational. At the wrong occasions, it is a flop. The standard response of a failed humorist- ‘you had to be there’ is actually true. And it’s never original, merely recycled. There is a Mark Twain story about a Connecticut Yankee visiting king Arthur’s court and finding, among other things, that stale jokes of 19th century America are already stale jokes in England, a few millennia ago.
The same stories attributed to Santa and Banta are also attributed to Pat and Mike, or Van der Meer, depending on whether you are Irish or South African, and Poles, Scots, Afrikaners, Oklahomans, and Han Chinese compete with Punjabis, Gujratis, Sindhis and Madrasis for pride of place in their respective cultures’ humour pantheon. The absence of three wise men and a virgin is reputed to explain the non-appearance of Jesus Christ in Punjab, Poland, Ireland, Arkansas, and South Africa amongst other places.
Just as the first man to invent swear words took a giant leap for civilization, because this was the alternative of bashing in the other fellow’s head with a club, so too the first politically incorrect humorist. Because his insensitive jokes were the alternative of taking out pogroms or starting wars against those slightly different from him in some manner or another. The humorists are therefore the greatest peaceniks on earth.
The only humorist who should be punched is the one who forgets his punch line.
When we discuss on what is permitted and what is not in humour, it should be a funny piece. Funnily enough, whenever I try to write on any serious topic, it inevitably turns out funny, even speeches in seminars. But writing on limits to humour, I have become dead serious.
Humour is a serious business. It’s all that keeps us from going insane.
Soumya is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics where he was supposed to have studied Economics. He, however, did not let studies interfere with his education. Currently, he earns his daily bhat mach by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. He is addicted to the printed word and has been devouring it since learning to read. In whatever time this leaves him he pursues his other passions, family, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theatre, and occasionally, writing.