How to Make a Joke

One of the biggest complaints I hear on the internet and in the real world, is that society now has become a place where no one can take a joke. That everyone can take offense to anything, and that people’s careers’ have been affected by what they believe is an innocent joke. Jerry Seinfeld has been quoted that he will not do shows in college campuses anymore because, in his words “they don’t know what they are talking about” when they use words like racist, sexist, etc. Chris Rock won’t go near colleges anymore, neither will Larry the Cable Guy. This seems like a real problem to them, and it’s where we stand in modern society in a nutshell. The people saying the racist, sexist, and problematic words are upset that people are calling out their racist, sexist, and problematic words. Offended that others are offended. So much so that they feel like their “rights” are being violated. A lot of 1st amendment rights talk gets tossed about, funny enough because they’re not using that term correctly either.

I don’t believe this is really a problem. P.C culture is some instances HAS gone too far (for instance blocking media from a public area because of “safe spaces”), but for the most part the current P.C. culture has produced an environment where more and more of us are educated in what is causing institutional racism, sexism, etc. It’s not the outward displays of physical aggression, it’s the language we use, the perception we have of different people, and the stereotypes we push on others and on ourselves. Yeah people can go overboard, but I rather that than the status quo. I rather the pendulum shift on the other side for a bit before we can find a comfortable middle ground where everyone is happy to work together in ending this problem with language.

In the meantime, how does someone make a joke that can push the boundaries, be able to “go there,” without being racist, sexist, etc. I’m going to give you three examples, first from the comedian John Mulaney (he of the Netflix comedy special, and the SNL writer responsible for Stefan). In one of his specials he made a rape joke, but the rape joke was directed not at the victim, but himself. Describing a time where he was walking at night to catch a subway train, and seeing a woman beside her pick up the pace. Thinking that she was running for the train, he starts to pick up his pace too. Then it dawns on him:

“Oh. She’s running from me. In her eyes, I’m an adult. And adults rape each other. Kind of a lot!”

Funny stuff, and it shows two things. One, that the joke never made fun of the woman running away, it was never a condemnation or question as to why that woman would ever run away from John Mulaney, it was his own ignorance that he didn’t realize he looked like a predator in her eyes, and for very good reasons. Two, it highlighted the problem that women face every day, questioning always “is this person good, or will they take advantage of me?” And that a woman has all the right to be cautious.

This type of joke was mirrored in an episode of Master of None, where Aziz Ansari juxtapose a late night walk home of two guys (to the tune of “don’t worry, be happy”) to the scary, nightmarish late night walk home for a woman. Both make sense, both highlight problems with rape culture, and both are funny.

The last example is of the crying Jordan meme in short is the face of a teary eyed Michael Jordan when he is being inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame, inserted into situations where someone is humiliated or has suffered a real loss.

It’s the face of one of the most “masculine” men in the world, in a very vulnerable situation but used not to humiliate him, but to poke fun at an event which could be considered pretty terrible. It’s innocuous because it’s used to make fun at people crying, but kind of showing that crying is alright. Jordan has gone back and forth saying that he hates it, but now likes the meme. The New York Times have said that it’s displays a bit of “flawed masculinity ”:

 “You have a masculine star who expresses vulnerability, and people simultaneously mock and celebrate that.”

I don’t know if I agree with that. Sports have lately been a part where crying and femininity has become a little more commonplace, think Teemu Selanne crying over winning his only Stanley Cup, Kevin Durant crying because he won the MVP (making a new celebratory meme, the “You da real MVP” celebrating his mother), and little Riley Curry stealing the spotlight from his dad, Steph Curry. Think of Russell Westbrook and his colorful eccentric fashion, think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic starting his own fashion label too. Saying that though, we’re still not fully there in modern sports vulnerability but the Crying Jordan meme is not something we can decry (no pun intended).

I firmly believe that vulnerability is a strength in men, and that it should be encouraged and awarded. Crying Jordan doesn’t make fun of crying, it’s a joke that puts a light into what could be for a sports fan, a terrible situation. We can make jokes that are not racist, or sexist. And if you feel you cannot, then change your jokes, make them better. You can be funny without resorting to these stereotypes, and don’t be offended if people call you out on your offensiveness.

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