01 May 2012

Humor when it is just mean

Consider the following purported joke by President Obama during the White House Correspondents dinner on Sarah Palin:

Source: WTSP

"Even Sarah Palin is getting back in the game, guest hosting on the Today Show," Obama began.

"Which reminds me of an old saying... what's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull?"

"A pitbull is delicious."

Yes the humor took me a millisecond to register and then that reaction got forced out of the way by the next millisecond's response:

From personal experience I take it?

The Obama eats dog meme is not one that anyone expected to appear, although it did appear in one of his autobiographical memoirs it too Jim Treacher to actually read the book and recognize the inanity of the Romney 'dog stuck on roof of car' meme by showing up with the Obama 'dog stuck on roof of mouth' meme.

There is self-deprecating humor and it takes a light touch to pull it off along with a bit of verbal fortitude.  The pit bull tasting delicious isn't that. I know good jokes, and this one by President Obama isn't one of them.

For a joke to work it must be relatively direct and have no question that the punchline is, indeed, the end of the joke.  A double-entendre meaning for a risque joke is a great way to end a joke, as well.  This joke doesn't have that, either, as the second millisecond left me feeling queasy.  Very queasy.

Yes it was a joke that was mean-spirited, no question about it.

But the follow-on millisecond removes the humor from it as it conjures up mental imagery that is just... disgusting.

President Obama is speaking as if from personal experience to do the comparison, trying for self-deprecating but missing that mark by just a hair.  You DO have to have that as the joke basis to make it 'work', or not work as the case may be.  It is directly part of the joke framework in the personal experience/comparison realm, and you have to be prepared for the audience to accept that you are capable of doing that personal experience to make it funny.

Trying to play off of someone else's joke to make your own takes years of experience, skill and actually making sure you don't trip over any hidden landmines.  Trying to defuse a minor scandal about yourself, to deflect criticism, and show you are a good sport all at the same time means you have to do some level of owning up to it.  President Obama misses that mark, as well.  So close and some people are more than willing to laugh and then wonder why they are laughing.

Consider the basis is a personal experience/comparison self-deprecating joke, made at the expense of someone who isn't there and can't respond.

Going over the top is a landmine.

Now we have the dual imagery of President Obama speaking from experience of eating a dog and eating a hockey mom (Sarah Palin's original personal experience/comparison joke was about hockey moms of which she considers herself one).

Think about that for just a moment.

Getting a bit queasy?

What are you left with at the end of a personal experience/comparison joke like that?

1) Cannibalism.  The direct meaning of eating.

2) A perverted sexual act with a dog.  The double-entendre meaning of eating, often used in jokes with a rimshot at the end.

Neither is acceptable as an underlying basis of a personal experience/comparison joke.

This is mean-spirited humor, for sure.

The actual joke, however, isn't self-deprecating but self-degrading.

In front of journalists who laughed.

Was it a funny joke?

Well if your first millisecond response was to laugh, then it obviously worked with you.

If you felt dirty the moment you started laughing, then you realized that the joke is on you.

Good luck in keeping the imagery that the underlying joke premise conjures up out of your head.  That is all part of learning to accept self-degradation as a norm in society.   And that is just mean any way you cut it.

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