Stop me if you’ve heard this one

We had a brief douchehound visit yesterday from a fellow whose incisive commentary on the Obligatory Beauty post amounted to “hur hur, British people have bad teeth.” When called on the fact that this was a) stupid and b) kind of exactly what we were railing against, he took a familiar stance: “Oh, you just need to get a sense of humor.” Because feminists just can’t take a joke, right?

Here’s the thing. You know how, when you keep having the same bad relationship over and over, people will eventually encourage you to consider that maybe it’s you? How, in fact, you’re supposed to be really wary of people who seem to have nothing but Psycho Exes, because it’s far more likely that they’re the psycho? How you wouldn’t hire someone who talked shit about all their unfair bosses, because it probably wasn’t really the bosses that sucked?

If no women laugh at your hilarious jokes, it’s time to face up to the possibility that maybe you aren’t fucking funny.

Of course, different people laugh at different things. There exists a subsection of the population that thinks Larry the Cable Guy is a hoot, so that right there tells you that humor is not universal. Even among those of us with an ounce of sense, there’s a fair amount of variation. Some people find the Marx Brothers boring. I’ve met people who don’t like “Mr. Show.” I can’t stand “Seinfeld.” De gustibus non disputandum est, right?

But I think one thing that everyone can agree on is that there’s nothing less funny than a stale routine. There’s no single agreed-upon definition for humor, but most successful humor does incorporate some kind of surprise. Trying to elicit laughter with a tired old joke is like trying to tickle yourself — lacking the element of surprise, it’s just annoying. This is why thinking people are not generally amused by jokes about airline food not being very tasty, or women going to the bathroom in groups, or British teeth. Or, for that matter, humorless feminists. This is why you were ready to strangle that guy in college who wouldn’t stop saying “we are the knights who say ‘Ni’!” — even good material goes sour eventually. This is why, in fact, dusty old humor like this has become a source of humor in itself, as good comedians poke fun at the mediocre comedians who rely on dated gags.

When you were a kid, did you used to say “the last time I heard that one, I laughed so hard that I fell off my dinosaur and broke my wooden underwear”? That retort is now so old that IT’S not even funny anymore!

I’m not even going to talk about people who don’t understand why feminists refuse to laugh at the violent exploitation and rape of women. If you can’t understand that, please feel free to fuck yourself. I want to talk instead to the people who get miffed when we don’t guffaw at jokes about hairy-legged feminists, overly emotional women, women who just won’t shut up, women who are princesses, women who are fat and desperate, women who only like bad boys, women who are grasping gold-diggers, women who should know their place. Is it really that we have no sense of humor? Or is it just that you’re beating the same sad drum that has been entertaining and comforting misogynists since women started getting rights, and we’re waiting to hear where the humor comes in?

It’s not that misogynist jokes — and racist jokes and gay jokes and nationality jokes and jokes about the mentally disabled — are unfunny because we’re just soooo politically correct. It’s not even just that they’re mean and offensive; mean offensive humor can be done well. It’s the fact that, though you as a privileged person may not realize the extent of it, these jokes are just SO FUCKING OLD. They’re tired. They’ve been done before, and we — whatever “we” the joke is aimed at — have heard them a million times. We’ve lived them. Heard the one about the busty blonde and how she’s dumb and only good for sex? Heard the one about the black guy who’s a criminal? Heard the one about the fat lady who can’t stop eating? Heard the one about the feminist who can’t take a joke? Fuck you, we didn’t even HAVE to hear them, we’ve been the butts of those jokes since birth. (But yes, since you ask, we’ve heard them too.)

I know it’s comforting and easy to blame your stony reception on our fundamental lack of humor. These bitches just can’t appreciate comedy gold, right? Wrong: what you’ve got is comedy turds that you didn’t even bother to gild. Put in some effort, people! Give me something worth laughing at, and I’ll laugh. But if the closest you get to wit is a recycled gag dredged up from some rotting stereotype, I’m sorry, but my opinion doesn’t even enter into it. You are objectively not funny. You are intellectually lazy. And you’re kind of an ass.

In other words, not only do I have  a sense of humor, but it’s a fuck of a lot better than yours.

56 thoughts on “Stop me if you’ve heard this one

  1. May I take this time to thank you for making this a safe place to comment. You, Kate and Sweetmachine do a wonderful job. You allow those that seem to be getting it, although sometimes slowly, and promptly spank those that are outright rude. That is not an easy line to walk.

  2. Douchehouse o’yesteryear accused me of not having a sense of humour based on my nationality so…

    Q. How do you get 25 Canadians out of a swimming pool?

    A. Ask them to leave.

  3. This is why you were ready to strangle that guy in college who wouldn’t stop saying “we are the knights who say ‘Ni’!”

    Word x 10,000.

    I know it’s comforting and easy to blame your stony reception on our fundamental lack of humor.

    Not unlike how it’s comforting and easy to blame your frequent rejections by women on the women themselves, instead of the more logical common denominator there. Gosh, you think there might be some overlap between unfunny men and NiceGuy(tm)s? IMAGINE THAT.

  4. Sniper, that made me laugh out loud.

    FJ, I do have two psycho exes. I attribute that to the fact that I attract psychos like honey draws flies.

    I also have a bunch of bully ex-bosses, but everybody hated them, not just me. I love the company I work for now, in large part because my bosses are all nice people who seem to actually care about their employees.

  5. kate217, I’ve got psycho exes too — boy do I! But the fact that I attracted psychos… let’s just say it had a non-zero amount to do with me. Not in a victim-blaming way, but in a seeing the common denominator way.

    Kate, I meant to put in something about the “nice” guy/”funny” guy overlap! I forgot to but I’m glad you filled in that blank.

    Oh, and Sniper, that’s fucking hilarious! I was just discussing the “polite Canadian” stereotype with a Canadian friend (who agrees with it) — I’ll have to pass that on. But did you really get accused of not having a sense of humor BECAUSE of your nationality? Have they never heard of the Kids in the Hall?

    Or did they mean you didn’t have a sense of humor about your nationality?

  6. Because of. Of course, this person also thought there was a “Canadian accent” because naturally people in Charlottetown sound exactly like people in Cranbrook.

  7. Well, Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, and Canada’s most populous english speaking province by far, so it makes sense that so many are from Ontario.

    Sniper, where in Canada are you? I live in Calgary.

  8. I’m from the Yukon, but I moved to the U.S. a few years ago to live with my Rich American Sugardaddy. Er. Husband. And he isn’t rich.

  9. The whole routine about “can’t you take a joke” is really about shaming women quiet. You have to participate, or at least acquiece, in their putting you down, or the shame is on you. Because if you go along with it silently, or pretend to laugh along, nobody has to admit that they have anything to be ashamed of. The point was never really about whether women have a sense of humor. It’s about gaining approval from males by being a “good sport” about your humiliation, maybe even being given the title of “honorary one of the boys.” What a reward!

  10. Great, great, GREAT points, Linda. Both women and men are asked to be complicit in women’s subjugation by laughing when it’s presented as a joke.

    I knew I wasn’t quite equal to this topic… thank goodness for the commentariat. :)

  11. The old humorless feminist joke is a cousin to the grand cry of “man bashing!” that is so prevalent. It serves to silence women.

    I recall explaining the synopsis of “The Magdalene Sisters” to a dude friend. It’s a movie about the Irish laundry services run by the Catholic church. Without the benefit of anything like due process, women and girls who were flirts, rape victims, unwed mothers, mentally “feeble,” etc. were indentured into service at Catholic-run laundries. This happened with the complete blessing of the church. The last laundry service in Ireland was closed in 1996. That’s right. 19-fucking-96.

    Due friend said: “Oh, gawd. Another movie about how evil and awful men are.”

    Once the charge of man-bashing is leveled, you can’t talk about it. It’s shrill man-hating nonsense. Not history.

    I just walked away.

  12. Due friend said: “Oh, gawd. Another movie about how evil and awful men are.”

    Ugh. Right. Because depicting women as human beings with agency and private lives who inhabit a patriarchal society is man-bashing.

    To be fair – if I must – this kind of defensiveness is a big part of human nature. Many men do this kind of thing when confronted with the notion that woman might be people. White people do it when confronted with the idea that racism is still a problem. Everybody and his dog does it when someone suggests that fat/gay/trans/ugly/disabled/whatever people might be entitled to respect and consideration.

    Not to bash dogs, of course.

  13. When you were a kid, did you used to say “the last time I heard that one, I laughed so hard that I fell off my dinosaur and broke my wooden underwear”? That retort is now so old that IT’S not even funny anymore!

    Hmm. Never heard that one. It must not have made it to Australia yet. Or I’m just really out of touch.

  14. I was going to try to say something snarky about the link i’m about to post and how it fits in with what you’ve said here, but well, i’m a woman and therefore a humorless hag. Oh wait, that was snarky. In any case, check out THIS mess… Humour ‘comes from testosterone’:

    Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

    The BBC is really on a roll, lately. Between this and the bit about medieval diets, i wonder how long until they start talking about Bat Boy and Nostradamus.

  15. The best take I ever read on this was by Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners) who wrote: “When someone says, “Can you take a joke,” they are asking “Can I insult you with your permission”?

  16. I’ve never heard that “fell off my dinosaur” line, but I kind of want to start using it all the time now. Maybe it will come back in style like vintage clothing?

    Kate, I’ve had a number of…spirited interweb exchanges re: Nice Guys. I’ve actually had a lot of hilarious male responses. Too bad they weren’t making jokes so much as ludicrously off-base assumptions about me and my life.

    But maybe I only thought they were hilarious because my sense of humor is as broken as my ability to discern the essential difference between straight-up arrogant jerks and shallow assholes who think that part of my duty as a person who is both female and cute is to give them sexual attention, cause if I could I’d understand that the second kind are totally the men of my dreams.

    (this is sort of a pet peeve of mine)

  17. Fillyjonky, fuck yeah! Linda, you SO nailed it on the shaming issue.

    Kids in the Hall, I heart you.

    And sniper… agreed. As a sociologist I will admit it is human nature to want to put people in recognizable boxes so we can understand them, so we can make sense of the world, but it can be quite over-ridden without any damage to our wee brains.

    Cindy, “Magdalene Sisters” rocked my world and has haunted me ever since. 19-fucking-96. (Joni Mitchell sings “Madgalene Laundries” about the same, and it squeezes my heart every time I hear it.)

    There. I think I packed in all the comments to the comments I had. This is rapidly becoming my most favorite blog, in no small part due to the kindness, the smartness, and the community spirit of the commentariat. The notion that I don’t have to face public flogging (from both women and men) to have feminist fix and my mind expanded is refreshing.

  18. thank you. THANK YOU.

    it makes having to shout down (again) my father’s stale bigoted humor this hap-hap-happy holiday season almost bearable. almost.

  19. I am about to smack my friends for quoting Anchorman way, way, way too often.

    And I have lost friends – or “friends,” rather – because I don’t laugh at misogynist jokes. Because they’re not funny and they’re boring. Which applies to the jokes and the jokers.

  20. Well, about the testosterone behind humor thing, I have waaaay too much testosterone in my body. And I can not make a decent joke to save my life. I depend on the people around me to provide entertainment.

  21. That “Humor Comes from Testosterone” article is totally bizarre. Since when does “likely to harass a stranger on the street” = “funny”?

  22. Sniper: not all Americans sound the same (compare New York and Texas) and not all Brits sound the same (compare even Liverpool and Birmingham which are really close together) but people still talk about American accents and British accents.

    Most native people in the UK would identify me as a northerner, to some they’ll be able to spot it’s Yorkshire, and others may even narrow it down to the Leeds area, but to anyone from outside the UK I wouldn’t expect anything more accurate than English or British.

    But perhaps you mean he thought there was only *one* Canadian accent, in which case as you were :-)

  23. I just found a ton of links to news articles on men thinking that their “practical jokes” would have been funny if only those women had had a sense of humor. If only I new how to post the links like fillyjonk did above (see funny Canadians).

    Thanks for this. There is an old saying, “agreement is control.” This is one reason why history is written by the victors and some people – men and women – still laugh at those tired old jokes. If we all agree then we are the victors and anyone who doesn’t agree is just wrong/dumb. Being a victor means that you are not a victim. Not a victim means that you are in and not out.

    This post reminds me so much of playground cruelty. Well written and thought provoking as usual fillyjonk. I have to admit I am developing a bit of a grrl crush now.

  24. Great job, FJ. And let us not forget another form of this kind of b.s. — when your female friend chides you for not being able to take a joke because women have no capacity for (abuse passing as) humor like men do — “too bad we’re not guys, then you’d think that was funny.”

  25. Female humor is supposed to be self deprecating. Since I refuse to play that game, therefore, I am not typically considered funny.

    Men’s humor tend to focus on the absurdity of the other- be it race, size, what have you. Which elevates their status on some ego tripping level.

    I hadn’t heard the line about falling off the dinosaur and breaking wooden pants before. Totally cracked me up!

  26. Amen!!

    This last Thanksgiving I was in Arizona with my husbands immediate family. We’re all at breakfast and they’re passing around his dad’s Blackberry. Eventually it got to me and it was a long drawn out email about how women over think relationships and are basically irrational. Men on the other hand think about practical matters like cars and are logical. EVERYONE was tickled by the email, my sister in law even commented “It’s SO TRUE!!” I failed to find the email funny and my husband was aware of why, but the rest of the family chalked it up to me being moody….

    I have a sense of humor, I can laugh at relationships, men and women….but eventually the whole Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus gets old. I think sometimes his family is a little wary of me because I have the gall to get offended when the subject matter of a simple joke forward is degrading to women.

  27. Also on a side note, when I do receive email/joke forwards that are flat out sexist I’ll reply with:

    “SEXIST!!”

    It hasn’t stopped me from getting these from my friends and family, but here’s to hoping they see the reply…

  28. This is a bit of a ramble.

    I have a bike with big side baskets, and for some reason, a small but annoying and sometimes frightening fraction of Philadelphians think it’s a laff riot to ask for or even demand a ride.

    I recently shut one of them down by saying “That is a very old joke.” It wasn’t a great test case–she was a middle aged white woman. Damn if I know if it would have worked on that bunch of teenaged girls or that middle-aged white guy who kept insisting and whose wife sounded like she was used to apologizing for him. I never accept second party apologies.

    Still, I believe that humor is an objective thing. If something makes people laugh, it’s funny. It might be vile, it might be repetitious, it might be stupid. I try to avoid “That’s not funny” because even as “Don’t you have a sense of humor?” is a way to humiliate people without their consent, “That’s not funny” is a way of saying “No real person would have your emotional reaction.”

    On the repetitious side, jokes about the stupidity of George Bush played a lot longer to some audiences than others.

    Though it’s interesting that I’ve never heard of a dictator claiming that anti-government jokes aren’t funny. I suppose there’s a limit to how much truth can be denied.

  29. But perhaps you mean he thought there was only *one* Canadian accent, in which case as you were

    Yeah, he thought there was just one, as in, “I don’t like the way Canadians talk…”

  30. I was out shopping yesterday (something that I wouldn’t recommend this time of year) and there was a conglomeration of carts around a display of something on sale. One woman was trying to get through and having a hard time of it. She remarked to her friend, “My god, what a bunch of Pollacks!”

    I had to do a double take. Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Out loud in the middle of Meijers? Really?

    I can’t believe the stereotypes we buy into. :x

  31. Thanks for your analysis. I hate the PC thing. Whenever someone says “stop being so PC,” I change it in my head to “stop being so respectful,” and then they sound like a douchebag. Mind you, most of my friends *are* respectful, so it doesn’t come up much.

    I remember when PC was a good thing, for about 2 seconds. I think I was in high school, and I’d say, “oh, that’s not PC,” and people would go, “oh, whoops, sorry.” That didn’t last very long.

  32. Did she say Pollack – as in someone who is Polish or did she say Pollocks – as in someone who splatters paint or maybe Pollack – as in a type of codfish?

    I could get the codfish reference…you know a lot of fish all pushing against each other trying to spawn or feed or get to the holiday sales table. It happens all the time.

  33. I’m totally gonna say that now. “God, what a bunch of codfish!”

    Until a codfish pipes up and tells me it’s inappropriate, of course.

  34. I WIN????

    oooh maybe now I can use the Academy Award acceptance speech that I’ve been practicing in the shower since I was 8 years old.

    “I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me. My agent. God. My parents. And of course you. The little people. Because without you I wouldn’t feel so tall. Thank you.”

  35. Whenever someone says “stop being so PC,” I change it in my head to “stop being so respectful,” and then they sound like a douchebag.

    Ha! Perfect. Stop being so thoughtful and compassionate!

    As for the testosterone thing, I haven’t read the link yet, but I read a book on testosterone a few years ago and determined that even for a woman, I probably have an unusually low level of testosterone. All the external markers — finger length, waist to hip ratio, body hair, weak chin — point to my having virtually none, and that’s on top of my being stunningly uninterested in competition. (Obsessing about my Technorati ranking doesn’t count.) I am evidently the lady mayor of Estrogen City.

    And yet, I am funny as shit, tyvm. Anyone who says otherwise gets banned.

  36. The little people. Because without you I wouldn’t feel so tall.

    You’re welcome. How’s the weather up there?

    But Kate, aren’t all of us who have PCOS raging with testosterone? That would explain why I keep crushing beer cans on my head. And I don’t even drink beer.

  37. How’s the weather up there?

    LOL…ROTFL…You’re cute as a button…That’s so funny I forgot to laugh…

    That would explain why I keep crushing beer cans on my head.

    I blame fillyjonk for all this madness. You just had to go there didn’t ya!? Before you know it we’ll all be so giddy we’ll be falling off our dinosaurs and kicking out the slats from our cradles.

    Oh the humanity!

  38. LOL…ROTFL…You’re cute as a button

    Um. Um. Um. Oh! I got a devastating comeback: I know you are, but what am I?

  39. I have such a sarcastic personality that people never know when I’m being funny and when I’m just *being*. It’s really uncool when you want to tell someone off and they think it’s just snark. I must immediately implement a sweet, meek female charicature to make my anger contrast better.

  40. But Kate, aren’t all of us who have PCOS raging with testosterone? That would explain why I keep crushing beer cans on my head. And I don’t even drink beer.

    Ha! I don’t have PCOS, actually — that’s FJ. So I’m still assuming I have near-zero levels of testosterone. PCOS might explain why you guys are so damn funny, though.

  41. Pingback: Rape is Hilarious « Diary of a Fat Teenager

  42. Oh good LORD- I really wish I’d heard of the O&A Rape comment sooner- Somewhere around that time I was all riled up over some guy who wrote an article about how roller derby fans were all stupid backwards rednecks.

    Being a derby girl, that’s yet another OLD JOKE that I’m sick of. I work really hard at what I do- it IS a sport, and it IS 100% real.

    But POINT BEING- since I was all riled up at that point, I would have loved to dig into yet another character.

  43. The unicycle/testosterone article is a spoof; the BMJ does a fake issue in December every year. Sadly, none of the “science” writers at many of the biggest news outlets seem to be competent at their jobs, and reported it as real.

    I love the Canadian joke, but who says Canadians don’t have a sense of humor? I was just discussing with a Canadian friend of mine this week why it is that so many more good comedians are Canadian than USAan. He thought that it was possibly that they’re much more self-assured than we are (as a broad stereotype)

  44. **delurk**
    Since I’m new here (linked over from Cecily Kellogg’s blog), I had to read all the links…

    Your story of dealing with the strange man approach outside the club reminded me of when I was very young and sheltered and new to the big city of Memphis. I completely didn’t get that I wasn’t supposed to smile and be grateful when strange men hollered at me on downtown streets. Not to mention I was very afraid of coming off like a racist white bitch if I were to ignore a non-white man. Argggh. (I had to be schooled by a wise old man I knew: “They don’t know you. Don’t even look at a motherfucker unless he says ‘hey, Chiara'”)

    Anyway, it was much later that I became a Miss Manners fan (yay, Linda!) and she has a great article on this situation that I wish I could find a link to. It boils down to: Etiquette absolutely does NOT require a woman to respond to overtures from a man she is not acquainted with. We’ve somehow internalized the idea that it’s so very rude not to at least talk to him (and a lot of men certainly have), but that has actually never been the case.

    Sorry to be off the main topic. Also, you are awesome. And funny.

  45. Pingback: PC. :: Xtinian Thoughts

  46. Great post!

    So, why do these misogynist jokers completely lose their sense of humor, if you turn the tables on them?

    “- Why do only 10% of men make it to heaven?

    – Because if they all went, it would be Hell.”

    Can’t you take a joke, guys?

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