Paddy staggers home late one night having been out drinking with the lads. As he falls through the doorway, his wife angrily snaps at him, “What’s the big idea coming home half drunk again?” Paddy replies, “I’m sorry dear about being half drunk, but I ran out of money.”
Now I’m about one half Irish ethnically and proud of it. The above joke is a stereotype of the Irish man, seen as a drunkard. So am I offended by it? Well, I told it at a care home where Esther and I were doing songs and jokes for Saint Patrick’s day. So no, I’m not offended.
I’m also ethnically one half Scottish, as is Esther. And jokes about Scottish stereotypes--especially the stinginess-are very popular with that side of her family.
Ukrainian jokes were very popular a few decades ago and, again, were very often told, with relish, by Ukrainians.
Now if you think I’m saying stereotypical jokes about any and all ethnic, racial or religious groups is just fine, well no. There are things to consider.
My Irish ancestors came over in the 1800s, probably because of the famine in Ireland at that time. They likely wouldn’t have appreciated the stereotype they faced in North America, particularly in the United States. They were considered to be lazy, dishonest, drunken brawlers. It wasn’t funny. They were constantly attacked in the newspapers, insulted in the streets, and unable to easily find jobs because of the prejudice. NO IRISH NEED APPLY was a sign often found at places where help needed was advertised.
Having come from a land hard hit by famine and poverty, those Irish immigrants were poor and desperate. They didn’t need the treatment they were getting. That kind of hopelessness and those indignities were indeed among the reasons some did resort to drunkenness, street fighting and crime.
Well people learn, times change, people change. And after decades of coping with prejudice the Irish gradually earned their way out of it. By the mid 20th century they were leaders in politics, government, education, all professions and trades, entertainment and the arts. (Part of their stereotype, of course, was that they were musical, good at storytelling and humour, literature and drama.)
And having accomplished those things they could comfortably enjoy Irish jokes--even those with stereotypes.
Jews were another mistreated minority. Yet many of the top comedians in the U.S. have for decades been Jewish, and much of their material is making fun of their own stereotypes--the Jewish mothers’ anxious hopes for their daughters’ marriages for example.
But the Irish had, as did many other immigrants, a natural advantage: their skin is white. Thus it was always easy for them to mix with the general population without their ethnicity being known.
Not so for the Africans, the Orientals, the Arabs, even the native indigenous people. Their skin colours made them far more vulnerable to insults, attacks and prejudice. And that posed a powerful obstacle for them to improve their lot.
Still, at the present time, they struggle. And it is not a good time to confront them with humour based on their various stereotypes. It still hurts too much. I have found though, that North American Indians seem to have a natural sense of humour built into their culture. The Dead Dog Café series I found hilarious, as with many native stand-up comedians, and as with ordinary individuals I have spoken with. And yes, they do make use of native stereotypes in their jokes.
We should be able to enjoy a wide range of humour, which is, after all, based on human imperfections that we all share. But though we must avoid cruelty, there is a push from some quarters to be far too sensitive in that regard. The constant tendency to find, publicize and demand action against supposedly “hurtful” language has gone to idiotic heights.
Will the day come when we can’t polk fun at the Irishman’s love of booze? Or the Jewish mother scolding her son for not calling home enough? Or the Frenchman lover boy? The world will be a pretty dreary place if that happens.
By the way, did you hear the one about the Scottish landlord who…OK, Esther‘s giving me “the look“. But it’s really funny.