While filling my tank yesterday, I saw a woman leave the gas station’s attached convenience store carrying two enormous cups from the soda fountain. As she got closer she told the man at the pump next to mine that the drink he wanted wasn’t available, so she’d gotten him something else instead. Before he had a chance to reply, she slipped on something. She managed not to fall, but did instinctively raised her arms to maintain her balance, which caused her to squeeze one of the cups she was holding and sort of fling the other one a towards the man. He wasn’t hit by the refreshing airborne beverage, but a fair portion of the squashed soda did end up on her.
The man’s reaction was immediate and, in sociological and psychological terms, is referred to as “laughing one’s ass off.” Obviously unaware that the behavior he displayed is considered appropriate and expected, she became quite irate. In addition to telling him to shut-up and calling him an asshole, she also said more than once that the situation wasn’t funny. I wanted to tell her that it most certainly was, and that the tantrum she was throwing served only to increased the funny-factor. But since people lacking a sense of humor about themselves can be quite dangerous if provoked, I kept my mouth shut.
Aside from being terribly entertaining, the gas station incident got me thinking about what’s funny and what isn’t; and wondering whether there’s anything that’s indisputably not funny, never has been and never will be. Anything besides Jeff Dunham, that is.
Even as a longtime member of the Loyal Order of Lesbians (L.O.L., we had the acronym first, people … you’re welcome), I’m not above joking about lesbians and U-Hauls, lesbians and cats, lesbians and flannel, lesbians and LBD, lesbians and Birkenstocks, lesbians and scissors, lesbians and softball, lesbians and golf, lesbians and lipstick, etc. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to find every lesbian joke or observation funny. I mean, most of them I probably will, but certainly not all because some things just aren’t funny (see Jeff Dunham, above).
But I’m not alone in my double-standard. I think most people probably have certain unwritten rules regarding what they feel justified complaining about or poking fun at, but reserve the right to be offended when another person makes a similar observation. Like the time a friend was going on and on about the problems she was having with her kids — their entitlements, lack of gratitude, laziness, smart mouths and so on — and was wondering what she had done to make them suddenly start behaving that way. To which I replied, “You haven’t done anything wrong lately. Your kids have pretty much just always been assholes.”
Was I joking? Yes. Well, kind of. Her kids actually were assholes (and likely still are), but I was making a joke of it. Did she think it was funny? She absolutely did not. Not one bit. But when relating the tale to explain to Friend#2 why Friend#1 was mad at me, Friend#2 thought that it was.
So was my little comment funny or not? Which friend is correct?
Don’t strain your brain too hard trying to decide. That was a bit of a trick question, because it turns out that they’re both right.
Friend#1 might be high-strung with a tendency to over react (and by “tendency”, I mean a “chronic and incurable condition”), but being Queen of Mount Mole Hill doesn’t mean that her feelings weren’t valid. The warning about not getting between a mama bear and her cubs also applies to human moms. Make that mistake and she’ll tear your face off and eat it in front of you. The bears can also be aggressive.
Friend #2 was well-acquainted with Friend#1’s offspring, but not emotionally invested in them … and why would she be? They’re assholes. She can see the humor in the situation because she knows it’s true and she has no instinct to protect them.
This paradox, where a joke is found to be both funny and not funny at the same time, is fairly common and an example of quantum indeterminacy. But you’re probably more familiar with its common name, Schrödinger’s Joke.
Based on my exhaustive research, which includes, but is not limited to, assumptions based solely on my own experiences, things that sound right and are most likely true, and in-depth fact checking on Wikipedia (looking up how to spell Schrödinger), I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many things that aren’t funny (I believe I mentioned Jeff Dunham), but far fewer that shouldn’t be joked about.
Some might say that if something isn’t funny, it shouldn’t be joked about at all. But if I was limited to only making fun of things that are funny, I wouldn’t be able to mention Jeff Dunham for the fourth time. Others may say that if I don’t like him, I don’t have to listen to him or go to his shows, but that my jokes about Jeff Dunham and his inexplicable popularity, are mean and unnecessary. And to them, I’d just have to say, “Who’s joking?”