"Why We Need More Jokes in our Lives" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Al Gini
6:20PM Sep 29, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russel Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode, we're asking el Genie why we need more jokes in our lives. I usually tell people that my favorite part of teaching is watching students engage in the process of discovery, seeing them encounter a new idea, get excited about the possibilities and experience all. But this is only half true. I really do love watching students discover. But my real favorite thing, my absolute favorite is making the whole class laugh. I can think of few feelings that replicate the rush and fulfillment of getting everyone in the room to burst out in a huge ghafar. It creates a collective experience that transcends individuality, and for a brief moment makes porous the necessary boundary between teacher and student. There is if I'm being honest, a fundamental difference between the experience of student discovery and student laughter. The former is about them. It involves taking pleasure in the emotional connection to intellectual growth. Discovery is their reward for a job well done, and my enjoyment comes from empathizing with them. But the latter, the satisfaction I get from making students laugh isn't about them at all. It's about me, it's a rush to the ego and my reward for a job well done. They're empathizing with me, not the other way around. The students won't laugh if we don't have a good rapport if they're frightened by the subject or frustrated with the material or if they distrust or resent me. Ironically, getting students to laugh is much more about being the teacher than it is about being a good comedian. But there's a tension underneath my being funny in front of the classroom. My job is to teach, it's not to entertain. Lots of students complain, the classes are boring, that they want their teachers to be more fun, and that instructors should work harder at keeping their attention. These demands are reasonable, up to a point, I do have a responsibility not to drone on and on and I can't expect them to be enthusiastic if I'm not, but entertaining them make students passive, not active participants in the classroom. It makes me not the course content, the objects of attention, and it's the course content that they should be focusing on. The best jokes in class, the loudest laughter always comes from riffing off of the material we're discussing, not some needy attempt to have all eyes on me. The best classroom jokes shout it not me. I cannot teach without humor. It's an essential part of my personality. But more important, I'm convinced that few people if any can learn without it. Sure, sullen and hostile classes can memorize and regurgitate. But to truly understand anything to honestly internalize and comprehend any material, students must open their souls, whatever soul means. Plato recognized that intellect existed within the soul. But he thought that arrows desire was the inspiration for soulful learning. I think he was wrong. good humor comes before intellectual desire because being open to laughter requires being accepting of the unexpected. it necessitates lowering one's defenses and forgiving oneself for not knowing or for being wrong. The primacy of human runs counter to how most people think about jokes in school jokes are silly, they might say, or school is serious. Humor is luxury. We've all been told at one point, but school well. at best. It's a conversation with all those who came before us. and at worst, it's a necessary evil. But this way of looking at things disregards the place of humor in the human experience, the ways in which it provides insights and relief connections and meaning, justification for and subversion of current cultural political norms. The best comedians, the most enduring satire, the most effective ridicule is sophisticated, dependent on immeasurable amounts of background knowledge, and it's profoundly dangerous. On today's episode, we're going to give humor the credit it deserves. We're going to take a philosophical look at jokes, and attempt to understand them to ask what makes them funny which ones are inappropriate, and why we need them in the first place. I hope to make you laugh during the process, as I always do, and I know my guests will try as well. But more than that, I hope to illustrate that we have all given way too little attention to one of the best and most important abilities that human beings have to laugh at the world around us and to take pleasure in the absurdity that we all inevitably muddle through as we try to find meaning in our own lives and the lives of those around us. And now our guest l genie is a professor of business ethics at Loyola University. He spent 27 years as resident philosopher on Chicago Public Radio's web Eazy E can still be heard on w gn Tribune radio. He's the author of numerous books including most recently the importance of being funny why we need more jokes in our lives. Al, thanks for joining us on why?
Well, it's really a pleasure to be here and after your introduction. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all week. That was just a wonderful analysis.
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And of course, a lot of it was inspired by you. And I know our listeners are going to want to participate. We have pre recorded the show. So we won't be taking any questions. But those of you who are listening want to send in comments, tweet us at why radio show post a comment on facebook.com slash why radio show or visit our chat room at why Radio show.org. So owl, one of the things that people are going to discover is that they probably already know is that talking about jokes is not as funny as telling or hearing jokes. What is it about analyzing jokes that takes away their humor?
Well, I think this goes really back a long time you're already quote, quoted Plato, Plato said, even the gods need a joke on occasion. But Aristotle pointed out at one point that there are three things we should do alone, he admitted a fourth, our toilets, our laundry and our lovemaking. And perhaps our joke creation should be done in privacy as well. jokes are public phenomena, but like making sausage, it's kind of a messy business doing it and not all that glamorous, but the real joy in it is the final product rather than anything else. Eb white and more modern scholars said, analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies from it, you know, and I think that lots of things in life, including cooking, you know, you know, the work is a great deal of drudgery. The real product is the punch line that you know, the the food itself, the moment itself. And so I think people forget, comics work hard. You know, Seinfeld has a new thing out on Netflix right now. Jerry, before he was Jerry, any show any shows has tons and tons of paper, writing jokes every day, day after day, cutting jokes, editing jokes, and jokes, our work to get that punch line, you know, it's like a logical equation. Do I have a first premise or have a second premise and connect from that draw that third premise that that punch line? nothing mysterious about it. There's a setup, a pause and a conclusion. But getting there is a lot of work.
Is is taking that step back from creation the joke, asking what jokes are? What makes them funny? Is it is is the philosophy even less funny? And I guess part of what I'm asking is, have you ever read any funny philosophy of philosophers aren't funny people, right? We take ourselves very seriously, right?
No, they're not funny people. I like to think that the, the the one chapter have there about humor in the classroom, taken from former philosophy majors rather than philosophy professors, you know, Plato and a platypus walked into a bar that famous book of a while ago. But I think the problem here is the same thing with aesthetics. When's the last time you read a really interesting, beautiful book on aesthetics? Or When's the last time you read a book on lit crit that said, Wow, I want to go out and read that book. You know, I think the analysis kills the patient. And I think jokes are too closely scrutinized, fall apart, because jokes are for a moment, the suspension of disbelief, right? The suspension, to be caught in a moment to see the internal logic without worrying about is this exactly true, and on and on and on. And so I think that, in reality, it's like, if you'll allow this grace, and now, it's a real difference between watching pornography and making love. And I think there's a real difference in the creation of jokes and joke Telly.
Is it just just a joke require us to be I don't know irrational? Do we have to turn off? Is it pre pre cognitive is where the philosophers use is it pre reflection? Is it just instinctual is the laugh, either it happens or doesn't
know I think actually jokes resonate with our reason, but show the absurdity in in the logical construct of the joke. Just like a simple one. Here's a simple Jerry Seinfeld joke, right? That is not totally rational, but it makes total sense. But it's also irrational because it turns out, Jerry Seinfeld said a long time ago, you know, I never knew my voice had a tone until I got married. Right? And so it's totally rational. It's not irrational in the joke. Now there are some jokes that are irrational, but they but because they are you know, the based on the based on income, annuity and cruelty. If you'll allow me this semi naughty joke. I live in Chicago, the Cubs just won the World Series or last year won the World Series. So the joke that came out of that that I've got a treasure forever is what do you do with an elephant who has a who has three balls? And the answer is walk them and pitch to the rhino. That's an illogical joke. That's pushing And extreme, but it still makes sense when you step back and look at it.
So, so I'm having a weird split experience because some of the jokes that you're telling I've read in your book, and I laughed when i when i read them, and I'll probably laugh less now, but then there are other jokes that I tell over and over again, and I laugh every single time every single time.
Because there are classics. What's your favorite food? What's your favorite movie? Who's your favorite singer? We all have our favorites. And in the end of the book, and I won't do that right now, because they're way too long. I give my two favorite jokes, my two absolute universal favorite jokes. And I lie there in the book, there's actually my other favorite joke. And every time I hear it, every time we even think of it, I begin to chortle. So I do think that there are jokes that remind us that they were funny and remind us of the pleasure we had when we first heard them. And as soon as somebody says, Hey, did you hear the one about you know it and you begin to laugh?
Is the nature of laughing different when you're telling the joke than when you're hearing the joke? Because I think that so so one of my favorite jokes and my best friend's favorite joke is Why does a chicken coop have two doors? Because of work? I give Why does the chicken coop half because if it had four doors, it'd be a chicken sedan. I love that joke. But if someone
that's wonderful. It's it's clean. You surprise me? You know, it's a shaggy chicken story. It's a great joke. It's perfect.
It's some. If someone were to tell it to me, though, now, I wouldn't laugh as much as me telling it to someone else. So what's happening there? What's because it's not unexpected to me? am I laughing at the past pleasure? am I sharing the pleasure that people are that you just got from left? Cuz I feel great. Yeah, you just laugh really hard. And I feel great.
Yeah, I feel great, too. But you know, if you come to my office three times a week for the next four years, I should be able to help you with that. But a quick answer would be that you've forgotten that there is pleasure and delight in the telling as well as the told that the person who hears the joke there is comics get up there. Jerry Seinfeld recently said this, and I'm not a totally Jerry Seinfeld fan. I've just seen a couple interviews by him recently. And it's sure kind of kicked off some ideas I've had. He said, I did this, because I love doing it. Because there was a rush for me. And do you talk to any comic right now? And he was talking about a comic that's no longer persona grata right now Louie ck, and his hardest problem is going to be that he's not performing. Because there is joy in the telling. I walk into, can I can I tell you the story why the book Absolutely. answers it. This book comes out because of my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Joe into the week before he died. Every time he saw me. In the end, he grabbed me for them. braccio The kiss the embrace just before he kissed me on the cheek, he said, Alfredo. Did you hear the one about and he told me a joke. And rarely, if ever did he repeat that joke. And somewhere in my teenage years when I rebelled against that sandwich, I'll kick that off. I know this is all in Italian, by the way loses something in translation. What are you doing right now? Why? Why are you telling me jokes? This is silly. He looked at me says Alfredo pushed away says if I didn't love you, why would I want to make you laugh? Why would I want to share joy with you? laughter is a gift joke telling is a joy. Share that joy with others and they'll be your friends. If nothing else, they'll put up with you for a while. And to the day to the week before he died. He did that. And I try to do that with my children and my grandchildren. Even if they're the corniest jokes in the world, grandpa's can hi Grandpa, tell me a joke. You know what? It's a bond between us that I never want to lose.
But there are right other aspects of jokes and you talk about them. I'm thinking in terms of defensiveness, someone I know. A guy in His 70s His father committed suicide when he was 13. And obviously, this is very traumatic, and he had never visited, he didn't visit his father's grave until he was about 45 or 50. And the first time he did he walked up to the tombstone found the tombstone and said, No, dad don't get up. Now, that's, that's not that's not for the deceased, you know, a pleasure over his own personal release. So what what's that about? If that's not about that, that bond? What's happening there?
You know, what's happening there is, you know, the Freudian analysis of the relief theory, right? God, let's not talk about the three philosophical theories of humor. It'll bore the devil out of both of us will fall asleep doing it. But you know, but Freud talked about that notion of that relief, it breaks the tension and the joke he actually used is a nobleman has been executed on a given morning on a Monday morning and as he's walking up the gallows. He looks to the crowd says, Well, this is a bad way to begin the week, but a boom bada boom, okay? His argument was that's we laugh at it because it's not happening to me. It's you know it's whatever the old films that before you know the tower burning tower Inferno all those horror films why we like them is because they weren't happening to us. I think we laugh it when we need to create jokes and effort jokes because it gives us distance it frees us it lets us go. Your friend made peace with his father by saying that he needed to say that he couldn't say that straight. Dad. I wish you hadn't done that my life has been terrible, but I forgive you. I understand the joke. Please don't get up. did the same thing.
Why then, are comedians so often really unhappy people? Right, you cite Paul yachi in the book, but you also mentioned Louis C. k. Lots of comedians have have committed suicide? Yeah. I, my wife knew a fair amount of professional comedians when she was in grad school. Many of them were struggling. What is it? Is it is it? Is it an attempt to make themselves happier is an attempt to get approval? And the question I'm going to ask afterwards. And so so I want you to think about this while I'm asked and this is is can you separate the Joker from the joke? Can Bill Cosby joke still be funny, for example, but before we get to that, is there something special about the comedic psychology? Because a lot of comedians seem really unhappy.
Yeah, yeah. And I've worked with a lot of comedians, and I know you won't believe it with my corny jokes. I've actually written for some comedians. And yes, there are a lot of them are trouble out there already jolly souls. But let me let me start off by saying, I think many comedians and Robin Williams perhaps personifies it, exactly. He said, My humor comes out of my pain. Because there's so much pain in me in the world, I need to laugh at it. Well, Nietzsche said it perhaps best and you know, so you're just in case your audience isn't aware of this. Nietzsche wasn't really that funny of a guy. I don't know if you've read much of them. But you know, not a lot. You wouldn't invite them to a cocktail party. But he said, we have art. In order not to die of the truth, insert humor, and the Word Art. We have humor in order not to die at the truth. I think that's why that motivates a lot of comics. Now, I want to make a real and the important distinction. I know that a lot of depressive comics show, Shelley Jackie Greene from years ago, when those comics were entertainers. And I think I make it clear in the book and I think you'll understand this. There's a real distinction that's happened. There's a sea change that happened over the last 50 years. stand up comedy was created in America. That is a comic getting up telling jokes without props without this without anything else without singing or dancing, etc, etc. that was created in America. And by the way, that would mean the Jerry Lewis probably isn't a stand up comic, although he is a comedian, okay. But standard comics started here. But these, but until about 25 years ago, comedy was done in a tuxedo. And it was you know, sheki green coming up there or Shelley Berman coming up there, or my favorite Jewish comedian right now is I'm blanking on it right now. Forgive me. I have terminal jetlag as I said to you, you know, he says the secret to happy marriage Simple, Simple. dinner and dancing twice a week. I go on Tuesday. She goes on Thursday. Sounds
like Hey, guys.
Think so much. You get an A in the class. See me next week for extra credit. But Henny Youngman was brilliant. He just did one after another with a violin in his hand. Right? They got up there and they told you they were in the business of telling jokes. They weren't out to hurt anybody Bob Hope you know his. Bob Hope's most snarly political humor was an Eisenhower doll. Yes, I got one for Christmas, you wind it up and walks in the corner and it does nothing. Nothing. You know, there was a depth of his humor. You know, probably half of your audience doesn't even know who Eisenhower is. But that's another story. But you know, President of the United States, but those guys tell jokes. And then and and here's the transformation, a guy called Georgia and what was his name? George Carlin.
He starts off telling jokes in Vegas in the tuxedo winds up as the hippie Dippy weatherman on the summer and the summer's weather show, excuse me, and then becomes this social political critic, this satirist who helped along with more saw create what we understand by social commentary and political satire, okay. These people began to reflect on life and their issues are angry Case in point Bill Maher. He's funny, but he's angry. He's insightful, but he's pissed off. He's never charming, but rather you like his angst, that cutting edge. That's different from Jon Stewart, who, with all of that, still maintain the kind of Gremlin esque aspect right at that desk, etc, etc. I think a lot of comics are working out their own pain. And, and a lot of comics realize that their pain is the pain of others as well. So I'm doing you a favor, right?
So is is is humor a kind of existential medication? Is it? Is it? Is it a way that we deal with try to make ourselves feel and be better?
Yes. Next question. Yes. And by the way, existential medication. Can't we label that right now? Can you get your producer right now to get out and get the trademark that right now, and we'll put anything in the bottle and sell it, I bet you we can make a fortune. But it is think about it. It is when I tell you a joke. I'm sharing some joy with you. Or I want to make you joyful, or I want to show you that I'm clever, or I want to break the tension, or I want to get through to you. I think it is an existential meditation. And you started off this interview with this wonderful analysis. I would take your class, but I'm too old. You know, I think that was one of analysis. Here's how I taught Heidegger.
So for our for our listeners Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, mid 20th century most famous book design inside being and time in which he Xena time.
So how do you teach being in time to reluctant 19 year olds, even though the philosophy majors, how do you even get the spell design enzyme, right? And so I couldn't get through and I couldn't get through. And I said, Well, alright, let's try this way. We here's the way to do it. I said, this woman who's been experiencing difficulties, goes through a family physician for kind of a checkup. And she's in there for a while and he kept giving her more and more tested. Miss Jones, I just want to follow up on this. And she's there for about four or five hours in funny inches. The roses, Miss Jones, I know you came in for a simple checkup. But I'm afraid I I've done some really serious tests here on I'm afraid that you've got a terrible terminal disease and there's no chance for survival whatsoever. There's no known cure. And I'm sorry to tell you, you have less than six months to live. And Miss Joseph, my God, is that possible? Yes. It's possible. There's nothing I could do doctors. Well, you can't do one thing. She said, What's that? I said run out this afternoon. And Mary is a CPA, tax accountant. She said, Well, that Curie doctor says Oh, no. But we're making the next six months seemed like an eternity. bumper to bumper, I'm working the rumali they got it. Time is fluid. Time is flexible. Time is malleable. Heidegger is talking about our use of time and being used by time and being caught in time. That joke opened the door.
Does it? Make them take Heidegger less Seriously? Or does it add to his gravitas?
No, I think I you know, can I quote a theologian uh, you can do whatever you want. It was Thank you very much. I'd like a burger fries and a malt.
okay. It'll be delivered after the show's over.
Thank you very much. Um, he said that. They were said that in the face of the unknowable, the impenetrable. And the unacceptable. Humor is another form of wisdom. And I think that I've really thought deeply about this. I'm trying to be serious. Now. Humor is not a cure for life. But it is a wonderful coping mechanism that's lets us step from one existential crisis to another without being defeated by it. And the proof of that is Auschwitz. Vic, when I've been asked, I'm sure I'm sure professors have excuse me, students, because you're on the radio, because I've been, you know, kind of a public intellectual myself and been on radio for years now. And as a resident philosopher, and NPR, they'll say, well, what's your what's the most important philosophy book you've ever read? And for years, I didn't know how to answer that. So I would say, well, let's start off with Socrates. And then we'll move to Plato and Plato and Socrates. Then we'll move to Aristotle. And then of course, we'll go to the airways to translation and then we'll move to St. Thomas and that and you see their eyes glaze over and they just walk away, right, somewhere along the line to realize the most important book I've ever read. As Victor Frankel's Man's Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl, PhD in psychology and philosophy, survived four years of Auschwitz, and the death camps while most of his family was exterminated, and he talked about the need for humor to get through the day. The need not to sit around and tell jokes to each other, you know, did you hear the one about but rather to find any moment of humor possible to just have a moment of enlightenment, you know, Joy to continue on. The one simulator simple is friend was knocked down by a guard by when the capos just beaten mercilessly in the guard looked down and says fine, and the prisoner looked up says cone, nice to meet you. That's not a funny joke to anyone except those there. That was an act of rebellion.
You know, I want to talk after the break more about this rebellion. But that also reminds me of a joke that holds the line. So and again, it's it's a holocaust related joke, which I'm going to revisit after the break, which is, a man is a Jewish man is walking down the street in Vienna. And he comes upon Hitler, who knocks him on the head and sees a pile of dog feces on the ground. And he says, do eat that. And he makes the juice, scoop it up and eat it and then walks away laughing. The Jew goes home to his wife and says, honey, you'll never guess who I had lunch with today.
I'm sorry. See, that's that's laughter in the face of horror, right that that joke is his persona non grata any other place, and we don't have the right to even use them except in this intellectual conversation. It's not our right to use that joke. But that joke helps sustain somebody through agony, Misery, and evil. That's incomprehensible.
And I want to pick up that thread exactly with another joke. And with the the tertiary questions about ethnicity, and about forbidden jokes and about political correctness, and all that when we get back but for now, you're listening to LGD and jack Russell Weinstein, and why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussion that everyday life I'm your host, jack Russell, once you know, I'm talking with Al Jeanie about jokes, and the importance of being funny and asking the why we need more jokes in our lives. And before the break, we start talking about a fairly heavy topic and the use of humor in the Holocaust. And I told one joke, and actually, I'm going to tell another joke that's related that I had been planning on telling as an example of analysis, and it's as follows. So world war two and two Jews come across a map of Hitler's parade and they decide that they're going to assassinate him. So they climb up on the roof. And they set their watches and at 12 noon, he is going to march by and they've got their sniper rifles. So they wait, they're all set. 12 comes by no Hitler. 1215 comes by no Hitler. 1230 comes by no Hitler, one of the Jews turns to the other and says, gosh, I hope nothing happened to him. Now, that joke, yeah, yes, is laden with stuff. But But one of the things that that allows me to save that now is my listers. No, my long term list is no, of course, that I'm Jewish. And that gives me permission. Right. I guess one of the questions I want to ask is, is this a rational way of dealing with jokes and only certain people can tell certain jokes to certain other people? Is that too limiting? Or is that just how they work?
Well, you know, the answer that is here's the professorial, deeply thought out, analysis that has taken me about 18 years to get through to, after perhaps consuming 400 books, sometimes, or yes or no. And here is the point, you've got. The three rules of real estate are jack, please, the three rules of real estate, location, location, location, and the three rules of comedy our audience, audience audience, and I think the teller the tail and the told, and the timing of the joke are really, really critical. I think you need permission to tell certain kinds of jokes. I think certain kinds of jokes have a certain gravitas like the the death camp jokes, have a certain grammar test that you really can't tell them they're not funny except inside of that. And also the double ironic ones are not funny I once was, I was having dinner with a friend and are in my grandfather had passed away and I and a niece and my friend said to me was that your grandfather, veteran World War Two, he says, Yeah, he was he says, Well, my grandfather died in World War Two as well. I said, Really? Where he says he died in Auschwitz? I said that well, that's horrible. Because Yeah, he got drunk and fell out of the tower and broke his neck. That joke is, is in one sense, anathema asked, in another sense, it's a way to spit in the face of evil. Right? So I think you have to have permission. Now. I am partially Jewish. I am Italian, Jewish, I've got guilt coming and going. But I have to announce that when I do my, you know, when I do certain Jewish jokes, because I want to use the accent, you know, you know, what's the difference between, um, or how many Jewish mothers did it take to, you know, screw in a light bulb? And the answer is no, that's all right. I'll just sit here in the dark alone. Don't worry about me. Right? It isn't funny unless I do a little stick there. Right. So I do think there's what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. Everybody knows right now in this world. No comment tells a dumb blonde joke everywhere, anywhere. Never. Okay. Even if the blonde says Tell me those. I love those. No, there's probably somebody out there that does want to do it. I think the the era of the confrontational comic, and he just died and I'm blanking on his name, Don Rickles that insulting you know, kind of confrontational thing. Yet he himself was a charmer. That's how he got away with it. He himself was this gentle beast in this gentle creature, who Bob Newhart loves and adores and who he himself Bob Newhart? Is this, this calm, gentle, loving creature. He got away with it, because his public persona, that persona doesn't work anymore. You can't do that. You know, you don't. There are certain jokes that are anathema s. But there are ethnic jokes. That really, really, and here's my argument about I think jokes that are really stories about all ethnicities, right? That are really stories about all of us all the time about the mother experience or stories about mothers. My favorite Jewish mother joke isn't Italian mother joke as well. You know, the one about the the son, again, let me use a little accent here. Son calls his mother in Florida says mom, Hawaii says, oh, I've been sick. The mother says, Mom won't even take terribly sick I haven't eaten in 28 days. Mommy haven't eaten 28 days. Why says I just couldn't? Mom, why haven't you eaten in 28 days, the mother finally says because in the chance, you should finally call it at my mouth full of food boots, right? Those are really stories about moms. Right. And in some sense, you could put an Italian accent on that. But I do think there are jokes that are just, you have to have permission to tell them. I would argue, however, that an anti Semite joke, a racially vicious joke, when told by an avowedly racially vicious person, to a racially vicious audience should not be taught.
And that you you point this out in the book and you make an observation that I thought was very compelling, which is that those kind of jokes are actually a form of hate speech. And then we have to think of them as hate speech rather than jokes. Talk a little bit about that, because I thought that was a really useful filter for understanding the problem here.
Well, I do I do think that's even, you know, misogynistic jokes are really, in some sense, anti women, and we have to be very careful about them. Now, we were just talking about the Jewish tradition. There's a whole series of you know, Jewish American princess jokes. Well, their initial, you know, because I really looked at this their initial origin, the real purpose was for a man to say, I make enough money to spoil my wife and my daughters. And my daughters and wives are special because I give them all this stuff. They're bragging. But that's not the way it comes off all the time, does it? And so I think we have to be very, very careful about jokes, because when we make jokes, even when they're funny, and here's the point, they can be funny. They really, really can be a vicious ugly joke can be funny. It doesn't mean we should laugh at them. It doesn't mean we should do it because it perpetuates stereotypes, and perpetuate certain kind of kind of hatred. Now there are ethnic jokes that are so sweet. Let me offer you one that I recently heard that I realize it's an ethnic joke but it hurts no one and it ended religious shows up our similarities and differences. A couples walking in New York City and they see Lu Seinfeld's authentic Chinese restaurant. This is not possible Lou Seinfeld, authentic Chinese restaurants are possible. Let's Let's go in. I'm curious. So they go in and there's a little man and a perfect little Chinese outfit standing there. I said it this last time felt authentic Chinese restaurants. Yes. The man says is he actually here says Yes, that's me. says you're Lu Steinfeld. He says yes, he says, Well, that's it makes sense. Once a long story, he says When I came into Ellis Island, we're all in mind or taking our names. The guy in front of me said, the guy in front of me was asked, What's your name? He says Lou Seinfeld. And when he came to me and asked me mine, I said, Sam ting Hello, hello.
The philosophy here is processing and laughing. And of course, one of my reactions was, can I laugh at that joke?
Yes, that's okay. Because we're talking about the wonderful differences between us. That's not negative. That's, that shows that we are both same and different. No, that's what I love. That's why I love the fact of, you know, what's the difference between an Italian mother and a pet Bulldog of SoonerLater. The Bulldog, let's go. Come on. That joke is every mother's joke. There are jokes that are edgy, but not insulting or hate. There are jokes that are hateful. And there is one glaring exception, which I pointed out in the book. And I don't know how he gets away with it, but redneck jokes. You know, you know, if you're a redneck, if you go to family picnics to pick up girls, how do they get? How does he get away with that? Well, because no one thinks they're a redneck, or being a redneck is a badge of honor. And so they don't mind it. But I do think when we give nasty Irish jokes, nasty, you know, the course the English tells jokes about the French, French, tell jokes about, you know, the Spanish and so on and so forth. And we tell the really nasty ones. We're really denigrating the the people were talking about. And that, to me is hate speech.
You know, it's interesting, because there's a joke going through my head, which now I feel obligated to tell, which sounds like it's going to be one of those, but and a denigrating joke, but ends up being really, in my opinion, a wonderful, a wonderful, thoughtful joke, which is, and I have to, I have to clean up the language from the way I told it. But two firefighters, a fire chief walks in to the to the main room and the fire station and finds two firefighters having anal sex, to guys. And he's shocked. He says, What are you doing? You're on duty, I can't believe this. And one of the staff and one of them says, you know, look, I have to explain what happened. I walked in, and john was choking, and he was turning blue. And so I, you know, got the food out of his mouth. But he's still he couldn't breathe. And so the fire chief says, Well, why didn't you give a mouth to mouth resuscitation? And the guy says, I did. How do you think this started? And I love that joke. Two reasons. First, I know, because someone told it to me in a synagogue on Yom Kippur War, but but also,
because, because he's because he was meditating on the eternal truth. Yes, right.
Right. Well, it was actually a she, and and, and, and my friend joy in California. And she's a listener. So hi, joy, but also because what it reminds us is that it's love, right? It sounds like it's going to be an abusive joke insulting. People who engage in homosexual acts, but what it actually is a reminder that love is love, and it's beautiful. And it's fun, and you start kissing someone and what happens next, it doesn't matter, right?
I'm not sure it's beautiful at this point, especially in the station right there. I'm an old fashioned guy, you know, lovely room, comfortable bed, cocktails, etc, etc. But right. And the point is, no one's really hurt there. You're not denigrating them. But when you start to denigrate in the example that the Amy Schumer joke A while ago, but I was gonna bring this up. It's now four years old. By the way, I've seen him sure twice in the last two years. And I think she's a brilliant writer. I thought her first one was brilliant. And she's way too young. And having that much as i i've seen her over the years when she was still 2223. Her delivery, her Coachella sness is was adorable. Her timing was impeccable. She has a lot, a lot of talent. But I'm telling you the truth, I'm never going to see her live again until she changes react because I know more about her body and the exterior and interior than I ever, ever, ever want to know. Even if I was her lover. She's become totally sexploitation. Her argument is men do it. Why can't women do it? My argument is I don't go see those men. I don't want to go see you. But she knows how to tell a joke. She's part of that generation. And she said that that was a quick one liner. She said, you know, I've given up dating Hispanic men, comma, because I'm not in because I'm into consensual sex. And that brought down the house. Now I would argue that the only person that could tell that joke is an Hispanic woman to an Hispanic audience, and I'm not even sure then. But that belongs to them not to ensure that her argument is I'm breaking. I'm breaking. I'm being iconoclast. I'm breaking the rules to show us how stupid they are. I get it. comics are supposed to be the canary in the coal mine. I get it. But you know, good taste still applies. Good. I mean time still applies. Audience still applies. And so I think she crossed the line on that one. And that seems to be rather trivial considering some of the other jokes that are going around.
What What do you say to someone who listens to the the ethnic jokes that goes across line? And they say, too much? Just a joke?
Yeah, you know, that's the passport that's supposed to allow us to enter any land and say anything we want? No. Here's the simple rule. Do you tell your mother a lot of oral sex jokes? I don't. It's just inappropriate. It's it. The joke may be funny, but not going to tell it to her. I mean, there's a certain privacy, I don't think you can say anything you want, anytime you want. We are both professors. I'll bet not only have we told jokes in the classroom, and by the way, that's I think, our comfortableness between us right now is predicated on some of your opening comments because I to use humor in the classroom. And I know I got them, if they laugh at the punch line that I've been working towards, right. That is I'm not there to be a humorous, but I see a moment of humor in what we're talking about, and bring that out. And if they get it, that means they got everything else before it. That is we're entertaining them right. There were in order to train them to educate them, we got to get in. And sometimes the joke is the vehicle for getting in, just like the woman going to the doctor's office and saying you have six months to live. But I think that Jessica Oh, this is really funny. Oh, it's it's only a joke. Oh, no, no, no, no, it's not only a joke. It's called good taste. We can have a larger philosophical debate about this. But I think it's also called good taste, and civilized behavior.
So this, this makes me want to return to a question that I asked earlier that we didn't get to. What you seem to be suggesting is a you can't separate the audience from the joke, but but you also can't separate the joke teller from the joke. And so so so where does that leave? Louie ck Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby has this wonderful routine that which was very popular of people of my age group where he's talking about making his kids chocolate cake for breakfast because it has eggs and milk and flour and all the things that are that are wonderful for breakfast. And I probably cited it once a month. And now if I am absolutely compelled to, I'll say, you know, if I were allowed to tell this joke, I would bring up the the Bill Cosby chocolate cake thing, and then everybody sort of laughs But I'm not allowed to feel fine. Bill Cosby funny anymore. Well,
Lucy Kay probably has crossed over that line as well. And I thought until these recent revelations that he was simply, if not the King of Comedy, the prince of the prince, that is that he studied under Seinfeld. He wrote for Seinfeld. He opened for Seinfeld. And I think he surpassed Seinfeld with a younger generation. Jerry Seinfeld is 62 or 63. And he's a little gamey for the younger for the 30 year olds right now for the 25 year olds right now. Right? The Louis C. k was right there cutting edge, even though he's, I think 48, etc, etc. I think we need a little time here. You're right. Bill Cosby, in some sense, was doing with Myron Cohen was doing he got up and he tells stories, ethnic stories about the neighborhood, right. I love Bill Cosby stories about his father, you know, coming into the room saying to him his brother, you keep this up? I'll take you out. I brought you in, I take you out. Right. I mean, and Bill Cosby shows, we're not about black families. They were about families who were integrated. I mean, the show that I loved the most was when he was the doctor. And the wife was the lawyer. And the grandparents came over and they all liked each other. Huh? Where's that family? And they all are beautifully dressed. I mean, in some sense, Bill Cosby was more than a blackmail. He was a model, you know, sir. And I think we need time to use his jokes again. I think the teller and the tail become really close as a close fit. And when the teller is persona non grata, so is the joke for a while. And that's unfortunate, but it is true.
Is this an example of the theory? comedy is tragedy plus time? Do you think that there's truth to that? I,
I'm gonna go back on that. Can I do that? I'm gonna show that the greatest Jewish philosopher that I know, and I'm sure you're gonna agree with me? No, wouldn't that be me? Let's see, oh, no, you're right there. You're right there. Let's talk OFF AIR about when we can put our act together. Right. But Mel Brooks says, jokes are a defense against the universe. The Life is so hard that God had of every 10 Jews, he had to create one to be a comic. Otherwise, the limitations would be awful, and he couldn't stand it right at the fence against the universe. And so I think that that's really, really, really key to understand that we tell jokes to make Life less bitter and a little better. Again, going back to Nietzsche, we have humor in order not to die of the truth. And so I want to say that humor is more than foolish fun. So your question again, say it again to me. Humor allows us is a mechanism by which we cope better with life when we the things we don't understand. Think about the jokes we make marriage, sex relationships. These are ways of making fun of these things, these imponderables these unavoidable in our life. But I lost your initial question. Forgive me, please re ask. I may have as
I was asking about the connection between the jokes. But I want to I want to be while I try to remember exactly what I asked you. I want to push this idea a second because you talked about audience being Central and you talk about context. Aren't those people going back to this notion that there are just inherently unethical jokes? Yeah. If the joke is dependent on context, if the joke is dependent on on audience, and Teller, if jokes are so narrowly funny, doesn't that mean ultimately that they're not funny at all? And what I mean by that is, if, if you have to be a Hispanic woman telling that joke about Hispanic men, or if you have to be a redneck, talking to other rednecks, or you have to be a Jew talking to other Jews, does it separate inside or outside or you in a way that is ultimately unethical because it divides human beings and it says, Look, these people aren't going to find it offensive. So that's fine. And if everyone else finds it offensive, as long as they're not around, that's
okay. I think you're asking an epistemological question that can't totally be answered. And if we could, our audience would die of boredom along the way. But, and that was supposed to be funny, but no response. And But anyway, I do think that we have to remember, linguistically and logically, a joke can be funny, but still an SMS. That's the real point here. It's not that it's not funny. It's should it be told, is it appropriate? Is it Forgive me to use this word, I use it in the largest, most universe kind? Is it edifying? And I don't trying to say that terrible jokes, misogynistic jokes, pro Nazi jokes. Think of think of the worst jokes aren't funny. The real question is ethically should they be told is, although I believe we have a comedic imperative to tell jokes to each other, that is to be in jokes being kindness. If that's true, should we tell an unkind joke? Is that acceptable? And I think that I think the slippery slope is we're in such a politically correct age now that everybody is offended by something. And I give this example in the book, I think it's a brilliant example. I wish I had created the joke. I didn't. It's about two guys in the Empire State Building, having a couple drinks, and they're getting pretty slashed. And the one guy looks at the other guy says, you know, Empire State Building right now, but you know, if you open that window over there, there's a there's a current, and it's backdraft. It's amazing. You jump out, and it just sweeps you around the whole empire state building and deposit right in this room. guy looks. Come on, you got to be joking. No, I'm not. I bet you hundred dollars is okay, you got it. I put it out. Okay, guy gets up, opens a window jumps out. 330 seconds later, he's back. He's back in the, in the in the bar, closes the window, and sits on the bar. He says how about that I'll take 100 bucks is less great. I'm gonna try to the drunk gets up, goes to the window opens the window jumps out and falls 99 floors to his death. Like the the guy gets up from the bar goes over close the window comes back to the bar. And the bartender looks at him and says, you know, Superman, you're a real jerk when you have too much to drink. Now, why would that be offensive to anybody? Superman's not real, right? Everybody knows you can't jump out of a building and fire around, etc, etc. But, you know, alcohols anonymous, people said, You're not being sensitive to the problems of alcohol. You're belittling this, you're not being that you could offend. Everyone's got an axe to be gored. Okay. And I think that is thinking individuals have to decide what's a bridge too far and make an ethical choice.
So So, um, you know, you quote Jerry Seinfeld in your book saying that he doesn't like to do college campuses anymore, because everyone is so politically correct. It's no fun anymore. I really want
there's a whole series of comics, by the way.
And I really want to do a show on political correctness because I think it's interesting and I think the portrayal of it is problematic. Nevertheless, the question I have for you is is, you know, the argument from the students would presumably be, we have learned things ethically. We've learned things about ethics about people, and your jokes just don't fit that mold anymore. Your jokes, it turns out, are unethical. And the question I have for you is, do jokes lead the way in, in, in the ethical discovery? Or does the culturally the way and the jokes follow and let me explain what I mean by that because I think it's ambiguous. There are lots of humorous George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Amy Schumer claims to be one who think that their jokes will pull people along progressively to a better place. And then there are other people who say, No, you think you're doing this thing positive but you're really behind the times. And the words you use the jokes you use the ethnic humor you use. You're just not with it. And so the question I have is, what's in the foreground? what's what's the front line is humor the front line or is human human right reacting to the cultural front line,
I think I think serious satirise our social changes. And you're George Carlin is perfect point of that. He's Seven Deadly words right. Turn on cable TV. Seven Deadly words are used morning noon and night, right? He changed accessibility. He changed social standards, by the depth, the breath and the perceptibility. God did I use that word and radio? of his analysis of language? Am I wrong in that? Did he not shift everything over? More saw nobody remembers anymore. I was still I was 92 years old. By the way. still performing one night a week was never particularly funny, hahaha fall down. But he was insightful and humorous. And at one time called, you know, the the patriarch of new, the new political comedy by Time Magazine, I think in 1965, or something like that. I think that comics can be game changers. And people like Amy Schumer that Amy Schumer sees herself as a game changer. She sees herself as a sexually active vital woman making fun of sex and belittling her some of her sex partners, just the way a goddess a terrible example Andrew Dice Clay has done earlier on and other male comics. I don't particularly like Andrew Dice Clay. I do like his present show right now on Showtime, where he's making fun of himself. Now as an older man, I kind of like that, okay? He's satirizing himself. But I do think comics aren't always intentionally, the social changes and our societies, but wind up that way more often than not.
Can you? Can humor decide the change that it wants to make? I mean, you know, when we have when we have civil rights activists, when we have other forms of of progressiveness, the activists target one particular thing and move forward. Just does human work the same way where this joke is intended to liberate people about sex about female sexuality, or is it like literature like television in the sense that, yes, it may move forward, but not in the way that you predict it's all unintended consequences?
Well, I'm not sure the full range of that question, but here's the part I get. Does humor, generate more humor, and more analysis? Because of the humor that are generated, and the answer is yes, turn on nightly TV. All the five major shows at night? What's the topic of the shows? Donald Trump political satire? I think humor generates social acceptance of terms and concepts. And I think I think comedy like sports, like building automobiles is a copycat industry. When comic a starts doing jokes on x, and that's funny, comic y will play off that and comic R will try that. And there are better lesser participants in the game. But clearly, Steven Carberry has gone from being a stinker, following up Letterman, to number one on TV, because he changed his format and change the topic. Trump, as as Richard Lewis Black has said, it's not fun, being a comic and not funny being comic anymore. Not fun being a comic because I don't have to write anything. I just have to read the paper. And I think that comedians have embraced Trump. And to be fair, let me just say this very quickly. I'm not talking about Trump, and it's politics. I don't want to touch But like him or love him or hate him, he's certainly a magnet for satirical commentary. And they've jumped on that. And they've changed what we can say and what we do say about the president, right. Interestingly enough, Obama disarm the comics by joining in with them, showing up on their shows and laughing with them, and also less of a magnet for satirical commentary. Do you
think that that the comedians would have been able to push the Trump envelope as much if Trump himself hadn't changed during the campaign, what a presidential candidate could say, if that notorious tape came out of him talking about sexual assault, if if he hadn't pushed the envelope? Could the comics have done it? Or is it for lack of a better phrase, a symbiotic relationship?
I think it's a symbiotic relationship. But remember the earth Trump before he ran for the president was a TV person was on Saturday Night Live, made fun of himself, had a popular television show was kind of a comedic performer right in the real world, then Trump against everyone's expectation actually winds up winning, and then starts to say, I teach a course of leadership. I know I'm a philosopher, but I actually teach practical things. You'll forgive me for that one, too. I no longer teach. So I'm teaching leadership. And my critique and Trump when I get to the President's leadership is his gravitas, his sense of dignity, his sense of the office, his sense of appropriateness. That's what stirred everyone to go forward. I mean, yes, that tape was Ground Zero. But at, you know, but every day, look at what he says and look what's you know, if Donald Trump in the morning tweets Tweedledee and Tweedledum? What's the headline in the New York Times Tweedledee and Tweedledum? What does the President exactly mean by that? And that night, Stephen, Kobe is going to say Tweedledee, Tweedledum, I think he forgot the rest of the poem, bumper to bumper, okay. I think he has let himself be a target. He I think he did that initially on purpose.
Let me adjust this a little bit to ask. We've talked about jokes being funny, we've talked about the context, but then there's an attack that people use. On the flip side of all this, where they'll say, you don't have a sense of humor, feminists are often accused of not having sense of humor, vegans are often accused. A why is that such a brutal accusation? And be is, is it? Is it fair? I mean, it's not fair to say feminists are vegans because people aren't identical and everyone's different. But is it a fair to accuse someone of not having to see Yeah, if I could disassociate myself from
talking about feminists are vegans right now, so as not to be stoned in my own home later this evening. Um, I think the worst thing you could say of a person is, they never told the joke. They never got a joke. They never laughed. I'm worried about their character. Because I think laughter and humor are a need and a requirement, as you were suggesting, in lives that humor offers us, you know, pleasure offers us diversion offers us a philosophical coping mechanism. And a person who doesn't get humor at any level, is a person who is not a full human being. I think that humor is a virtue that we share with others. Now, I understand the buffoon the classic devilish of the phone is the one who never stops talking, never stops telling jokes can never be serious. I'm not talking about that. Talking about using humor as a means of communications and communicating and means of looking analyzing reality, as your friend said at his father's grave, right? Even that insight that gave him permission and forgiveness to be there for himself. Okay. I think when when you really meet and I've known three people in my life and one of them I won't even tell you how closely related I am to that person. I can't. I'm about to cry, never told joke. never laughed at me. Never thought I was funny or anything was funny and died. miserable. In mean. That's wrong. And I'm not gonna die that way.
You know, there is such a fine line between laughter and crying between the satire and our deepest emotions. You you quote, someone in the book, saying that nothing shows a person's character more than what he or she laughs Yeah. And, and, and you just talked about virtue or virtue is an attitude and sense human excellence. Yeah. And that and that there's something wrong. There's something painful about a person who can't let us
see ourselves right. virtue is a habit that we developed we require we hone because it is adds the excellent life. And the laugh means you're not living an excellent life. You know, the best thing in the world, smiling at a child, you know, the coolest thing in the world laughing at a child?
I guess then I want to close with one question. And that is, is telling a joke, an intimate act, you yourself have this emotional connection. I told the story, I told various stories of things that that are important to me. Is it our jokes? Are jokes inherently intimate? Do they reveal not only who we are, but who we can touch who we can connect to? Or are they just or is that just some jokes are and some jokes are just, you know, they're there. You can take them or leave them? Where's the role of intimacy and humor? I think it's double. I
think that there are some jokes that are by nature intimate Do you have to tell very quietly and softly a joke that you tell a lover about the naughty sexual nuance, and that you can tell to a popular, you know, to a larger group, the joke that my grandson's favorite joke right now and I use it in the book. I mean, he loved it for years and years. I said, Honey, did you see the story in the paper that's this rhinoceros step down on a grape? And he says, what happens about the grip just a little wine. But bump it up? You know, that, to me is a precious show because I laughed with him. I think jokes are intimate. Even when we tell in front of a crowd. When that sort of comic is up there. He's making love to that audience. You paid money to see me. That's that's intimate. Believe it or not, that's intimate. That's why hecklers are a real problem. To me a joke is a very, I will tell you a joke. If I don't like you. I don't want you to laugh. I want to make you laugh. My Uncle Joe is right. To me a joke. I started this talking about Baba Joe is a bonding principle. A way to say I like you. And a way to ask you to like me, Ted comb. Another do write that wonderful book on jokes, right? So jokes are really gifts. We give to each other, to see if we like each other. And when a person doesn't get a joke. The joke didn't fit, find them another one.
Or find another person how to find another person. Owl Genie. Ah, this is a wonderful moment to end because it really underscores the human connection behind jokes and shows how much depth and how much integrity there are jokes and of course, underscores the things that you were saying before, which is that jokes without integrity, deserve not to be told. Thank you so much for jumping on. This has been delightful.
Imagine a philosopher actually reading the book about that. But this has just been delightful. I've done dozens and dozens of interviews and this has been a Charmy Thank you so much.
Thank you. And thank you, audience. We'll be right back after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussions at everyday life. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. We're talking with Al Jeanie about jokes and why they are so important and why we need more of them in our lives. And in particular, I didn't bring this up. And in particular, we were talking about jokes, right? We weren't talking about puns, or quips there weren't a lot of one liners al is very interested in the joke, the story, the setup the punch line, as he discussed, and in the process, he said something that I think was really interesting and a game changer. We're talking about offensive jokes. And he said, they are funny. They just shouldn't be told. This is a different approach than most people use, right? Most people say, hey, you told that joke. It wasn't funny. And that's not an effective retort. Because it might be funny. And if you say it's not funny, and it is, you lose all credibility. There's no truth behind there. But if you say, yes, that's funny, but it's hate speech, or Yes, that's funny and it's inappropriate. Yes, that's funny and it's a weapon and you shouldn't tell it. Well, then that makes it about the people not the joke. It makes it about the relationship and the social use, not the joke. It makes it about the intimacy that jokes bring with them. It makes it about the social utility and the connectedness. Horrible jokes can be funny, they just shouldn't be told. The question is, how do we find the good jokes? How do we find the jokes that push morality forward? How do we find the jokes that enlighten us about our world? How do we find jokes that help us stare into the abyss, a phrase that I'll used in his book, these jokes have all the virtues of the terrible jokes. They're intimate, they're insightful, but they're also kind as he pointed out. Humor is a wonderful human gift. It is essential to the human experience. It is something like all things that we can think about intellectually, philosophically, we can analyze, we can ask why we can ask how we can ask when and where. And for my money, these questions, make the jokes better, not worse. Yes, analyzing jokes, isn't necessarily fun, or isn't necessarily funny. But now that we understand them more, maybe we value them more. And now that we've put them the jokes themselves into our lens, maybe now we can laugh even harder, because we know that they're substantive and that they too are virtuous. They are a form of human excellence. You've been listening to jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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