Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

January 6, 2011

The Death of the Ethnic Joke

Remember a time, in the 70's, when people told inappropriate but hilarious ethnic jokes?  And we laughed uproariously and without impunity?  Then turned around and retold them?  Why were we able to poke fun at our stereotypical ethnicities without getting our collective noses out of joint?  Stereotypes wouldn't exist if ethnic behaviours didn't exist to begin with.  Then they get exaggerated, like a caricature and thus become very amusing.

I don't take offense at those kids of jokes at all.  I think we've all gotten way too sensitive.  It's like, lighten up for crying out loud and get a sense of humour about yourself. 

My dad loved a good ethnic joke.  For example, his Irish friend would tell dad the joke but change the ethnicity to Portuguese, because my dad was Portuguese.  Or "Portagee" as it would be pronounced.  My dad would laugh and laugh, then turn around and tell it to my Uncle Dick, changing the ethnicity to Italian.  My Uncle Dick would tell it to my Uncle Yimmy Wilkowski, and change it to Polish.  And the circle of life moved on.  I wish I could remember the jokes, but only one ever stuck with me b/c it cracks me up, and so as to avoid offending anyone, I'll use "Italian" and poke fun at my own heritage:  Why are there only 2 pall bearers at an Italian funeral?  Because there are only 2 handles on a trash can.  *rim shot* Thank you.  Thank you very much.  I'll be here all week.

Uncle Yim was a great guy.  He was a very simple man, uneducated, sometimes profane, but he was funny as hell and he had a heart of gold.  Sharon, Diane and I adored Aunt Glady and Uncle Yimmy.  He called himself a Pollack, told, and laughed heartily at, Polish jokes.   We were devastated when he died suddenly, when we were still in high school.  

So I never really noticed when the ethnic jokes stopped, but you just don't hear them any more.  Unfortunately I found out how frowned upon they are now, a few years ago at work.  

You guys know I adore my boss.  He's a wicked funny guy.  He laughs easily.  I joke around a lot, I always have some smart ass comment to make and I have seen him choke on his coffee and/or lunch if he's caught off guard with a funny quip.  One day we were talking about what we studied in college.  He told me that he minored in Polish literature.  Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "You mean there was more than one book?"  I cracked myself up with that one, lemme tell ya, but Steve just stared at me.  We're talking  *crickets* "Is this thing on? *crickets* MmmmBombo!"  Oh did I mention that Steve is Polish?  From Michigan?  Is distantly related to Lawrence Welk?  So I'm sitting there hoping the floor will open up and swallow me as he glared at me. I think I broke the tension by saying something like, "Note to self: Do NOT make Polish jokes in front of Steve...."  and he finally laughed, and then we talked about how he doesn't find ethnic jokes funny but I find them to be hilarious.  I mean, I don't really think that Polish people are stupid and he knows that, but he didn't think that crack was at all amusing.  If I'd studied Italian literature and someone cracked, "you mean there was more than one book?" I would have peed myself laughing!!  

But come on!  I know they are everyone's guilty pleasure.  Those inappropriate jokes are a scream.  Diane and I would rattle off rapid fire amputee, ethnic, Helen Keller and dead baby jokes to our families at holiday dinners and watch the adults crying from laughter (although I'm sure the quantity of alcohol being consumed probably contributed to their enthusiastic mirth).  It's just no one wants to admit they secretly think that at least some of those jokes are funny.  Have you ever, in 2010, watched an episode of "All in the Family" from it's first or second season?  My jaw hits the floor at the stuff that was allowed to be said on TV back then.  And no one poked fun at other ethnicities like Archie Bunker did. Maybe that's why those jokes were so popular when I was growing up.  None of my relatives or my parents' friends ever took offense at jokes aimed at their heritage.  If "All in the Family" aired today as a new show, with that kind of humour and ethnic slurs, I see all kinds of different groups boycotting and raising holy hell about the things Archie says.  

Why can't we poke fun at ourselves anymore?  Things have gotten way too PC and are taken too seriously.  All we do anymore is bitch and piss and moan about EVERYTHING we hear.  Don't be afraid to laugh.  We've lost our sense of humour.  Let's get it back.  Laughter is a good thing!  


  1. You mean like this?

    A young Scottish lad and lass were sitting on a low stone wall, holding hands, gazing out over the loch. For several minutes they sat silently.
    Then finally the girl looked at the boy and said, "A penny for your thoughts, Angus."
    "Well, uh, I was thinkin'...perhaps it's aboot time for a wee kiss."
    The girl blushed, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
    Then he blushed. The two turned once again to gaze out over the loch.
    Minutes passed and the girl spoke again. "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus." "Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's noo time aboot time for a wee cuddle."
    The girl blushed, then leaned over and cuddled him for a few seconds.
    Then he blushed. Then the two turned once again to gaze out over the loch.
    After a while, she again said, "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus."
    "Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's aboot time you let me put my hand
    on your leg."
    The girl blushed, then took his hand and put it on her knee. Then he blushed. The the two turned once again to gaze out over the lock before the girl spoke again.
    "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus."
    The young man glanced down with a furled brow. "Well,noo," he said, "my thoughts are a wee bit more serious this time."
    "Really?" said the lass in a whisper, filled with anticipation.
    "Aye," said the lad, nodding.
    The girl looked away in shyness, began to blush, and bit her lip in anticipation of the ultimate request.
    Then he said, "Dae ye nae think it's aboot time ye paid me the first
    three pennies?"

  2. I am Polish as you can get...both sides of my family as far back as you can see and was brought up on the south side of Chicago.

    Polish jokes never bother any members of my family. If you can't laugh at yourself, something is wrong with you.

  3. Anonymous10:40 AM

    JoJo, I just love to be unpc. Working at an institute for people with hearing disabillity has its perks, we can say what ever we want, just keep smiling! BTW, the deaf people are even worse. Dutch are rude by nature and being pc is just not natural. Elka

  4. Anonymous11:18 AM

    Unfortunately, the 'PC' brigade appear to have taken over the universe and anything and everything is 'offensive' to someone, especially if they think they can make money from it!!! It's just like there's no such thing as an 'accident' any more. Even if you fall over your own damn feet, someone ELSE must be to 'blame' can be made from it. It makes me sick!!

  5. Anonymous11:47 AM

    As a Dutchman I love a great "cheap Dutchman" joke just like everybody else. It's funny because it TRUE!
    How do you get 6 Dutchman in the back of a hatchback?
    Throw a quarter in it.

  6. Gosh, the only joke I get nowadays are the ones passed by my co-workers through email. Old school ones are always good.

  7. There was a comment on a Family Guy episode that was showing on TV the other morning, which my student's mother and nurse were watching while finishing off getting him ready for school for me. All our jaws dropped simultaneously, and I can't remember the whole thing, but it was about stereotypes, and something about dads, and if this dad had left, he'd have been black, or if he'd been black, he'd have left.

    After the initial shock we laughed, but mostly from shock, I think. I don't think any of us had any idea how it was allowed on!

    I remember there used to be a few versions of "the shortest book on earth" which included The Italian Book of Heroes and the Belgian Book of Culture. Anyone remember the others? The German Book of Humour, maybe?

  8. Anonymous2:20 PM

    I think we live in a different time now, JoJo. With the bullying in schools and the ramifications from such actions, it's like everyone is walking on eggshells as to what can be said or not. Also, there is the matter of racial profiling and being sensitive to the ethnicities of others that has abolished all joking. My father was "Archie Bunker" to be sure...I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

  9. Excellent points, Jo. I agree that people are getting to be too sensative. This goes into raising kids too. The punishments we got were appropriate then, but abusive now. They give awards to all kids on a team or in a class instead of those that have worked to earn them. I guess all older generations have to get used to the changes that the new generations have created.

  10. hey, you get no argument outta me...i still make jokes about how i'm the only jewish person who lives SOUTH of 8 mile road. <>

  11. interesting. I get a little annoyed at all the uptightness too. It's like nobody has any self esteem anymore or something.

    You will think this is funny. My dad had a musical comedy group called The Richie Brothers, back in the day. Him and his two brothers. All they did was play ethnic music and tell ethnic jokes!! They used to change the lyrics to songs to make them funny, etc...

    I'll leave you with this "When Irish eyes are laughing, all the world is bright and gay, but when Irish eyes are smiliiiiing, it takes a dego to make 'em that way!"

  12. LOVED all the jokes and opinions on this!! I don't remember the 'shortest book' series, but I have a book of my dad's, called "The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew" and all the pages are blank. lolol That still cracks me up. One of our liberal cousins gave it to him back in the early 70's, when Agnew was Nixon's VP.

  13. Kathleen9:42 PM

    Will and I were laughing hysterically tonight at the number of times "Praise Allah" came up in Aladdin. We both agreed that Disney wouldn't be able to remake that movie today as is. But it's accurate!

  14. Bryde! That is hilarious! I'm Scottish by origin :-)