“Can’t You Take a Joke?”—The Anatomy of Discrimination

There’s nothing more dangerous than an opinionated chiropractor. I had one once, years ago. He would wait until he had me in a potentially bone-crunching grip, utterly at his mercy, and then drop an opinion on me—not a casual “crazy weather, huh?” or “I don’t know about the Sox’s chances this year,” but a specific, controversy-charged, hackle-raising, spleen-inflaming political or ethnic declaration.

Of course, if you’re in a prone position with your head wrenched in decapitate mode and your spine twisted into a figure eight, you are less likely to voice your own opinion, much less disagree.

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“I mean YOU’RE Jewish, right?” he’d begin, and then taking my silence as assent and encouragement to continue, he’d proceed to pontificate on the extreme sensitivity of my brothers and sisters in faith. “I’ll kid them about their big noses and about being rich and greedy and they don’t laugh! I mean what’s their problem? I’m just kidding, right?!

“If you’re going to be a minority, you’ve got to be able to take a joke here and there.”

“If you’re going to be a minority, you’ve got to be able to take a joke here and there.”

Last time I looked, being a minority wasn’t something you signed up for, like the Greater Milwaukee Retired Women’s Latin Scrabble Club. You just happen to walk a less trod spiritual path or dwell in a body of slightly different pigmentation than the majority. You don’t raise your hand and go, “Sure, I’ll be a minority! Let the fun begin!”

As a Jew, I’ve heard a lot of this jazz. All in good fun, right? When I was a kid, I walked into a novelty store with my dad, an Orthodox Jew who, as an army officer, had liberated a concentration camp in 1944. There, on a shelf, along with the joy buzzers and whoopee cushions was a can labeled Instant Jewish! It was adorned with cartoons of bearded men with yarmulkes and a fat woman spoon-feeding a large-nosed man in a high chair. I didn’t understand the gag. I showed it to my dad. I asked him, “Is this supposed to be funny?” He said, “Yes. But it isn’t, is it?”

Of course, to some people it is—otherwise, no one would market and sell it.

Can’t you take a joke?

Groucho Marx, a Jew who himself was no slouch at the wisecrack, narrated a children’s record about a young monkey who decided to make up the funniest song in the world. He takes several stabs at it, making fun of other animals in the jungle and seeing his jokes fall flat, until a wise old monkey tells him that he’ll never be really funny if he needs to hurt someone in order to do so. The young monkey takes the advice to heart and makes up a song composed entirely of nonsense words. I played that record again and again as a toddler and the young monkey’s song never failed to make me breathless with laughter.

I still have that record.

I asked him, “Is this supposed to be funny?” He said, “Yes. But it isn’t, is it?”

I wonder sometimes if Groucho, who made so much of his living insulting people, was either apologizing or telling us to please stop attacking so that he could stop attacking back.

New generations bring forth new technologies with new methods for the lazy and stupid to make fun of those by whom they feel threatened, or whom they feel superior to, or both. Maybe as the world gets smaller and as the human race gets more diverse, this will lessen.

But then again, maybe not.

Meanwhile, next time you hear a group being made fun of, substitute the word “you” and see how funny it sounds now. Instead of “they’re all greedy and have big noses” read, “you’re greedy and have a big nose.”

Still funny?

Then you’re the one with the problem, not me.

Norm Shannon
Norm loves writing and helping people through the wisdom of Scientology. He recently moved to Florida where he was delighted to learn they have air conditioning.