Humor's peculiarity lies in its elastic polarity: it can operate for or against, deny or affirm, oppress or liberate. On the one hand, it reinforces pejorative images; on the other, it facilitates the inversion of such stereotypes. Just as it has been utilized as a weapon of insult and persecution, so, too, has humor been implemented as a device of subversion and protest. In the absence of cosmological affirmation, humor fills a void. "When no other strategy is to be found to avoid the pit- falls of life," wrote Daniel Royot, "humor is the ultimate substitute for faith." 1 Yet it cannot be a faith in itself.
Nowhere in American humor has this duality, this refractory set of opposites, been more sharply delineated than in the experience of minority groups. America's outsiders--Jews, African-Americans, women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians--represent this paradigm. Their marginal presence, highlighted against the backdrop of the American Dream, has, as much as any factor, reshaped the configurations of American humor.
"The comic spirit," wrote critic Eric Bentley in The Life of the Drama, "tries to cope with the daily, hourly, inescapable difficulty of being. For if everyday life has an undercurrent or cross-current of the tragic, the main current is material for comedy." 2 Struggling on the knife edge of urban environments, their jokes and routines offering an ongoing summons, minorities have recast the language, character, and tempo of national humor. Nineteenth-century Irish immigrants, later joined by incoming Jews, migrant African-Americans, and women and other groups after the 1950s, forged a style and practice of comedy that was subversively wicked and sly, prodding and absurdist, indirect and undercutting. A mélange of masks--the trickster, the con
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Rebellious Laughter:People's Humor in American Culture. Contributors: Joseph Boskin - Author. Publisher: Syracuse University Press. Place of publication: Syracuse, NY. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 38.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.