Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"The Joke's on Me"

I occasionally run into trouble with people who don't grasp my offbeat sense of humor or tendency to embellish an opinion with literary exaggeration. It is mostly with men that I have the problem. And one female blogger I cross paths with from time to time.

Indeed, sometimes it is my fault. The joke is lame or misses the mark altogether, or the literary stretch is so esoteric that only I can understand it.

Some Filipinos can bend minds with the best of them, of course. Observe the wit of Mariano's comments, beneath the acerbic style, and you know he sees around corners, for sure. Or take the many Filipino writers who express amazing impressions of the Philippines and its people. I recently enjoyed Miguel Syjuco's 2010 novel "Ilustrado" for its cross-cultural, cross generational study. Talk about layers upon layers. Not humor, but intrigue. Insight. And a whopping twist at the end. Hard to read. Fun to conquer.

But  so many times trying to exchange humor is like brains flying past one another with only a gust of wind to show for it.

 I haven't quite worked out the dynamic yet as to what is going on. It has little to do with schooling, I think, for some who don't get my eccentric expressions are well educated. Maybe their education is in technical subjects instead of the humanities, I don't know. Or perhaps they never caught George Carlin when he was in his prime, breaking every conventional thought process known to mankind. They have not gone through the essential mind-stretching process that most Americans experience.

I dunno. I see Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" in National Bookstore, amongst a selection of Fairy Tales with Morals for kids age 4 to 8. I wonder how Filipinos would deal with Swift's "A Modest Proposal", in which he proposes that Ireland eat its babies as a way to cure the population/poverty problem that existed in Ireland at that time. And you thought young Artist Cruz stirred up trouble.

That poor Chinese satirist said the Philippines was a "nation of servants" and the reaction was much like Muslims react when their Prophet is the subject of cartoons. Absolutely shrieking at the culprit. He probably got death threats. Even though there is a basis to extend the mind far enough to declare the Philippines a nation of servants, as an exaggeration, for literary effect. But many minds can't get there from here. They won't even try stretching, or can't. They don't seem to understand that not every word written  is intended to be a literal truth. It is intended to have meaning.

It wouldn't be much of a big deal except it is the lack of out-of-the-box thinking that keeps the Philippines decades behind the rest of the modern world in just about everything. It is a reactive society, not a brainstorming, planning society. Not a stretching society.

I suspect that part of the difficulty is that Filipinos rarely read, outside what they have to do for school. How many Filipinos have read that wonderfully funny and dry-witted gem "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency", set in Africa,  written by  Alexander McCall Smith? No, the title would turn them off, for no guy would carry about a book with that title and risk being ridiculed by his classmates. Even though the book was written by a man and is truly hilarious. And touching.

The finely honed risk of personal shame suppresses literary reach.

Or how about "The Spellman Files" by Lisa Lutz? Again the humor positively roars throughout the book, but sometimes it is strewn amongst the serious lines of a murder mystery. Would the humor be missed? Would the book never be picked up? It is, after all, a tad silly, and written by a girl. Not really macho.

How many watched John Cleese romp through the  grandly wild, double-entendre style of the BBC's "Fawlty Towers"?  Or if that is too ancient, how about Stephen Fry?

Did the "Life of Brian" not make it to the Philippines because of its mockery of the story of Jesus? Talk about stretching convention. The whole Monty Python series was ribald and  sacrilegious and funny as hell.

You have to have a warped mind, indeed a well-read mind, to catch a lot of the jokes in these and many other works. Read "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce if you want some serious bite to your humor. Never mind that the 1800's commie-pinko dude trekked off to South America and was never heard from again.

Much of my enjoyment in writing comes from engaging in wordplay to get away from the constraints of conventional thinking, to express new perspectives and directions and to offer arguments that have a bit of kick to them. Also, frankly, I amuse myself with a nifty twist of words that pops out of the cranial container for reasons I can't explain.

I tend to think I am so obvious in my exaggerations that people won't take me seriously.

But they do.

What's a guy to do?

Write drivel? Say things the same humorless way Ilda would say them? Deny the enjoyment the human mind can get from humor? Or the satisfaction the eye-opening pop a finely crafted sentence can offer?

Well, here's the deal.

I'll keep writing what I write,
And you keep reading what you read,
If ne'er the twain of us shall meet,
We'll naught the twinkle of good humor greet.


  1. It's hard to squeeze anything funny through to those intolerant bloggers, Joe. It's a good thing you've already realized that.

    Filipinos generally are rather serious, with a limited sense of humor. This is specially true with acquaintances. But once we get to know a person and how he thinks, humor in all its ways comes easily. I for one embarrassingly failed to catch an otherwise rare compliment from you, remember? I was like, 'huh? AH, ok...' Stupid me.

    For a people known for flashing their smiles while dealing with adversities, we also find humor in all the wrong places. But this doesn't mean we don't appreciate good humor. Reading books, on the other hand, to get familiar with the form of comedy cultured minds like yours appreciate is likely a handicap for pinoys. Yeah, reading books takes a lot of work, absorbing it all in, even harder. Most would prefer the antics of those prime time show hosts... Shallow, eh? Try squeezing a 'green joke' or two, you'll know what i mean.

    I love the poem, though. Joe, I tell you, yours is a dying breed.

  2. 1DC, I think rare, not dying. Awaiting a re-awakening of the literate spirit. My oldest daughter can pen poetry you would swear is from Shakespeare. She is selling electronic book readers at a major bookstore chain in the US. Hard to feed oneself on rhyme.

  3. That's impressive Joe. Parents influence their young and the young find their heroes in their parents.

    Got any tips to enhance one's interest in books?

    Bought a book late last year. It is about enhancing the brain's potential. I finished the first four chapters and eventually got bored. Perhaps it's the author; for what i thought to be an interesting undertaking proved to be tedious. Or perhaps it's just me; easily loosing interest. But I've finished several works by Sheldon back in high school. Pathetic, right?

  4. Always look at the bright side of life (whistles).

    With movies based on books coming out regularly (usually aimed at kids), it isn't hard to imagine that there's hope for your cause. You just need to find a producer to translate your favorite books into "Filipinized" movies. kidding.

    Btw, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" ended up as a series on HBO last year. Entertaining.

    There's also competition from the internet that you should worry about. With information available at a click, some kids might skip going to the library altogether and just (yikes) rely on Wikipedia.

    As for your jokes sailing past everyone else's heads, they won't be jokes if you're the only one laughing. However, that shouldn't stop you from delivering them. I'm pretty sure that no one can keep your hands away from your keyboard. :)

  5. 1DC, I have trouble with non-fiction, too, as it is too much like that unbearable school reading I used to have to do. Try a John Grisham book (about attorneys, murder, etc.). Or if you might like something more science-based, try a Michael Crichton novel (The Andromena Strain, Next, Prey, Airframe). It is like athletics. You have to work out regularly and then, once your system adjusts, you can't stop. THEN you can do non-fiction.

  6. brianitus,

    Well your humor is in good form, I'm pleased to see. You are correct, I shall keep penning my non-jokes no matter what, in hopes that a real joke will emerge.

    I didn't know about the HBO series. I wish I could have caught it. I doubt it will make it here to the Philippines.

  7. Joe,


    How Pinoys will react to "A Modest Proposal"? I think a good simulation can be something like this:

    Oh, btw, I saw the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO here in the Philippines. Knowing how enterprising our pirates are, I'm sure there are already copies on DVD (dibidi).

  8. brianitus,

    DOWN WITH THE RH BILL! I've never read such impeccable logic as to how destructive this piece of legislation is.

    And damn, you are right about No. 1 Ladies. I'll run right down to the piracy shop. It's right around the corner.

  9. 1DC,

    Afterthought explanation as to why fiction is important. The need is not so much knowledge or facts, but the discipline of thinking outside the box. Once the mind can go anywhere, it can align facts properly to solve a problem.

  10. Joe,

    Arr, matey! Them dibidis are cheap. Be sure to get more than one. Go!


  11. I fully sympathize.

    I too, at one time or another, have ended up in an argument with humorless commenters.

    But it's not uncommon to encounter people who will argue with you over the punchline of a joke - sometimes over the "facts" that lead up to the punchline or over the punchline itself, as in "that does not make any sense". At other times the argument is over the political correctness of the joke.

    Two of the greatest joke/satire killers are humorless and politically correct minds. Humorlessness is cured through rewiring the brain while political correctness is cured by not watching Oprah.

  12. Duly noted Joe. Wish me luck.

  13. Joe, what books would you consider to be the best you've read so far? Nothing too overwhelming, i hope. While paper backs would give the impression that one is cultured, would you recommend e-books?

  14. Nice observations MB.
    I like to call those politically-correct thinkers 'corny' or 'kill-joys'. I bet they live dull lives.

  15. 1DC, Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and David Copperfield are among my favorites. But I detested Dickens when I read him in high school, so I don't recommend him as a starting author. John Grisham is easy to read with good suspense. Just about anything he's done. And National Bookstore stocks his works. I've got them all. I mix him with heavier or thicker reads.

  16. MB, indeed. Not watching Oprah is something I've dedicated my life to.

  17. Thanks, friend. I really appreciate it. Really.
    If your articles were books i would have to ask you to sign them for me...

  18. Buencam, I tussled with benign0 and Ilda, The Great Protector of Englsichtzes Language. benign0 cannot seem to carry on impromptu conversational englsichtzes. He can but his englischtzes is diametrically opposite from the englsichtzes that he writes. benign0 has no patience to people like me that can think of totally refreshing attack on Filipinos. How he hates when I laugh HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

    I remember when I put out the word "viral" using a different handle. The dude explained "viral" like it was the first the monkeys heard. benign0 also explained why Lexi against Lexuses. But I stay with the Lexuses as plural of Lexus not LEXI !

    benign0 has no sense of humor. He wanted to be original but unfortunately, I'm always ahead of him with it comes to originality.

  19. HAHAHA ! How I love John Grisham. I've read all his books. John Grisham taught me law more than what I am still learning from Philippine University. I recommend John Grisham to all the Senators, Congressmen, Lawyers, Prosecutors, idiot-oblivious-clueless-coin-operated Philippine media.

    Reading John Grisham feels like I graduated from Pepperdine U.

    I like Dan Brown, too ! Angels and Demons and da Vinci Code. Truly, I just struggle with Tom Clancy too much techno booglers

  20. Filiipnos do not read. In area code in America 90004 it is peppered and surrounded by LA city libraries. There are two in Koreatown, one in Wilshire financial district and one close to Beverly and Western. There is that one on Sunset, Melrose, Fairfax District, Temple Street now these areas I mentioned is thick with Filipinos. In fact, Filipinotown is within these libaries. Filiipno town is virtually ringed with libraries. AND NO FILIPINOS GO TO LIBRARIES ! HAHAHA ! HAHAHA ! HAHAH! Only the Koreanese, Mexicanese, Chinese and other minorities which the Filipinos derided as to have terrible englischtzes pronounciation and serial manglers of englsichtzes that they hold dear.

    Where Filipinos live there are no Barnes&NObles. Why would CEO of Barnes&Nobles and Borders put up bookstores where Filipinos do not read.

    They'd rather watch WoWoWieee and TFC and the closest show to Jeopardy they watch is Game-Ka-Na-Ba because it's hosted by stars and starlets and ocho-ocho danchers !

  21. For a moment there MR, i thought The Joker was back in Gotham. You sure know how to laugh your heart out...

    Allow me to leave you guys with the impeccable words of a contemporary writer:
    "This seems to me to be a side-effect of the tendency to look for ways to appear cool by diminishing others. You see this behavior in some blog commenters...The lower you can push others, the higher you seem to be . . . even if you are very much cemented to the bottom."
    - America, J., The Manhood Chronicle, Aug. 2011,


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