Richard Downes has been musing on what makes things funny. He starts off with a bad joke and ends up with a series of interviews with disabled comedians about what makes humour so essential to our lives.
I'm sitting on the bed putting a shirt on when the joke comes to me. I capture it. Where did it come from? I think about songwriters who when talking about their craft say the song is in the ether, it exists whole before they take it. All they have to do is wait, be open to the moment it arrives. It feels mystical. Sounds divine. Can something as short as a joke be inspired. If so do we value the joke as we should.
I worry about my jokes. They cause consternation and I'm not a comedian. I'm just someone a joke occasionally happens to. My instincts are to tell it. To take the risk and put it out there. I email two friends. A blind man and a feminist activist who knows her disability equality, who happens to live with another blind man. Neither of them reply to my joke:
“Why don't blind men dance?
Because they tried the bump and didn't like it.”
I start hawking it around the office. Someone doesn't get it. For all you youngsters out there; the bump was a 70's disco craze. It was horrible. Topicality, age are joke issues. Someone in the office is concerned how blind people would receive it.
I contemplate the joke more. Why do we criticise non disabled comedians having a go at disability humour? Is it because they are having a go at us? Does having a go have some hostility about it? Is there something about having a go that relies on uncomfortable stereotypes? Have I created a stereotype? Will I hear sighted people opining that blind men don't dance just as white men don't jump? Is there something I like about the joke? To say blind men don't dance is clearly ridiculous if you have seen or felt blind men dance. Is there something desirable in comedy about ridiculous moments?
What of the second line? What about that bump now you know how the double entendre works. Is it unkind? Is it fair observation? Is comedy observation? Is it cruel observation? Can disabled people be cruel about disabled people? What is fair game and when? I have worked with blind people who talk about the bump. They will tell you how much it hurts. How they got that cut on the forehead. By extension, is there a usefulness in the joke? Does it reflect something that happens? Something we need to be aware of if we are building safe, friendly environments? Is there a a need to defend the joke and is this my defence?
I'm glad I'm no comedian and that jokes don't happen to me too often. Its too confusing.