Monday, March 10, 2008

What Makes Ethnic Humor Funny?

Try, if you can, to see this movie trailer of Mike Myers' forthcoming flick The Love Guru through the eyes of an Indian-American teen with Hindu parents:



I'm a bit befuddled by my own responses to ethnic humor. Why does the Love Guru trailer strike me as not-so-funny and racially offensive, while bits of this trailer (warning: iffy content) of Harold and Kumar at Guantanamo Bay made me smile (although I'm pretty sure I'd find a lot in this flick offensive for other reasons)?

6 comments:

Danie said...

I don't know. But being Canadian with one parent from Montreal, I laughed heartily when I saw the clip of Justin Timberlake.

MotherReader said...

I had the same reaction. Maybe part of it has to do with how you have to part of the culture to make fun of it. Kinda like when Seinfeld thought that his dentist had converted to Judaism so he could make Jewish jokes.

Also with these two clips, the Mike Myers one is making fun of gurus, and maybe Indian culture. The second one is making fun of the government or FBI or whatever for thinking Kumar is a terrorist based on his race.

Mitali Perkins said...

MR, that's it! It's who tells the jokes about whom. As Craig Ferguson (yes, Lisa Yee's not the only one with that particular late-night addiction) pointed out in his moving why-i'm-no-longer-using-Britney Spears-as -material monologue, the best humor never makes fun of the weak but delights in targeting the powerful.

TadMack said...

The Meyers thing didn't upload onto the feed reader, so I watched these in reverse order.Now I wonder: am I exhibiting a double standard that I smile when minorities make fun of minorities? Is it like using the n-word? Hm. Anyway.

In Harold & Kumar's case, the film's topic is clearly SATIRE. The OED defines it as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, irony and ridicule to expose or criticize people's stupidity or vices.

Americans are constitutionally free to explore -- in as many forms possible -- the government's potentially racist behavior (she said diplomatically) at Guantanamo. (I'm equally sure the rest of the movie isn't quite that... politically clear cut, and would, in fact, be fairly offensive too.)

Meyers is also satirizing, but his satire uses exaggeration and ridicule to... to expose and criticize a people and a religion -- neither of which he portrays with any accuracy. People who don't know anything about the Hindu religion or who don't know any South Asian people might think it's at least somewhat accurate. That's where the questionable, tasteless and not funny vibe comes from for me.

Fuse #8 said...

My husband actually called me into the office today and said, "I have seen the worst trailer ever created. See if you laugh even once." The movie was The Love Guru and nope. I didn't really crack a smile. We did have an interesting time trying to figure out exactly what was the MOST offensive moment in the trailer. Fear not. It will disappear and be forgotten in a day.

Mitali Perkins said...

That man's a keeper, Betsy.

And Tanita, thanks for the re-clarification of satire. Good to remember.

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