I have been encouraged to start writing by a few people, so why not start with a subject that is on my mind a lot these days: comedy. Bet you didn't see that coming! I have been asked more often than I can even count why I find the things that I joke about funny. This question predates my first stand up performance, Facebook post, or tweet by a decade at least. When I was in school I was admonished for being rude and offensive. Later in life, prison case workers would lecture me on political correctness and pro-social, non “criminogenic” attitudes (I’m paraphrasing, as their phrasing was much more patronizing and condescending). Then once got out spoke about overdoses, robberies, and assaults like others talked about gardening, yoga, and vacays. As you can imagine, this was quite confusing for me, I mean don’t most people think that staying up on cocaine for 6 days as a life hack to avoid worrying about where to sleep funny?
People’s perceptions and world views are shaped by their lives: biographical details like the city and country we born in, families we were raised by, and the predominant social-economic group we belonged to. But probably just as influential, and arguably even more, are the subtle details and incidents that shape us: culture, media, peer groups, and, let’s not forget, a reality where not everything is in our control. Some people seem to just succeed at life, others never seem have anything go “right."
Personally, my outlook was shaped by some “normal” stuff like upper middle class values and neighborhood, and some “abnormal” stuff such as abuse, parental neglect, etc. Undertandably, I’m going to have beliefs, values, opinions, etc. that might differ from people who had traditional lives wherein they didn’t deviate from societal standards much - I still think someone who never got arrested must have super powers! Nowhere is this contrast more apparent than my sense of humor.
Drug abuse, child abuse, prostitution, racism, violence, homophobia (both externalized and internalized), domestic violence, rape, discrimination, etc. are all subjects I have either personally experienced, or witnessed firsthand – innumerable times. People often claim that these subjects are sacred and not to be made light of. I can intellectually understand their point, that these are such tragic and horrible topics, making jokes about them invalidates the gravity of both the subject and the pain of those who have endured them. However, experientially these are normal to me. Many comics have jokes about marriage, family, and work, and these tend to be funny because it is something that most people have a general idea of or can relate to. “Isn’t it funny when your wife/mother/kid does ___________, or says_________.” In my family, parents used to kick me out of the house for getting in trouble at school, I stayed with ex-convict heroin addicts, was abused and exploited, and developed a serious predilection for drugs and crime. So “Isn’t it funny when your parents call you a homewrecker, but you’ve never even been laid?”
I should take a moment to mention that I’m not trying to advocate or endorse the acts or subjects I joke about, believe me I wish they didn’t exist to joke about! But because I have experienced them, I can’t get them out of my head. My mind just goes to them when I’m at work, or drinking coffee, or at dinner with my mother – she usually, unknowingly, supplies the best jokes! People might say that I should adapt to society, and discard or shed this useless or aberrant manner of communication. But others really enjoy this style of humor, like REALLY enjoy it. Who is the arbiter of morality and ethics when it comes to art or entertainment, the ones don’t enjoy a certain style or the ones who do? This last point has been discussed at length in many articles, interviews, essays, etc. and I’m not going to be able to solve it or add anything to it here.
But more personally, if I was going to answer WHY I joke, I would have to say that I joke to cope. I joke to relate. I joke to ease tension, to make a point, to point out an incongruity to shock, to prove my greatest suspicion: that I am actually more fucked up than you. For whatever reason I feel compelled to do so and, in my day to day life, feel better for doing so. I believe it’s my actions off stage that display or signify my character, just like an actor who plays a rapist in a movie is probably safe in real life. None of what I’m saying here is new.
I think I should point out that many of the people who have excoriated me for my jokes probably have at least one article of clothing or device that was manufactured using slave or child labor, and have probably never donated a nickle or minute of their time to any of the causes that they are championing to me for a few minutes. Believe me, I’m not the guy to take your case against a subject I find funny to. And if you are someone who does try to help people in situations that are horrible or practically address the social issues I point to, I will respect your criticisms. Probably won't stop joking about them, though.