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Wednesday, January 15, A.D. 2014
Funny Foreigners

Christ is born! Happy feast day of Saints Sylvester and Seraphim of Sarov!

Recently, I followed a link in an essay by John Derbyshire to one of his National Review pieces from seven years ago: “When Foreigners Were Funny.” I remember reading the piece when he first published it. As usual, Derbyshire shows himself to be an insightful man and a contrarian against contemporary dogma. The article reminds me of another of Derbyshire’s essays where he commends ethnic jokes as a method of diffusing tension in multiethnic neighborhoods, as in early twentieth century New York—but I cannot find it now. A search for John Derbyshire, ethnic humor, tension, and similar terms brings up scores of sites in which folks comment upon his departure from Buckley’s magazine, but I wasn’t able to find the piece (though I did find a good one by Steve Sailer: “Why Ethnic Humor Is Funny”). Anyway, Derbyshire updated “When Foreigners Were Funny” with a link to an entertaining sketch with Catherine Tate, who played Donna Noble on Doctor Who:

As one would expect, many of the YouTube and other online comments judge the piece to be “racist” (thankfully, most enjoy the humor). Others point out that it is subversively “racist” because it allows viewers to indulge in their naughty “racist” attitudes while pretending to laugh at the ignorance of Tate’s character. Of course, Tate’s character is a buffoon and ridiculously over her head in the situation, which we find humorous, but the piece is also funny because foreigners (and foreign languages) are funny—for many reasons, including Derbyshire’s and Sailer’s points previously linked. A related reason to Sailer’s is the joy that we human beings find in the spectacle of man in all his diversity. The recognition of convention (that all men do not behave as we do) and of the road not traveled (look how weird those Polynesians are with their genital gourds) is exciting and endlessly amusing. Yet, the current masters of discourse disapprove. Isn’t it strange that the contemporary folks most incensed by ethnic humor are the ones who pretend to champion multicultural learning? Isn’t it odd that the self avowed multiculturalists appear so ill equipped to admit or even to recognize both the universality of human nature and the many peculiar instantiations thereof. It is sad that they stunt themselves (and everyone else) so. Humor—including ethnic humor—is a most worthy topic of investigation. Aristotle certainly thought so (much to the chagrin of Eco’s characters in The Name of the Rose). Much profundity, observation, and intelligence are required in order to understand humor. Why do you think there are so many Jewish comedians?

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 15, Anno Domini 2014
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