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by Peter Moskos

April 20, 2009

Do liberals laugh?

Almost a decade ago a colleague told me "You're the first liberal I've met with a sense of humor." Granted he didn't have too many liberal friends. But that's not the point.

Liberals have a sense of humor. Most of the great comedians are liberals. Many if not most of the world's great jokes have their origins in liberal Jewish New York. If you took away Jewish humor and African-American humor, there wouldn't be much left. I mean hell, I can count the funny Greek comedians on one finger.

But no, my friend wasn't talking about the history of humor. He was talking about our ability to laugh and not take offense. Have we really become so politically correct that we can no longer laugh? Apparently so, as the Erie police officer discovered (see post below).

As my father once said to a large sociology class at Northwestern University: "I've heard plenty of jokes that don't make fun of a person's race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairments.... [pause] The trouble is they're just not funny!"

Of course there is a line were racial becomes racist. There is an area where Jewish jokes become anti-semitic. There is a point where "gay" becomes homophobic. There is a place where "retard" is just plain mean. But that doesn't mean we should keep our mouths shut, afraid to make people laugh.

And there's a good rule of thumb to know when you've crossed a line: if you're telling a joke about a person or group, you better be able to tell it to that person or group. If they laugh, you're in the clear. Insight based on stereotypes? Funny. Insults based on stereotypes? Not so funny. Picking on a specific person? Risky. And doing so based on false stereotypes? Now you've crossed a line.

I believe in free speech. I though I might not approve of it all, I'll defend your right to say it.

Regardless, here's to humor! The thought of a humorless world is terrifying indeed. If we can't laugh, what can we do? I'd just as soon "take one to my head."

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