We used to count wit one of the most valuable properties. But it is around jokes that the main controversy of recent years has been unfolding. Does good humor have boundaries, can a dubious joke be funny, where a joke turns into humiliation, what to do with black humor, and in general, can a politically correct person be joking? We asked about this very different, but quite witty people.
Interview: Alisa Taezhnaya
Illustrations: Anya Oreshina
educator, creator of the Sam Jones' Diary blog
I think evil jokes are not jokes, just harsh, but malice, wrapped up in a playful form. Because of this, they do not turn into humor, but rather are a sign of cowardice. Instead of honestly expressing everything that has boiled, you throw poisonous witticisms, putting the offended person in an even more vulnerable position, because if he does not laugh, then you can also blame him for the lack of a sense of humor. So in the end the difference is simple: a good joke opens up gaps in the fabric of reality, and a bad joke tries to inflict pain behind the cover of laughter.
I don't think there are things that cannot be joked about, including in a black way, but rather a question of relevance in a particular situation. I heard the most monstrous jokes in the editorial office when we were doing a project for the Ministry of Culture, but there were everyone of our own and everyone understood the context correctly. For example, I can tell a joke about a conversation between two embryos before an abortion, but refrain from retelling in a crowded place or if I know that the interlocutor is trying to have children. That I, I will not find another anecdote in the subject? What a lousy joker from me then.
But I don't think black humor is bad taste. The property of laughter is to relieve tension. When you laugh, you kind of neutralize what is happening. Black humor, it seems to me, sometimes plays the role of a kind of everyday magic: neighing, lowered the degree of horror of a possible frightening situation. I had an American boyfriend, he once told me that Russians constantly retell everything they fear under the guise of jokes. As if this is our way of dealing with fear and anxiety.
So I don't think political correctness makes humor worse; rather, resentment against it demonstrates exactly what we are afraid of. At one time I thought that an emasculated world awaits us, where you can't spit so as not to hurt someone, but now “witty and politically incorrect” jokes just stopped appearing funny to me, because they don't hurt anything disturbing in my soul. I once had a radio broadcast, an opponent told a joke: “What is the difference between a feminist and a sumo wrestler? The wrestler's legs are shaved. " This is not humor, not courage, not an exposure of reality. This is a flat and boring attempt to offend.
Senior Editor, The Blueprint
A disclaimer is needed here: I hardly watch sitcoms and stand-ups because most of the humor seems flat, head-on, or loud to me. At the same time, I myself like to joke so that the windows are shaking; I even have a quote from the Pulp song about fragile masculinity “I Learned to drink, and I Learned to smoke, and I Learned to tel a dirty joke” on my Facebook profile, and it's all true. On the other hand, I share the opinion that language determines consciousness and that jokes "about gays, women and blacks" are all forms of so-called hate speech, that is, an expression of homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny. As a result, it turns out that the area of intersection of the non-offensive and the funny is very narrow, this is a line along which it is rather difficult to pass. But, it seems to me, there is no need to complain that freedom of speech has been taken away from us.Yes, inventive jokes are more difficult, but the more interesting the task.
Actually, the most important thing is to feel where this line is between the funny and the offensive. Misha Idov recently said very well about this (in principle, you should just watch his "Comedian" here): that the laughter of the strong over the weak is never funny. That is why, for me, almost the best jokes in the world are "5 word speech" by Sarah Silverman and Rowan Atkinson's sketch about the gramophone from "Not the Nine O'Clock News". But from jokes on Comedy Radio, blood begins to flow from the ears. Another safe (and almost safe) move is self-irony. I believe that self-directed jokes are not toxic to others - on the contrary, they create a sense of community, including common fakapov, at which you can laugh, and not be ashamed of them in horror and loneliness in the corners. And this is almost a therapeutic effect: laughing at yourself is the most legitimate way to let your demons out and see that they are not so scary. In addition, from such jokes, you can always understand where it hurts: if there are too many jokes on some topic, then it's worth thinking about it. A good (that is, bad, of course) example in this sense is Louis C. Kay with his leitmotif about masturbation; as we were shown in "Leaving Neverland" - if you want to hide something, put it in the most visible place.
director and screenwriter
The point is that any joke consists of three components: the joke itself; the one who tells it; and the one before whom it is told. If we consider a joke as something separate from the narrator and the audience, then there can be no restrictions here in principle. You can joke about anything. The question is to whom and in front of whom. Freedom of speech for me is absolute and does not extend only to personal threats and (a textbook legal example) shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. But good humor hits from the bottom up, and this vector is set precisely by people on both sides of the joke.
After publicly uttering almost any joke from the repertoire of my beloved Chris Rock or Dave Chapelle, I will go to the hospital; on the other hand, joke in front of me about greedy f *** s (if you are not a Jew) - and you will go to the hospital. This is a stupid situation, I agree - well, slavery and the Holocaust were also not particularly brilliant ideas, so let's disentangle their legacy and freely joke about each other. In the meantime, well, yes, women's jokes about stupid men are much funnier than men's jokes about stupid women, that's the kind of trouble.
And the audience is just as important as the storyteller. Let's take Louis C. Kay's new material, with a joke about schoolchildren who survived the shooting in Parkland ("You didn't even get hit, what's interesting about you?"). It is not jarring about the topic (believe me, even shooting at school can be funny - if you are a schoolboy; how many jokes were made about “blowing up the school / killing the teacher”). And not even a compromised figure of the narrator. And, oddly enough, it was the choice of the listener: CK spoke to a conservative audience on Long Island, for which the "difficult" joke about child activists was actually not difficult at all - it was like a balm to their souls, as it made fun of already hated by them "upstarts". That is, at this moment, the comedian, who made a career out of an inconvenient truth, more than tried to make his new audience comfortable - he specifically sucked up to her. So no joke exists out of context. And kicking the weak in the company and for the amusement of the strong is the worst context possible.
art critic and curator of the V-A-C Foundation
A harsh and cruel joke can also be successful. I love the word "malicious" - that kind of joke cannot be successful. If initially you want not to laugh, but to cause harm, if the basis of your joke is not its self-sufficiency, but something else, if the joke is instrumentalized, then it cannot be successful. Humor is like art.If it is used as a means against someone, it is always visible and always a sign of the impotence of the one who is joking, and certainly the audience of such a joke is always deceived.
Black humor is the best humor. All black is generally the best. But it happens to be a violation of ethics. For example, I’m convinced that joking about minorities if you don’t belong to them is bad taste. Personally, I will never joke about the Holocaust. In general, I think that the need to follow the words makes humor more difficult and more interesting.
Can funny jokes hurt? Everything is very individual here, it is necessary to consider specific cases. For example, there was a funny meme "We began to dress better." In general, quite often snippets of phrases become funny memes. This joke was born from an interview with a girl who said that living in Russia has become better over the past ten years (which, by the way, is absolutely true in my opinion). And her mistake about "better" turned out to be fatal. The meme was created and hyped for encouraging generalization: people who enjoy living in Russia today more than in Russia a decade ago are not very distant and unable to speak competently. Out of context, the joke may be funny. But if you know the context, you realize that it is actually quite offensive. There are situations when it is beneficial to use this meme, but in no case remembering its context. I caught myself on this.
literary critic and curator
The main line for me does not lie between "success" and "failure" (there may be different opinions, different things are funny to people), but between the audience of a joke. It is one thing if a person says “ha-ha, all women are fools” in his kitchen or in a small basement where twenty people have gathered, another thing if he broadcasts on federal television or on a heavily promoted YouTube channel. In the first case, he is just an unpleasant person with whom I do not want to deal, in the second, he is a pest who is responsible for the mentality of people, who must be fought with, who must be exposed.
In general, for me, wit ends where it joins force. It is now very easy for us to joke about minorities and generally ridicule those who are already feeling bad, because you will get nothing for it. If we are talking about "evil" humor - it must be at least somehow dangerous for the one who utters all these jokes. And the way it is mostly happening now is beautifully described in the bearded anecdote of my childhood. An American says to a Soviet person: “We have freedom, I can go to the square in Washington and shout 'Reagan is a fool,' to which the Soviet replies: 'We have exactly the same freedom, I can also go to the square in Moscow and shout' Reagan - a fool ". When minorities in our country become protected and strong, so much so that they can fight back, including legally, then, perhaps, something ironic said about them will seem ridiculous to me. Until then, definitely not.
A successful joke should be funny to everyone, including the object of the joke, and if everyone laughs, except for the one they joked about, this is already cruelty. It is better to joke about what has already been experienced and reflected, but about what is happening right now and at the same time causes strong feelings - only very carefully, focusing on feedback. Therefore, by the way, it is better to joke dangerous jokes personally, in order to immediately see the reaction and in which case, immediately apologize.
Humor has been studied by various philosophers, but all agree that laughter is a reflection of culture. Contemporary culture is built on respect for the emotional life. I think there have always been limitations, but now the main limitation is not to be mistaken by the context.
Personally, I will never joke about nationality, cultural characteristics, beliefs (except for the misanthropic type of racism), death and illness. Maybe I forgot something else, but in general I think that it is unacceptable to joke about what would be unpleasant to hear in your address.Well, I have pumped up arms - and I really do not like jokes about jocks and the fact that I pile on everyone.
It is unacceptable to joke about people who build a vivid and different image on social networks or in real life - in general, this is some kind of neolithic theme: joking at those who are different. If I want to wear a bright yellow hat and paint my eyes with orange glitter - that's my business, but a lot of people around me think that I'm “asking for myself” to at least neighing at me. The same is with any activists with a pronounced position, with eccentrics. Soviet upbringing assumed that we would be quiet depressive conformists, so everyone who does not fit in begins to enrage others. Here you need to work on yourself, and not look for the reason in the environment.
I grew up in a society where it was the norm to make fun of weakness. Both at home and at school, I was scared to admit to something that really worries and touches me, because it would give others a tool for ridicule. I myself also laughed at the weaknesses of others, and now I am ashamed of it. I think this is familiar to many. Now I try to joke so that I can repeat this joke to the person's face. This is a good filter.
I like black humor, but not when it's aimed at real people who might be hurt. Sometimes, in order to experience some traumatic events, we ridicule them: laughing at something terrible together is a guaranteed way to relaxation and rapprochement with other people. But I would be disgusted with myself if I constantly turned to black humor. It's pretty hard on the psyche.
founder of "Femstendap"
I believe that you need to follow the words in principle, and not only in comedy. We often allow ourselves to say too much on emotions, without thinking about the consequences.
I believe that you can joke about anything, the main thing is to make sure that you are understood correctly. For me, there is a line between a bad joke and a good one. If the whole joke consists of stereotypes, then this is a bad joke, there is no new interesting thought, this is not funny. I will never build a joke in which both the setup and the punchline just slap on the stereotypical behavior of women and men. For example, I don't watch Bill Burr, his comedy is not funny to me, because it is built on stereotypes, but he comes from what he and his viewers like, so why not joke then?
If you didn't like the joke, it offended and hurt you, you can share it with people who will support you. But you can't forbid joking on any topic. I'm a feminist - and when I hear jokes that make fun of feminists, I roll my eyes or cover my face with my hands. I feel ashamed of a comedian who does not even understand the meaning of the term "feminism". But at the same time, I do not want this comedian to have no right to joke.
public relations specialist, blogger, singer
A good joke is a joke that makes you really laugh without feeling embarrassed about the author. An evil joke is such a joke that can really offend someone, hurt someone to the quick. I believe that the laughter of ten is not worth the tears of one person.
In principle, you can joke about everything, but not always and not everywhere. When I worked at the Jewish Museum, we joked about the Holocaust among ourselves, because when, for example, you read diaries or descriptions of concentration camps every day, joking is your only way not to go crazy with what you read. At the same time, I will not joke so publicly. Or I like black humor like the joke "Sir, why did you bury your wife? “She died, sir,” he makes me laugh, but I, for example, will not tell him to a man whose wife really died.
The easiest way is to make fun of other people's physical disabilities, as, for example, children and not very pleasant adults do: there is not a lot of work of the mind, frankly, but everyone laughs. Once I played in KVN, and once my friend from the stage joked about my weight: it was an internal game and everyone understood that it was about me.Before this incident, I believed that you can laugh at people and at yourself, and those who are offended simply do not have enough self-irony. After this incident, I believe that it is better to joke so as not to offend anyone. And if you really want to joke badly (and this is sometimes a very powerful desire), it is better to call a friend and laugh guiltily with him than to write such a joke on Facebook.
In my opinion, you can joke, which means you need to absolutely everything. It is normal that jokes on some delicate topics can turn out to be ugly, inappropriate, just not funny: the so-called humor is ninety-nine percent terrible, regardless of the topic. This cannot be a pretext for either censorship or self-censorship.
I don't follow stand-up and television or web comedians, but in comedy films - both in the mainstream, where every joke, roughly speaking, is approved by the board of directors, and in the indie segment, where people beat themselves on the hands - now, of course, Hard times. I don't really believe in jokes that hurt: vulnerable gays, blondes, rabbis, or midgets who take offense at jokes and suffer mental anguish over tweets. Rather, I observe people who are professionally offended for them (just like for the "feelings of believers" at the other extreme). But even really offensive and outrageous jokes should, in my opinion, enjoy full immunity until they turn into obvious hate speech (all doubts are interpreted in favor of the offender).
In any case, it is clear that it is pointless to fight with humor. Some type of joke - let's say sexist - can be banished from decent society. It only means that it will flourish beyond its borders. Or eventually it will die out altogether - and thank God. But it seems that so far there have been no such precedents in the history of mankind, so you should not count on it. And it is clear that there is always a context and some nuances: a clown is usually not invited to a memorial service, in Israel, they probably perceive jokes about the Holocaust painfully, and, for example, in St. Petersburg it is not customary to joke about a blockade. But the stronger the temptation to prohibit something like that and even just condemn it, the more violently we must resist it, because where jokes, even the most bad ones, are human, and vice versa.
manager of international projects "Yandex"
I'm not an expert in humor at all and I don't know why they ask me about this, but it's interesting to think about it, so I'll give it a try. I'm sure the only working criterion for a joke is whether it's funny or not. A rude joke, politically incorrect, homophobic, can be funny. But any joke has a context, and it is this context that determines whether the joke is funny or not, aggressive or not, vulgar or not. And this is where the problems begin: in a space where most jokes are joking, the context is different for everyone, which means that it is absent.
I think it was not the jokes that changed, but the information space in which they joke. And this is a null context space. With zero context, any person can be suspected of all sins, the audience knows nothing about him. And if we don't know anything about the context, then the entire cultural foundation for the joke is destroyed. Therefore, you can joke either completely harmlessly (when the foundation is not very important), or about what is a meme (that is, publicly). It's scary in public space - you consider yourself a good person, you can afford to joke about anything, but there will certainly be those who know nothing about you. Plus, we are very much in the way of language: the space is new, the phenomena are new, and the words, to call it, are old. Let's say the word "bullying", which means everything, which means nothing. New words are taken by default and without proper reflection - try, say, figure out where there is cyberbullying and where not.
Accordingly, the space for jokes goes into personal communication and communication in companies where everyone understands this foundation - that is, where it is safe.For example, I can easily joke about gays, and about feminism, and about all painful and important topics in my own company of people, but I will not do this on Facebook. Why? Because among friends, I don't need to prove that I am not homophobic, that I am for women's rights, and so on. This, by the way, is not new at all. There is the same rule about jokes about Jews. I can joke them all I want, but I will be wary of Jewish jokes told by non-Jews.
As I write this, I think that perhaps my rule about companies does not work. Let the jokes about blacks be joked by blacks, about women - by women, and about gays - by gays. Self-ironic jokes are the best in the world. (Or maybe I inserted this addition, myself not fully understanding how the wave of public condemnation works, and these text airbags should be placed in the text - it is very difficult to talk in a non-contextual space.)
These two spaces (old and native - non-public, new and scary - public) are similar to the situation with the Soviet censorship (kitchen vs public conversation), but I would not seriously compare them. First, because the level of freedom in the case of jokes is immeasurably higher. On the other hand, because that censorship was man-made, and now there are social processes. It is necessary to fight against censorship, but here it is necessary to analyze and understand how the laws of social nature are arranged. Understand that this is not a transformation of the old public space, but the emergence of a completely new piece of reality with its own rules. Social media is something that has never happened before. And for some reason we believe that this new thing should work according to the old laws. It doesn't work that way.
The stupidest way to fight the rules in this new space seems to me the endless reproduction (primarily in advertising) of jokes on painful topics. I don't understand why people are doing cross-shooting all the time. There are tons of other ways to joke. However, I think that all this always rests on the same problem: you need to joke, but it turns out not funny. But if you made a joke on a non-funny topic on a safe topic, no one will notice. And if you made a joke about feminism, for some reason you shot yourself in the leg.
Late last year, everyone was talking about Wall Street rules in the #MeToo era, horrified by the new public censorship. Not noticing how the Bloomberg article ends. And it ends with a very simple rule: "Just try not to be an asshole." A great rule of thumb is the same with jokes.
It all depends on whose expense the joke is. If not for yours, then there are problems with her. That is, if for a joke it is necessary to beat a lying person, then this is a bad joke. And if the object of ridicule turns out to be someone who is in the position of power or a privileged majority, then he will definitely not lose heart. But jokes tend to work best when the author laughs at himself in some way, and not at someone else's expense.
Who to joke about and who to laugh at are slightly different things. I personally will not publicly laugh at members of any oppressed minorities; at least those of which I myself am not. Bad taste can be ironic; in a society where some statements are a priori equated to unethical, you can build jokes based on this. For example, in a joke about gay people, the object of ridicule may be the homophobe himself.
Comedians have always had the need to filter speech in one way or another. And humor has always been the weapon of those who have less rights than others, and through humor they conveyed this experience so that it would not seem that they complain too much and whine. Accordingly, the more rights people have, the more complex and interesting the humor.
Problems with politically incorrect jokes do not begin when they are sounded, but when the author begins to justify himself, and his defenders aggressively take his side. I will summarize all of the above. For example, I really liked the latest special by Ricky Gervais on Netflix, where there are many politically incorrect jokes (as he always does), but they are all reflected and his initial position is not to harm anyone. Sometimes some of his jokes still turn out to be rather problematic - and he is ready to discuss it and is ready to apologize, but he can not resist voicing them either.
DJ, public relations specialist
Humor is a form of understanding reality, by definition there are no taboo topics here. You can joke about anything.But a joke can be an act of aggression, and in such cases people should be protected. People, not beliefs, ideals, worldviews and other phenomena that cannot be offended. And not all people, of course, but only good ones (I have a list). Seriously, bad taste and violation of ethics are ridicule of vulnerable people and groups. It does not require any intellectual effort, it is too easy and therefore not funny. Political correctness primarily protects such people and such groups, that is, it makes them turn on their heads, understand the subject, and understand the context. It's okay to joke about gays in the United States, where gay marriage is now legalized, but it's worth considering before doing it in Russia, where Milonov and Kadyrov are today.
So censorship, which prohibits ridicule of what is called authority, is the opposite of political correctness. Power, in the broadest sense of the word, needs to be limited, and any satire about power has every chance of being appropriate. Unlike the servile satire that blooms with us. The consciousness of a Russian during the Putin period is deformed under the conditions of restrictions on freedoms, and this also applies to humor. Laughing at the mighty of this world is risky, so vulnerable people and groups are more often ridiculed, and it is safe to laugh at them. A collective "Comedy Club" appears with endless jokes about women and migrant workers. Political correctness is one of the last problems in Russia.
journalist and producer
In fact, you can joke about anything at all, then it's just a matter of consequences: you can be kicked in the face, stop communicating and something else - this is what one friend of mine says, who jokes a lot. I agree with him. It seems to me that the same boundaries work with jokes as with everything in life. I will not joke with a stranger on any sensitive topic - however, I’m also unlikely to ask him about his origin, income, sexual orientation or health status. If a person jokes about himself, he has the right to any joke. For example, I sometimes joke about my father, who died many years ago and with whom I did not know. A couple of times it shocked my interlocutors, but everyone seemed to understand that I am like this, I share my experiences this way and this is how I see my life. At the same time, the boundaries are preserved: I am joking about my father, you can joke about yours - you don’t need mine.
Bad taste, in my opinion, does not exist. A person who utters an awkward phrase about someone's nationality (it seems to him that he is joking like that), in my communication system, simply informs the world about his views on life - thank you, now I know more about you and I want to talk to you less.
journalist, editor, author of the telegram channels "The Robber's Daughter" and "Your Mother!"
What am I not going to joke about and what, it seems to me, shouldn't be joked about? I find discriminatory jokes and jokes about someone's health or ill health inappropriate. But in general, it seems to me that between two friends or in a friendly company, jokes can be very different. We can joke evil, cruel and not very beautiful and not hate each other for it.
But when we're talking about public speaking - jokes from companies and brands, jokes in marketing communications - different rules apply. For example, when Aviasales says that the children of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are extras, hinting at their adopted children, then this is an unacceptable racist joke on behalf of the brand, completely unacceptable. This is a serious damage to your reputation and what you, watching this ad, feel the Spanish shame for.
It has probably become more difficult to joke now, because you cannot know how your word will respond - especially if you are in plain sight. But these restrictions, it seems to me, should, on the contrary, awaken imagination.If you no longer have standard ways to advertise your product - for example, you are the owner of a tire shop and do not want to advertise tire service using a naked female body - then you will have to make some creative effort to tell about your business without offending or discriminating against anyone. Such restrictions are a super booster that allows you to come up with something out of the ordinary and avoid clichéd images and ideas.
It's pretty simple for me: a good joke is funny. She can be tough, politically incorrect, angry. If it’s funny, it’s good. And I would like to live in a world where I could joke without thinking about censorship. But we do not live in it. First of all, because in our world there is a lot of injustice, pain, cruelty and various other things. We live in a world where the strong (very different strong: politicians, Europeans, men, women) rarely help those who are weaker. And I understand that in these and many other situations, a joke can really hurt a lot.
I think it's useful to try everything on yourself. I was often joked at school, the jokes were funny, but it didn't hurt me any less. Perhaps a psychotherapist would have taught me to react calmly to this, but in my childhood there were no psychotherapists. I definitely don't want to hurt people, so I will leave some of the jokes (even if they are very funny) in my closet, let them live there alone with me. Another question is how to understand where the line is between cruelty and censorship. I would not want to suddenly find myself in a world where any concept is considered politically incorrect, because, if you think about it, almost every phrase can offend someone. This is a world of polite people (which is good), but behind this politeness, for me personally, there is often some kind of emptiness.
It has long been clear to me that the most difficult thing for a person is facets. Simple: either everything or nothing. Difficult: to find a measure, some kind of thin line, groping for which you can be funny and not hurt anyone. Be politically incorrect, but not offend. And here for me it is not a question of the topic: sex, religion, nationality. The question is in the nature of humor and in the figure of the narrator. Who are you and what can you afford.