Ethnic Humor Part I

October 8, 2009

Is it just me, or has there been a dearth of good jokes in the past several years? I used to be able to count on running across at least one a week, whether by email, over a drink after work, or once in a very great while, in Reader’s Digest. But over the past few years, during which time I have been largely gone from Nashville (this will tie in, trust me), the supply seems to have dried up. Then, late this past summer, I had the occasion to return for a brief visit to Music City, and during my time there, managed to hook up with longtime friend, singer-songwriter Mike Muldoon, who has never disappointed me on the joke front, and this time was no exception:

 
An Irish fellow is looking desperately for a parking space at the airport, scant minutes before he must check in for his flight. Up one row, down the next, with no luck, stress level spiking, and his departure looming ever closer. So he offers up a prayer, with a lovely Irish lilt: “Dear Heavenly Father, if you will just help me find a parking place, I promise to quit smoking, to never cheat on my wife again, to stop swearing…” And lo and behold, just at that moment, a car backs out and a parking space opens up directly ahead of him. He glances heavenward, and goes “Never mind, I’ve got it.”

 
This tale got me to thinking about the nature of ethnic jokes, and what a part they have played in American humor over the run of my lifetime. When I was a kid, Polish jokes were all the rage, and sometimes quite funny, although to the best of my knowledge I never met a real Polish person until I was past thirty, and even then I didn’t know he was Polish…at first. His name was Wacek Kozlowski, which might have been a clue had I been a bit more urbane. It was at a Nashville barbecue thrown by my friend Greg Welsch, who happens to be brother-in-law to the aforementioned Mike Muldoon. It was quite the international gathering: a group of Americans, a Canadian, several Paraguayans, and this Wacek character, who had an accent not unlike the “wild and crazy guys” of Saturday Night Live fame. Greg, ever the provocateur, told a Polish joke, got a general round of laughter from the group, and then turned the floor over to me: “Hey Bruce, tell us that Polish joke you told at work this week.” Sad to say, I don’t remember the joke, but I do remember that it garnered its fair share of laughs, likely for its sheer crudity, after which Wacek, who was sitting next to me, said “Bruce, perhaps I should tell you that I am Polish.” Oh, dear. So I looked at him directly in the eye and said “Wow, I am really sorry…(beat, beat)…Let me tell it to you a little bit slower.” There was that moment where it could have gone either way, then Wacek broke out into a big grin, put his arm around my shoulder and said “You and me, I think we’re gonna be good friends!”

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