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Practical jokes take ridicule to the extreme

Jim LeeWell, it looks like we survived April Fool’s Day this year. Why does this date become an excuse for practical jokes? I ne

Well, it looks like we survived April Fool’s Day this year. Why does this date become an excuse for practical jokes? I never have understood that.

Why do we need practical jokes in the first place? Maybe it’s a form of socially sanctioned bullying. It’s fun for the perpetrator but in many cases not exactly a bucket of giggles for the victim.

Yes, I said victim. Practical jokes involve something more than becoming the butt of a joke. In a practical joke something is actually done to a person.

Practical jokes take ridicule to the extreme. We certainly don’t need to do that, but there’s nothing wrong in slinging around a few verbal jabs when no harm is intended. Often we insult the people we like the most — the “insult” is only a verbal poke in the ribs, a slap on the back, a participatory laugh at ourselves initiated by somebody we like.

It’s like saying, “We don’t care what the world says about us, my friend. Let’s just shrug things off and have a laugh.”

Maybe it’s a strength of friendship to bring up each others’ perceived shortcomings in a fun sort of way and by that saying it is simply part of what makes us unique and valuable to each other.

Poking fun at “faults” tends to minimize them and to emphasize far more important matters.

Unfortunately in these days of trying to remain “politically correct” (whatever that is supposed to be), we seem to have lost some of the fun inherent in Americans. Of course it is terrible to say hurtful things to others in the guise of humor.

We do need to poke fun at people though, including ourselves. Even ethnic humor, when done without malice, can be a very healthy thing.

Remember the Polish jokes? In Canada they were Ukrainian jokes. In Montana they were North Dakotian jokes. We could simply insert any category of people in the right spots and call them whoever jokes. Where is the malice in that? I miss the harmless variety of ethnic humor. Not only is it fun, it is an American tradition every bit as much as apple pie and baseball.

The strength and beauty of our country is its incredible diversity. If done without malice, ethnic humor is a celebration of our diversity and our common bond of laughing at ourselves.

Not too long ago, I lamented the loss of harmless ethnic humor to my friend Don Criss during the usual morning coffee ritual we began several years ago. During this conversation Don mentioned that we have not lost it at all. We have simply replaced the ethnic identities with extra-terrestrials. This way we can still poke fun without risking a rip in that “politically correct” membrane enclosing our society.

I have great respect for Don and his intelligence and knowledge, but even more respect for his wisdom. He made a lot of sense in what he said about the state of ethnic humor.

He has the right attitude. We should never lose that gift of being able to laugh at ourselves (or laughing at others). Don and I would feel awful if we thought we truly offended anybody, but we do like to laugh gently at human frailty and tease the many groups of fine people making up this grand diversity called America.

We shouldn’t be bullies in the thin veneer of professed humor, but practical jokes in most cases can be replaced with some intelligent wit. We need humor, as long as it generates fun rather than maliciousness.

Have a good laugh, my friends — at my expense if you like.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail:

[email protected]

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