The day that the Challenger blew up, I was sitting in a lounge area adjacent to the cafeteria with some friends when another friend came up.
He said in an obviously joking tone, “Hey, do you know what NASA stands for?”
I bit, “No, what does it stand for?”
“Need Another Seven Astronauts?”
Talk about going from disaster to humor in nothing flat, he had it down to a few hours. These days, I’m sure he would have followed up with, “Too soon?” Of course, that joke had probably been a variant of one from Apollo 1, where it might have been, “Need Another Set of Astronauts,” so the speed came through recycling.
When the subject of the Challenger explosion came up recently, I thought about that moment. If someone today, especially a university student, cracked a tasteless joke like that on the day of a disaster, the authorities would lock him up, clear the building, and provide psychological counseling for all who had been triggered by his obtuseness towards the feelings of the snowflakes around him.
Back at that time, I had a job at the university, and my boss’ boss was a black man with an Irish last name. One day, he announced he had gotten an invitation to attend the World (his surname) Gathering in Ireland.
“Can you see me strutting in there?” he asked while acting out the strut. He imagined he would say, “‘Hi! I’m just here to add a little color to the gathering!’”
Then he looked over at me, “Hey, Charley! You know why white men dress as they do on the golf course?”
“No, Doc, why do they?”
He waved at his outfit, which included bright colors and plaid pants, “So they can dress as cool as black men do every day.”
Can you imagine anyone doing that today? Yes, the target of the humor might be construed as white men, or the target might be seen as black fashion choices.
I grew up with all sorts of transgressive jokes. We learned to laugh. We learned to have humor in horrible situations.
Q. What is Al Qaeda’s favorite football team?
A. The New York Jets.
We were not brittle. Like iron, we were worked hard with a bit of carbon (or manure) thrown our way to make us tough and flexible steel.
Some of that manure thrown our way was in the form of ethnic jokes:
Q. How does a Polack tie his shoe?
A. *The guy puts one foot up on a chair and bends down to tie the shoe on the other foot, which is on the ground.*
Q: How can you tell if a WASP is sexually excited?
A: The stiff upper lip.
Q. How can you tell when a Scotsman is dead?
A. He lets go of his wallet.
We learned to tell dirty jokes without being offended or offensive:
Q. What’s black and white, black and white, black and white, black and white, and green?
A. Four nuns fighting over a pickle.
In many ways, these jokes which would be considered offensive today were the glue that held us together. They were the hammers we were forged with. They were the naughty coals that warmed our hearts. These jokes were the building bricks of a cohesive civilization.
Sure, they could be sick and cruel or even gross:
Q. What’s red and white and hangs from the ceiling?
A. A baby on a meat hook.
Q. What’s green and hangs from the ceiling?
A. Same baby three weeks later.
Or they might make fun of people with disabilities:
Q. What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs when he’s on your porch?
Q. What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs when he’s in the ocean?
Hey, did you hear about the hockey game at the leper colony? There was a face off in the corner.
And they certainly made fun of professions:
Q. What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 100?
A. Your Honor.
Q. What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 50
Q. What’s the difference between an accountant and a lawyer?
A. Accountants know they’re boring.
Q. How do you know you’re talking to an extroverted actuary?
A. He looks at your shoes when he talks.
The only way for us to preserve Western Civilization is to get back to joking without worrying about who might be offended. So, give us your best. Disaster jokes? Go for it! Nun jokes? Dead baby jokes? Mommy, mommy jokes? Leper jokes? Quadruple-amputee jokes? Rude limericks? Bring ’em on.
Just remember that we still have a CoC on Ricochet, so clean up your language, you etaoin shrdlus.Published in