Friday, October 12, 2012

Be careful. That joke could send you to troubled waters


How would you feel if someone joked about the victims of the January Boko Haram killings at Adamawa? If you were a southerner, you would have felt distraught, or sent the comedian a harshly worded email.

And so would I have.

Jokes were meant to expose the frailty of the human condition. Comedians who are not careful with their trade know they can land in murky waters if they approach a topic that irritates or angers the audience. So, they tend to stick to harmless subjects, which some psychologist has termed benign violations theory.

According to the benign violations theory, a wrongdoing can be placed in a humorous situation when it becomes harmless or okay to the listeners. According to Peter McGraw, who runs the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, two criteria that can make a wrong okay or seemingly harmless are: it should have some psychological distance from the hearers and the distance it has to the listener should be equal to the severity of the wrongdoing.

I was going through my Facebook updates recently and I saw a caricature strip of our former president, Obasanjo. The strip made you wonder what sort of children he wanted to be godfather to: intelligent children or barbaric children? The message was surreptitious. I did not like it. So would I not if that strip was also a joke. Many Nigerians would have felt insulted.

A good comedian who does not want to annoy his listeners, could take the following advice while crafting his jokes:

Let us say the subject is a Nigerian president and a violation that was committed by this president.

First, instead of a Nigerian president whom we associate with and can relate to easily, like Obasanjo, he’d have made puns on that president through his butler, or a staff of his household whom we do not know or cannot easily associate with, thereby creating that psychological distance. Point number one: a good comedian respects the distance in relationship.

Secondly, instead of a president whom we all love and want to emulate, he would have targeted his jokes on the butler or driver of a president whom we have either forgotten (e.g Shagari) or do not like and want to rubbish easily (e.g Abacha). Point number two: a good comedian respects the distance in time of his subjects.

Thirdly, instead of a president whom the public have direct information about, let it be the butler or driver of a president whom the public would prefer not have direct contact with. Point number three: a good comedian creates a distance in space in his choice of subjects.

Lastly, instead of using a topic that is real to his listeners, not to irritate their sensibilities, he would use a topic that is imaginary or hypothetical. That is the last point good comedians use to achieve their aim.

Scenario: To illustrate the lasciviousness of Abacha while in office, a good comedian could create something thus: (mind you, I’m no comedian)

Abacha’s driver: Oga, this one wey your face dey ugly like this, wetin happen?

Abacha: My brother, I have killed all my enemies and there is no one to kill again. Soyinka has run away. Saro Wiwa is dead. Tinubu has escaped. Diya…Life is boring.

Abacha’s driver: Oga, you never start at all!. You don go Afghanistan? There are beautiful babes, black babes, white babes; you can kill whenever and however. After that, you fit hang the head inside your eyeglass.

Did the joke make you laugh?


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