The Laugh Epidemic

There are ways to be funny without sacrificing your friends’ feelings. Exhibit A: bubbles.

By Victoria Patti

I’m not a funny person. Sure, I have my moments, but if someone were to write a list of adjectives that described me, funny would not be one of them.

I don’t really mind that much. When I was younger, I always wanted to be the first to crack a joke or make people laugh. But as I grew up, being considered funny fell down on my priority list. I would hope people saw me as thoughtful or caring before they called me funny.

A lot of my peers think otherwise. We go to a school that idolizes comedic talent. MHS Info starts our days off with jokes, PACE shows never fail to amuse us. In this newspaper, there is an entire section dedicated to humor. Our school has a complete network of people whose only job is to entertain us. Sometimes, there is just nothing better than laughing at your friends.

We all get made fun of for silly things, some more appropriate than others. And there are times when situations are just so awkward we have to laugh them off. But when comments turn hurtful, and cross the line from jokes to insults, I don’t think anyone should be laughing.

A joke is supposed to be a display of humor in which words are used in a specific way to make people laugh. But recently, jokes have evolved into things that aren’t necessarily funny. I’ve heard negative comments about appearances, current living situations, and just blatant insulting remarks—all masked as jokes. According to a survey I conducted, 61 percent of Mamaroneck High School students believe that jokes are supposed to be funny, and aren’t meant to hurt other people’s feelings. So then why did 82 percent of survey takers say they have been hurt by jokes? Why is no one speaking up?

When jokes are told around an audience, a victim’s discomfort is usually hidden by the sounds of laughter. The victim doesn’t want to speak up, in fear of being put down, not only by the joker, but by the rest of the audience. He doesn’t want to act as if he can’t take the joke, because he knows it’s supposed to only be a joke. But let’s say he does. Let’s say the victim bravely approaches the joker, and explains that he was hurt by the comment.

The problem is, the victim will often see the joke as insulting, while the joker will find it hilarious. This creates strife between the victim and the joker. The joker (I would hope) didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings; he only wanted to get a laugh out of an audience. But when the victim is hurt by the joke, and speaks up about it, the joker must defend himself so his joke is still considered funny.

“I was just kidding,” says the joker, “don’t be so sensitive.” The victim immediately sinks down and tries to forget that the entire thing ever happened, blocking out the sounds of taunting laughter from his friends around him.

Very rarely have I heard someone apologize for a joke.

An insult isn’t a joke; a rude remark isn’t a joke. Joking has turned into an entire pastime, in which people try to see who can get the biggest laugh from the audience. So why is the audience laughing, if they know it will hurt the victim?

The problem is that in high school, simple punch lines are no longer suitable entertainment. People want real life comedy—stuff that they can actually see. So to create humor, jokers poke fun at other people, people whom members of the audience know. The audience is then able to understand their situations and see the victims’ reactions, which more often than not will happen right in front of their eyes.

In some people’s minds, if someone falls down the stairs, it’s hilarious. If one is rejected by someone her or she likes, it’s a perfect time to laugh at them. Jokers everywhere find opportunities when people are vulnerable, so victims won’t fight it off. The audience is sometimes the biggest culprit; according to the survey, 77 percent of people haven’t defended a victim when they know a joke could be hurtful. Embarrassing people is not funny. Making rude comments about friends’ appearances is not funny. But most importantly, saying unnecessary, hurtful, statements to impress people is definitely not funny.

We’ve all been the butt of a joke before, and I’m sure rightfully so. In the dull high school world, it’s nice to have live humor before your next class. But it can go too far. And I believe that there are people who think it never can.

Boys and girls will taunt and berate their close friends, just so people around them will laugh. It’s ridiculous how many times I’ve heard of people getting upset at a “joke.” Am I against humor? Absolutely not. I firmly believe that laughter is the best medicine, and jokes should never come in short supply. But why should people have to endure the constant taunting by their immature friends, just so people around them will chuckle? Jokes aren’t supposed to undermine other people. Comedy is all well and good, and should be used on a regular basis, but that by no means makes it okay to mask insults as jokes. When one hides mockery as humor, it’s essentially verbal abuse.

I encourage all of you to think before you speak. Why create conflict and hurt feelings if you don’t have to? Tell jokes, and tell them often, but make sure they aren’t hurtful. Let’s strive to create a community that’s filled with laughter, but let’s make sure it’s positive.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Kahn

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