There are so many things that get under my skin around here: the crime, filth, and trash; the road rage; the naked people; and the slavish adoration of all things leftist. But one of the most annoying is that so few people around Berkeley have any sense of humor.
Imagine living in an area where you have to screen every potential comment for racial, gender, and transgender sensitivity. And every time you dare to open your mouth, there’s a pretty good chance that someone will shut you up.
For instance, I was at the bank last fall when we were having a string of lovely, warm days. Amiably, I said to the teller, “It seems like we’re having an Indian summer.” To which the well trained, young white male responded, “Hm. I wonder if the term, ‘Indian summer,’ is racist.” To which I swiftly reacted, “Oh, please. I am so sick of political correctness. It’s a nice day out, okay?”
None of it was funny.
Now if you’ve been paying any kind of attention the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the same thing: that those on the left are generally humorless. And when they joke, the humor is often vicious, such as making rape jokes about Sarah Palin or trashing her Downs Syndrome child. Then there was Newsweek’s light hearted romp, entitled, “Killing Granny.” But real, refreshing, clever humor? Hard to find.
And that gives you a hint of what it’s like living around Berkeley. You can walk around town, have a mocha expresso at a Peet’s coffee house, attend a lecture at UC Berkeley. You’ll see plenty of people adorned with Che t-shirts, solemnly reading Marx. But you’ll rarely see a smiling, laughing face among them.
The young males out here aren’t laughing. How can they laugh when the young women berate them for being “gender insensitive” every time they open their mouths. The young women aren’t laughing . . . they’re too busy scrutinizing others’ speech for possible gender insensitivity. The older folks are too busy glaring at those who dare to throw out a plastic container.
As for me, I grew up in a family where my parents were always laughing, “kibbitzing,” as they called it. My father, especially, was a natural born entertainer. Mom was more the “straight man,” acting wacky and thus providing ample material for dad’s jokes. While my father’s constant joking with everyone was wearisome when I was young, now I savor recalling his joie de vivre.
So it’s an exercise in frustration living out here. It wasn’t so bad when I first got here in the 80’s. There was a modicum of humor until critical theory and critical feminism and critical everything swallowed up any possibility of fun.
I still recall going to see a lesbian comic 20 years ago or so, with the room packed with lesbians. The crowd was howling with laughter as the comic gently teased them about their lifestyle and relationships. (It’s probably not a coincidence that I haven’t seen that comic perform around here for a good many years.)
And then there was “Pat” on Saturday Night Live, from the l990‘s, who was a popular, recurring character there. Played by Julia Sweeney, Pat was a gender ambiguous man/woman who kept the audience guessing about whether he/she was a man or a woman. Do you really think that in these gender-paranoid times, Pat would be allowed anywhere near SNL?
But life is dry and lifeless without a sense of humor. It’s why every culture has had its share of jokes, including ethnic ones. I recently read about a comedienne bemoaning the intolerance now towards any ethnic jokes. Didn’t we all hear and make Italian/Irish/Polish/Jewish etc. etc. jokes growing up and didn’t we all somehow survive?
As Wavy Gravy once said, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s not funny.” Wavy Gravy was the clown at Woodstock. Ironically, he once lived in Berkeley, and I used to see him parading around town in his clown suit from time to time, laughing and waving at people.
But I haven’t seen him anywhere around here for a very long time.