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1 National Styles of Humor by Don L. F. Nilsen,

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1 1 National Styles of Humor by Don L. F. Nilsen, and Alleen Pace Nilsen

2 2 Afghanistan at the Crossroads Ghenghis Khan came to Afghanistan. Marco Polo came to Afghanistan. The Silk Route went through Afghanistan. The British came to Afghanistan. The Americans came to Afghanistan. The Russians came to Afghanistan. The Kuchies travel through Afghanistan; They travel toward Russia in the Spring and Summer time. And they travel toward Pakistan in the Fall and Winter time. Afghanistan is like New York. It’s a great place to visit, but nobody gets to stay.

3 3 International Humor that Translates Well from Culture to Culture Physical humor tends to play well across international borders, and of course comedians in America’s silent films had international audiences. Examples of comedians who have international audiences include: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges

4 4 Bulgarian Humor Every year there is a humor festival in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, that attracts visitors from around the world. They have a museum called the “House of Humour and Satire” with tanks and guns made out of soft cloth. In front of the House of Humour and Satire is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They make fun of the fact that they are cheap. They erected a statue of their humorous founder Racho Kabacho (Racho, the blacksmith) in the middle of the river, because that was where the land was cheap. And during the festival, dozens of people dress up like Charlie Chaplin with mustaches, top hat, tuxedos, oversized shoes and canes. And they all walk in straight lines and then make right-angle turns to walk in a new straight line.

5 5 Political Cartoons across International Boundaries Another type of humor that translates well across international boundaries are political cartoons. These cartoons are caricatures in which the salient features are exaggerated, so that the depictions become very recognizable. The cartoon must also be epiphanal, so the characters in the cartoon tend to be very stereotypical. This allows the point to be made in a very quick and succinct way, much like the punch line of a joke.

6 6 Classical Greek Satire But much humor is situated both in time and in space. Horace wrote mild and gentle humorous satires. These were called Horatian satires. Juvenal wrote bitter and sardonic satires. These were called Juvenalian satires. We also have Horatian and Juvenalian satires in later times. Jonathan Swift wrote the Horatian satire Gulliver’s Travels, and he also wrote the Juvenalian satire A Modest Proposal. Similarly, George Orwell wrote the Horatian satire Animal Farm, and the Juvenalian satire 1984.

7 7 Postmodern Deconstructed Humor A satire presents a dystopia (what life is), and suggests a eutopia (what we want life to be), but in order to do this, it has to be judgmental. When satire becomes non-judgmental, it turns into gallows humor, and in America most of our satires have become ironic rather than satiric. Examples include: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, and The World according to Garp by John Irving These are all dark, but there are some that are even darker: Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

8 8 Frontier Tall Tales vs. Urban Legends In early America, some people stayed in the safe and comfortable East while the adventurers went West to tame the frontier. These early American frontiersmen sent stories back to the gullible Easterners about the frontier West. They told about obsidian mountains, and fish that jump into boats, and about water shooting out of the rocks at regular intervals of the day, and about “grand canyons.” And some of the stories were true, while other stories were “tall tales,” and many of the Easterners couldn’t tell the difference. There were frontier stories about John Henry, and Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill. It is said that Pecos Bill’s tombstone reads: “Here lies Pecos Bill. He always lied, and always will. He once lied loud. He now lies still.”

9 9 Frontier Humor vs. Urban Legends But as America became industrialized, and Americans moved to the cities, a new type of humor developed: the urban legend. These urban legends were about new inventions, new discoveries, and new fears about city life. There is an urban legend about a solid cement Cadillac, and about a $100 Mercedes, and about a thief in a changing room, and even one about Little Mikey who would eat cereal that nobody else would eat. Little Mikey is said to have eaten some pop rocks, and to have drunk some Coke, and to have exploded.

10 10 The Alligators in the Sewers One of these urban legends is about the alligators in the sewers. Some Americans bought tiny alligators and tiny turtles for their children, and when they were finished with them they flushed them down the toilets into the sewers. Some other Americans’ homes were raided while they were smoking marijuana, and they flushed this down the sewers. The sewer was a very rich environment for the many plants and animals that were flushed down the toilets, because of all of the water and fertilizer. So there are urban legends about alligators in the sewers, and powerful marijuana in the sewers, and even of turtles that have mutated into “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

11 11 German “Schadenfreud” Humor Germany has “Der Struevelpater,” a dark figure who burns up little children who play with matches and cuts off the fingers of little children who play with scissors. This dark figure is designed to teach children that there are serious consequences for doing bad things.

12 12 English Humor: Chaucer’s Eccentrics There is a Night, a Miller, a Pardoner, and a Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The following is a tale about the Nun. Ther was also a nonne, a Prioresse, That of hir smyling was ful symple and coy, Hir gretteste oath was but by Seinte Loy, And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne. Ful wel she song the service dyvine, Entuned in her nose ful semely. And Frenshe she spak ful faire and fetisly After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe, For Frenshe of Parys was to hir unknowe.

13 13 Humor in Shakespeare’s Comedies As an example of a Shakespearean comedy consider A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a “comedy of humors” with many eccentric characters, but the magic in the play makes the characters even funnier. Bottom, for example, ends up with the head of an ass. His name is Bottom, and in English, one’s “bottom” is one’s “ass.”

14 14 Humor in Shakespeare’s Romances The women in Shakespeare’s romances can be very uppity until the last act, at which time everybody gets married, the natural order is restored (with the man in charge), and they live happily ever after. This is true in Much Ado about Nothing, and it is also true in The Taming of the Shrew, in which the shrew gets tamed in the last act. Romeo and Juliet is a romance that begins as a comedy and ends as a tragedy. In this play, Mercutio is a mercurial or comic figure. When Romeo asks how badly he is wounded he says, “ ‘Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve.” “Ask for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man.”

15 15 Humor in Shakespeare’s Histories Mark Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is dripping with irony: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones…. The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambituous; If it were so, it was a grievous fault…. I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse; was this ambition?

16 16 Humor in Shakespeare’s Tragedies But the best humor in Shakespeare is the comic relief in his tragedies. When the tragedy becomes unbearable, the play must be comic not only for relief, but also to contrast with the stark tragedy that came before and will surely follow afterward. Consider the drunken porter scene in Macbeth. Consider the fool-is-smarter-than-the-king speech in King Lear. Consider the Polonius in the wings speech in Hamlet. Or consider the grave digger’s scene in Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy….” “Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning?”

17 17 Lewis Carroll’s Parodies With most of his parodies, Lewis Carroll was protesting the didacticism and sentimentality imposed on Victorian children and their parents. “Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star, How I wonder where you are,” becomes “Twinkle, twinkle, Little Bat, How I wonder where you’re at.”

18 18 England’s Didactic Tradition G. W. Langford wrote a poem that not only preached to parents, but also threatened them with a reminder of the high mortality rate for young children. Langford’s poem went as follows: Speak gently to the little child! It’s love be sure to gain; Teach it in accents soft and mild; It may not long remain.

19 19 Lewis Carroll’s Parody of Langford’s Poem Lewis Carroll turned Langford’s poem into a song for the Duchess to sing to a piglet wrapped in baby clothes: Speak roughly to your little boy, And beat him when he sneezes. He only does it to annoy, Because he knows it teases.

20 20 Isaac Watts’ Original Poem: “Against Idleness and Mischief” How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour And gather honey all the day From every opening flower!

21 21 Lewis Carroll’s Parody of Isaac Watts’ Poem How doth the little crocodile Improve his shining tail And pour the waters of the Nile On every golden scale!

22 22 Oscar Wilde’s Comedy of Manners Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners in which high society is one of the targets. Lady Bracknell asks Jack, “Do you smoke?” Jack responds, “Yes, I must admit I smoke.” Lady Bracknell continues, “I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind.” The Importance of Being Earnest is a play about names. Jack Worthing invents the name of “Ernest” for times when he is being anything but earnest. At the end of the play Jack discovers that Ernest is his real name, and he says to Gwendolyn, “It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?”

23 23 American Parodies Parodies of Edgar Alan Poe’s “Bells” Hear the sledges with the bells— Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the Icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight.

24 24 Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells, bells— From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

25 25 Demer Cape’s Parody of “Bells” See the doctors with their pills— Silver-coated pills. What a world of misery their calomel instills. How they twingle, twingle, twingle in the icy-golden night

26 26 You have taken two that mingle. And you wish you’d had a single; While your cheeks are ashy white… Oh, the pills, pills, pills— Pills, pills, pills, pills. So ends my rhyming and my chiming on the pills.

27 27 Barry Pain’s Parody of “Bells” Here’s a mellow cup of tea, golden tea! What a world of rapturous thought its fragrance brings to me! Oh from out the silver cells How it wells! How it smells?

28 28 Keeping tune, tune, tune To the tintinnabulation of the spoon And the kettle on the fire Boils its spout off with desire, … But he always came home to tea, tea, tea, Tea, tea, tea, tea.

29 29 Anonymous’ Parody of “Bells” Hear the fluter with his flute, Silver flute! Oh, what a world of wailing is awakened by its toot! How it demi-semi quavers On the maddened air of night! And defieth all endeavors To escape the sound or sight

30 30 Of the flute, flute, flute, With its tootle, tootle, toot… Of the flute, flewt, fluit, floot, Phlute, Phlewt, Phlewght, And the tootle, tootle tooting of its toot.

31 31 The Irish Rogue The Irish Rogue is not a criminal, but he is very bright and charismatic. And he is subversive. Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl is a typical Irish Rogue, in the tradition of Christy Mahon in John Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Mr. Boyle in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, Finn MacCool in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and Sebastian Dangerfield in J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. Jonathan Swift was even being a bit roguish when he wrote “A Modest Proposal.”

32 32 Rogues are revered in Ireland, because it was the Rogues who fought back when the English were taking over Ireland. Rogues break rules and laws, but it is always for the greater good. Rogues are “entertaining and high spirited, and they diffuse violence with their use of humor. Although they are flirtatious, they seldom form any lasting alliances with women.”

33 33 Many rogues are linked to an aristocratic figure, usually an Irish rebel chief, for whom they risk their lives. The ‘rogue’ is articulate, good natured, fun loving, and exhibits an irrepressible élan vital. Rogues tend to be imaginative and resilient comic figures.

34 34 Japanese Humor vs. Navajo Humor The Japanese are very serious during working hours. They consider their bosses and their fellow workers part of their family, and they do their best to be productive and impress their working companions. But after working hours, they go to Karaoke bars and drink lots of saki, and make fun of their boss and their companions. Their humor can be very slapstick, and very silly.

35 35 Japanese Humor vs. Navajo Humor In contrast to Japanese humor, Navajo humor is part of everyday life. It tends to be physical, and it involves many practical jokes. Navajos will often parody white men by talking loudly, boasting, and interrupting others. When a child is born into a Navajo family, everybody tries to make the child laugh, and the first person who is successful in doing so becomes a part of the family. There is even a formal ceremony to induct this laugh-inducer into the child’s family.

36 36 Trickster Tales: Pourquoi Stories & Cautionary Tales Most American Indian tribes, like many African tribes, have trickster tales. The tales are cautionary, and they are also explanatory. African Anansi tales tell why mosqitoes buzz, and why the elephant has a long trunk. Indian Coyote stories and other trickster tales tell how a person should act often by demonstrating how not to act.

37 37 Indian culture also often has “contraries” who do everything backwards. They ride their horses backwards. They wear little clothing in the winter and much clothing in the summer. They lift great weights with ease and have difficulty lifting light weights. They attack a powerful enemy, and cower at a lesser power. And they say the opposite of the truth. Some ritual clowns also do the opposite of what is right as a demonstration of what not to do.

38 38 Humorous Metaphors in Farsi (Iranian Persian) NOTE: In Farsi, these are dead metaphors and are therefore not funny. But to an outsider learning Dari, they are very funny. The Farsi word for walking is “baa Xate yazdah” (going by bus line number 11). The 11 stands for two legs while walking. The Farsi word for “ladybird” is “kafsh duzak” (little shoe-smith) The Farsi word for “osterich” is “shotor-morgh” (camel-hen) The Farsi word for “pneumonia” is “sine pahlu” (chest-side)

39 39 Humorous Metaphors in Dari (Afghan Persian) The Dari word for “popcorn” is chos e fil” (elephant’s fart). This has recently been changed to “pof-e fil” (elephant’s puff). The Dari word for turkey is “fil morgh” (elephant chicken) The Dari word for turtle is “sang posht” (rock back) The Dari word for walnut is “chahar maghs” (four brains) --Thanks to my Dari and Farsi consultants: Sajida Kamal Grande of the University of Nebraska, Omaha formerly of Kabul University in Afghanistan And Behrooz Mahmoodi-Bakhtiari, University of Tehran

40 40 Afghan Mullah Nasruddin Stories NOTE: These stories teach people logic and how to reason Mullah Nasrudin and the balloon on the ankle Mullah Nasrudin looking for a valuable coin in the wrong place Mullah Nasrudin stealing watermelons Mullah Nasrudin lifting a heavy boulder Mullah Nasrudin shooting his own shirt Mullah Nasrudin’s donkey, the salt, and the wool carpet Mullah Nasrudin and the three Friday sermons

41 41 Mullah Nasruddin

42 42 Afghan Web Sites: Bill Gau’s Afghan Signs Web Site” Don and Alleen Nilsen’s Afghan Web Site:

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