Like most people (except maybe the bitter, cynical and deeply jaded ones), I love a good laugh. But as I get older (not old, just older), I find myself discriminating against certain types of humor. I seem to be shying away from the meaningless sort and am naturally attracted to hilarious yet thought-provoking pieces which set the stage for more elevated conversation.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that I am only attracted to the stuffy sort of humor. For example, I discovered awhile ago a wonderful sketch by Jeff Dunham called Achmed the Terrorist which, as of October 3rd, got over 66 million hits on YouTube.
Jeff Dunham has many puppets with which he performs but Achmed has to be one of the most popular ones. The lovely Achmed is a skeleton suicide bomber sporting a beard and a turban. The banter between Dunham and Achmed is hilarious that border on the blasephemous but that challenge thinking on both sides of the fence, including snippets such as:
Achmed: “Two Jews walk in a bar…”
Jeff: “No, no.”
Achmed: “What, you don’t let Jews in your bar? You racist bastard.”
Achmed: Wait. If I am dead… Oh! That means I get my 72 virgins! (looks at audience) Are you my virgins? I hope not!
Achmed: There is a bunch of ugly ass guys out there! If this is Paradise, I’ve been screwed!
Dunham: Well did they say there would be only female virgins?
Achmed: Holy crap!
There are also other snippets that purposefully underline the ridiculousness of the situation, such as:
Dunham: “How do you spell your name?”
Achmed: “Oh let’s see…. A… C… phlegm…”
Dunham: If you have been in my suitcase all this time, how have you been getting through security at the airports?
Achmed: Oh that’s easy, they open the case and I do ‘elloooooooooooooooooooo I am Lindsay Lohan!
Dunham: “So I guess you’re Muslim?”
Achmed: “I don’t think so.”
Dunham: “You’re not Muslim?”
Achmed: “No. Look on my ass, it says ‘Made in China’.”
Maybe this is why Dunham is able to tackle such a sensitive subject like terrorism in front of huge audiences and be so well received. Maybe it’s because comedic sketches like this one, created in the spirit of fun, actually help open our eyes on ridiculous stereotypes we might have about various taboo subjects. For example, the beard and the turban Achmed is wearing are often associated with radical Islamic groups, but we forget that they are also sported by very devout and peace-loving Muslims, as well as by other religious and cultural groups that have nothing to do with terrorism. We know this rationally, but it’s when we see it on a skeleton puppet that we realize just how ridiculous the stereotyping is.
The potential for conversation based on this sketch is enormous and yet there doesn’t seem to be much – if anything – available (at least according to Google). I find this very peculiar, since terrorism is becoming more and more of a problem not only in the usual, traditional places, but all over the world. As people become angrier and angrier at the injustice permeating our society yet continue feeling helpless, it seems to me that terrorism might seem like the only possible avenue to them – doesn’t a situation like this demand that we open up such discussion forums? And if so, shouldn’t we use such tools as Achmed the dead Terrorist? This is quite a waste of talent, and if I were Jeff Dunham I’d be a little insulted.
I did find some interesting comments on a couple of forums on the Internet, but, again, I found that the conversation was more about irrational ranting rather than an intelligent and thoughtful discussion. The Magic Forum café had a forum on the video which boasts two of the most interesting posts on the subject:
Magic Café Forum Post 1: “Contrary to what appears to be popular opinion I find this video offensive to both Muslims and Jews. If this character were done with any other ethnic culture it’d be chastised but these days it seems to be Ok to bash Muslims (…) It is a way for a Caucasian man to tell racist jokes and get away with it. That is creative to say the least, but it is quite offensive if you extrapolate it.”
Magic Café Forum Post 2: “Vent/Puppeteer: Higley; Figure: Larry (Blond College Professor look with big glasses)
H: So Larry…I don’t get it. You are a terrorist?
L: That’s me. Ba Boom! Blow your butt up in a flat second.
H: But…you don’t look Muslim…
L: I’m not you moron…I’m a plumber! Who writes your freakin’ profiles? G Gordon Liddy?
H: You don’t look like a Plumber…
L: Good grief…my butt crack normally gives it away…but wait…that annoying wedgy (looks around behind him) is your arm aint it…never mind.
L: Exactly. So by your standards you can profile a terrorist by looking for the butt crack and snagging a Plumber…unless he has you for a wedgy…
H: Are you saying all Plumbers are terrorists?
L: Not all Plumbers are terrorists genius…and not all terrorists are Plumbers. (aside) So nobody should be offended by this bit depending on which they identify with…
H: I don’t get it…
L: Your not supposed to…just when you think you have…BA BOOM!
H: What exactly is it you do?
L: Shmuck…I blow sh*t up…
H: Your a suicide bomber?
L: Good grief…do I look like I blew myself up? That’s another guys act…
H: So I repeat what is it you do…
L: I told you…I blow sh*t up! Ba Boom! I didn’t say I was a good Plumber!”
A fellow WordPress blogger had some interesting thoughts to share regarding comedy and racism:
“Most of the people who watch these videos are racist.” What?! My message to anyone who finds racism in this video, or any joking of this nature: you are the ones giving legitimacy to any ideas of real difference, and thereby promoting racism – not the rest of us who are just having fun. (…) Additionally, embracing difference is generally considered to be a part of anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc. Embracing difference means we don’t avoid ever making mention of differences or potential differences – we don’t ignore them. Embracing difference means acknowledging that it’s ok to have differences, and so differences becomes a thing of smiling and laughter, not a thing of hate, as some pretend they must be. These people push what I call “tolerance by ignorance” – make everyone appear to be exactly the same and ignore all differences. If we can’t actually handle differences, then what the hell is the point? The fact is, if we’re a free people, we can be free to embrace our idiosyncratic differences – even those that are associated with identifiable groups of people. More than that, we can be free to have fun with those differences; to make jokes and to laugh. What is freedom worth without laughter anyway?
Interestingly enough, as I was working on this post, something interesting popped up on Fox News, dated October 2nd, 2008:
Comedian Defends ‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ Puppet Routine Against South African Ban: Funnyman ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is fuming after a ringtone advertisement based on his popular comedy skit, “Achmed the Dead Terrorist,” was scrubbed from South African TV because it mocks Islam. (…)According to iafrica.com, South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that a GloMobile ringtone commercial featuring Dunham and his puppet was offensive to Muslims.
The commercial depicts Dunham holding his skeletal puppet, Achmed, dressed with a white cloth around his head and demanding that the audience keep quiet, uttering, “Silence! I will kill you!”
ASA officials said a South African man, Moegamat Khan, had filed a complaint that the commercial was offensive to the Islamic religion and created an impression that all Muslims were terrorists.
And the ASA agreed. “To associate this divine inspiration to a terrorist is offensive to the people who believe in [Muhammad],” the authority ruled. Muslims make up 2 percent of South Africa’s population.
But Dunham begs to differ. In a statement to FOXNews.com, he said: “Achmed makes it clear in my act that he is not Muslim, so I’m sorry the gentleman Khan didn’t see my entire show.
“I’ve skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly, and my wife. As a standup comic, it is my job to make the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.”
Dunham — whose other puppets include Peanut, Bubba J and Walter, a grumpy retiree — said he has no plans to retire the controversial act.
The comedian said moves like this stymie the freedom to poke fun at any group.
“I truly believe that laughter can heal many wounds,” Dunham said.
In a jibe at the South African complainant’s name, he said: “I thought Khan was awesome in Star Trek.”
“If it would help things,” he added, “I’m considering renaming Achmed, ‘Bill.'”
A lot of food for thought, huh. Not bad for a ‘friggin’ Halloween costume’!