What’s brown & sticky? (!!!kcits A) That’s my favourite joke. I don’t know if it’s funny, but it makes me laugh, and we know that laughter does all kinds of good things for one’s spirit and body. So yes – ask what’s funny, and enjoy!
But I want to explore another aspect of this question. First – a story [some details changed]. While I was studying to become a pastor, I spent 10 weeks in a hospital as one of a group of 8 student chaplains. We learned to care for others, but we also spent a lot of time examining ourselves – our histories, our fears, our assumptions about people. While serving on a floor for people doing short-term stays to receive antibiotics, I met a lot of people who weren’t very sick, but who were very bored. We had some good conversations. One man was morbidly obese and was hospitalized because of an infection related to his diabetes, a disease that had caused the amputation of several toes. He jokingly told me how his brothers had always called him “Piggy” and finished his story, laughing himself, and said, “My brothers sure are funny.” I laughed along, but I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t funny.
Back in my group, I shared the conversation as a case study. It was there I got a wonderful piece of wisdom: play dumb, because it allows you to ask the obvious question. In this case, the question was, “Why is it funny [that your brothers joke at your expense]?” This fellow had been so brainwashed about his own worth that he couldn’t ask that question; but I was a newcomer to the situation, so I could have asked, “What’s so funny?” and given him permission to break out of a system that mocked him but didn’t help him. His weight/diabetes was stealing his life, one body part at a time. He needed support, not mean jokes – but by then, he didn’t know the jokes were mean.
In our world, we sometimes need to ask, “What’s so funny?” When people use profanity all over the place, in the name of humor, we can ask, “is that actually funny?” When bullies act as ringleaders, we can ask, “What’s so funny? I don’t get it.” When people tell racist jokes or jokes that put women down, we can resist by asking, “What’s so funny?” Make people name it; make them spell it out; make them admit what they are really saying.
Play dumb. You can get away with a lot of undermining when you ask the obvious question.