Consider, if you will, the abiding power of scatological humor, a power that spans centuries, continents and races. I enter as irrefutable evidence of this anthropological connection the fact that the first joke I was told involved a member of America’s indigenous peoples – Chief Bowels-No-Move. The hapless redskin was constipated until he swallowed a laxative with immediate, spectacular results. The Chief had to move house (and pronto) because his tee-pee was “all full of poo.”
In fact, careful deconstruction of a “dirty” or “blue” joke reveals that though the pragmatics, semantics and syntactics of a given joke do not change with time, their punch line inevitably coarsens. I learned this in 1969 from a much older actor on my first acting job. He would stop me whenever I began to tell a dirty joke. He would then write down what he was sure was going to be my punch line. When I’d finished telling my joke, he’d reveal what he’d written down. He was never wrong. He had heard my jokes in 1909 from men who had heard them in 1869 and so on back to the dawn of smut.
Here is a demonstration of both the coarsening of a punchline and the ubiquitous anthropological element of blue humor using the evergreen “Speedy Gonzales” joke as template.
Scene: In a dark, hotel room, an American tourist unwittingly pushes his finger into the rectum of Speedy Gonzales while the notorious Mexican bandito is screwing the gringo’s wife. The irritated Speedy responds thusly –
- 1909 punch line: “Please, Señor, you are hurting me.”
- 1969 punch line: “Señor, take your finger out of my ass.”
Don, my older, joke-meister friend pointed out that the charming subtlety of the earlier version had been lost. And, he felt sure this was emblematic of the cheapening of our entire culture.