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.
Like most boys, certainly Brooklyn stoop-boys, I had an early fascination with excrement. I especially loved poo jokes – most boys do. It’s not pathological and it passes. (See, I’m an adult now and didn’t draw your attention to that cheap pun.) But, there are male children, mercifully few in number, who display early signs of an unhealthy fixation with the natural, nay, essential bodily function of evacuation. As example, allow me to present –
The Case of the Catholic Coprophile
The Adventures of Zorro is the big TV hit of 1957-59. Zorro is the Robin Hood of Old California. Our hero uses his glistening rapier to carve his calling card – a large Z– into the bark of trees, the walls of haciendas and the bellies of his enemies. Every Brooklyn kid wants a Zorro mask, cape and sword. Spoiled kids have all three. The rest of us improvise or beat up the spoiled kids for their Zorro booty.
One boy in St. John the Pederast Primary School is painting large Zs all over the school walls – with his excrement. (It must be a boy because girls and nuns would not do this.) When I say all over, I mean, all over. The young defacer is a genius of product placement. You cannot miss his mark. “Mr. Maximum Visibility.” On some walls, he writes a simple Z; on other walls ZORRO. But, time and quantity of material permitting, he writes Zorro Was Here adding a large, insouciant Z under that for good measure.
But, why? When? How? We students are almost never allowed out of our classrooms alone. Could the demented graffiti artist be our hunchback janitor who looks like Quasimodo and wears an immense, Johnny-Ray-style hearing aid? (Several years later, he is caught spying on little girls in the toilet – echoes of Quasimodo and Esmeralda.) Is he a secret coprophile using the Zorro brand as clever cover for his twisted desire to take revenge on the world by smearing his hunchback dung on school walls? Does he derive still more perverse pleasure from having to remove his own caked-on filth?