The real problem with stereotypes, Irish or otherwise




British comedian Ricky Gervais caused a bit of trouble a few weeks back when he cracked a joke about body hair, Colin Farrell and alcoholism at the Globes.

It’s worth adding, however, that Gervais was not doing a solo performance. He was very much part of a loud and plentiful chorus.

Last Sunday night I caught a rerun of the Fox sitcom ‘Til Death, starring former Everybody Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett.

In the show Garrett (as best as I can tell) plays some kind of teacher who did not have to go to work because there was an outbreak of head lice.

“Thank God for the Irish,” Garrett quipped.

Then, I caught a Simpsons re-run in which good ol’ Homer was being nagged by Marge. She wanted to make sure Homer attended a special event honoring their daughter Lisa.

But she didn’t just want Homer to show up. She wanted him to show up sober.

“American sober?” Homer responded. “Or Irish sober?”

This all happened the same week an independent movie from a well-known TV producer hit theaters. The movie is entitled White Irish Drinkers.

And in the same month that a Los Angeles Times blogger, mocking the blasphemy laws recently passed in Ireland, wrote, “As my Irish mother would put it, ‘Mother of God! They might as well outlaw alcoholism.’"

Yeesh. What is this, vaudeville circa 1919?

However, let’s not have the same old argument about whether or not these jokes are offensive. True, Farrell reportedly did not look pleased after Gervais’ quip at the Golden Globes. Perhaps a British actor should have known better.

On the other hand, half of Gervais’ joke was based on the premise that the Irish are as hairy as they are alcoholic, which is either absurd or hilarious, and probably a bit of both.

I have not seen the movie White Irish Drinkers, a personal project written and directed by John Gray (a force behind the TV hit The Ghost Whisperer), but it sounds like a gritty, emotional coming-of-age Brooklyn Irish story.

The title may bother you. But the real thing to worry about is when people stop telling distinctly Irish American stories such as this.

A few lame jokes about drink is a small price to pay for us fighting -- not to mention hairy -- Irish.

Another thing people object to is that the Irish are “the only group it’s still okay to make fun of.”

Anyone seen Jersey Shore on MTV? Proud, self-proclaimed Italian American “guidos” are featured on the show.

And guess what? Some Italian Americans hate the show because they feel that it’s the Italians who are the only group left that it is okay to make fun of.

The Jersey Shore cast members, incidentally, are laughing all the way to the bank. Reports suggest they just worked out a new contract worth a cool $10,000 an episode. Obviously, it pays to ridicule yourself!

The worst thing about a debate like this is that it inevitably descends into a shouting match among so-called advocates for the Irish and Italians and African Americans and Jews and other ethnic groups.

People on one side say ethnic jokes are harmless, and people on the other side say, “Not after our traumatic history!” or “Not if our group is the only one that gets made fun on!”

First of all, give a listen to comedians ranging from Kathy Griffin and Stephen Colbert to George Lopez and Howard Stern. Trust me, every ethnic group is adequately mocked.

Chris Rock has joked that if you have money that you want to hide from African American criminals, hide it in a book. Because books “are like kryptonite” to African Americans.

Makes all those Irish drunk jokes seem pretty tame, doesn’t it?

Also, at least one obvious group gets excluded from this debate -- wealthy WASPs!

You can imagine a few of these genteel, privileged folks looking on as the lower classes bicker about what is and isn’t proper to say. You can imagine them shaking their heads and saying, “Maybe grandmum and grandpup were right. Maybe we should never have let any of these people into this great country.”

We don’t need fewer Irish jokes. We need more people mocking these rich, powerful pinheads!

(Contact Tom Deignan at tomdeignan@earthlink.net)

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