maandag 2 mei 2016

Humour and comedy in culture(s)

What is humour? A definition can be given as extensively as one wants. On the English-language Wikipedia article – of course quite extensive - it is summarized as “the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement”. That is quite broad. The Wikipedia article discusses in addition, though, different theatrical and rhetorical techniques, but also psychological, historical, as well as physiological aspects. Any one can read this article for themselves, but what I wish to select for this post are the 4 basic psychological types this Wikipedia article distinguishes: affiliative type of humour (social/socializing function), self-enhancing (e.g. coping with stress), aggressive (e.g. racist jokes), and self-defeating (self-disparaging jokes aimed at acceptance).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humour

I also select from the article the methods comedians use to perform humour.

If somewhat rigid and simplified, I think these categories and this whole article can serve as departing point, for the main theme of this post: cultural differences regarding humour. I came to this because I like to watch stand-up comedy. Many others do too, often also in English (US, British) or translated, or also in Dutch, like me.

It happens to be the case, though, that I understand English well, but in addition also Spanish mostly well enough to comprehend comedy directly in that language as well. In the Netherlands many people (though not all) will understand English well enough to get linguistic and comedic nuances, but Spanish relatively much less. And often Spanish or Spanish American stand-up comedians are not translated/subtitled for English speakers.

Recently, in Spain (where my maternal roots are) – I noticed - stand-up comedy (called “comedia en vivo”, literally: “live comedy” or in certain cases “monologos”, monologues) has increased in popularity (since the late 1990s); relatively late when compared to other countries where it thrived earlier, notably the Anglo-Saxon world.

Both in Britain and the US, stand-up comedy, or related forms, have a longer history, even as far back as to the 19th c., being mostly part of broader theatre or burlesque contexts.

While I depart from the Wikipedia article in English, I do not think it is that good an article. It’s okay, but it could have been better and more complete, and I found some things missing: especially regarding the social and political roles of humour. Anyway, departing from it I will relate this to themes and national and cultural contexts I know best from my life experience.

DUTCH CABARET

The Netherlands has for a longer period a quite developed comedic tradition called “cabaret” or “kleinkunst” (literally: “small art”) which has gotten quite varied, although the quality is also varied. It is humour, stand-up comedy or “jokes” only partly, combined with aspects from serious theatre, longer stories, and music/songs. It developed within theatre circles in the Netherlands, and I find it quite interesting how this Dutch “cabaret” develops, due to its relatively unique features. Not every performer I like, but at least it is an unique Dutch way of comedy mixed with theatre. Apart from someone talking, there is as said often music (often songs penned and sung/played by the comedians themselves), and often also impersonations, such as of famous people.

Compared to this, US and British “stand-up” comedy is more snappy, faster, and to the point, with generally shorter bits and jokes (anekdotes, observations or even one-liners). This differs a bit from the European mainland, with broader “theatrical comedy”, the mentioned Dutch cabaret, but also e.g. German or Italian (“commedia dell’arte) comedy traditions.

In a way, the stand-up comedy tradition isolates verbal jokes from a wider theatrical frame. This “stand-up comedy” tradition from the US and Britain either way by now has reached all of Europe, and even other parts of the world, like India, Nigeria, Ghana, and Latin America. Especially the international fame of pioneering standup comedians, like Bob Hope, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Eddy Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Robyn Williams and others (known also for internationally spread films or television programmes) may have increased the popularity of the stand-up comedy genre since the 1980s globally.

NOTHING SPECIAL

The funny thing about both humour and comedy (pun intended) is that they are in essence nothing special. It is just human behaviour and socializing. People talking with each other, to tell something interesting from their perspective, to bond socially, on what is of importance to them, to learn, get to know, tell something what they found amusing.. Hereby “humour” or “comedy” is always – intended or not – sooner or later present. Therefore, listening to some stand-up comedian and his observations is not always so different from people talking and joking around about people or society with each other in a bar or club. That every person has its own character, way of expressing, and life story, makes it nonetheless interesting.

Yet, it is so plain and ordinary that one can at least understand that in many cultures “a person telling funny stories, only on a stage” was just not enough te be considered real theatre. It was seen as more akin to simply storytelling. I can understand that to a point, though not entirely. I think, that from some perspective, also a person “only” talking and telling some funny stories, or sharing his observations on what he/she finds absurd – without more artifice or aids -, can definitely be seen as art. “Art” in the sense of “art of living”, in the sense that every single person has his own ”art” and personality, making it psychologically interesting.

Observations by some comedians about expiration dates on certain food products – for instance - can be interesting for several reasons: we recognize it from our own experience, for one, but also the comedian just looks at such a daily, mundane matter from an unusual, distinct perspective, and chooses his/her own words, making it also linguistically interesting, and as a form of parody or satire regarding social issues. This satire and parody have a longer history in mankind, among the Ancient Greeks and Romans for instance, only now in other forms, with less artifice in the case of stand-up comedy.

POLITICAL SATIRE

Political satire has a quite long tradition as well, but freer “socially critical” or “political” comedy developed relatively later in stand-up comedy in the US or Britain, especially since the 1970s. US comedian Lenny Bruce as a comic discussed socially problematic issues already in the 1950s and 1960s, Geoerge Carlin was relatively early, and Richard Pryor can definitely also be seen as a pioneer in this regard, especially with regard to issues like race and social inequality. The same applies to Paul Mooney, who wrote some of Richard Pryor’s material.

Political freedoms in a society determines what is accepted, of course. Not every society has as much democratic free speech, and even in the 1950s and 1960s US comedians could say what they wanted, to which court cases against US comedian Lenny Bruce (for using “dirty”words) attest. In private, people still made fun of dictators, also in repressed societies, just not in public. Still, even today, comedy as public art form still did not develop as free as it could in certain countries with repressive governments or dictatorships, or with totalitarian interpretations of religion. The very nature of something like “satire” or “stand-up comedy” makes it require free speech.

There exist – and have existed - “public comedians” in dictatorships, but these were very limited in scope, focussing on maintaining/confirming the status-quo and dominant values, confirming a group (racial, political) sense, or being of the aggressive type (attacking “other”, outside groups), to refer to one of the categories in the Wikipedia article. Anything beyond this would soon became repressed. Even in Nazi German or Fascist Italian publicized propaganda films – around the 1930s - “humour” as such was not absent. Negative humour, self-aggrandizing and putting down others – for sure – but “humour”. Also Dutch “cabaret” had it’s negative sides, such as came to the fore when Nazi Germany also occupied the Netherlands in 1940. Public cabaret and comedy kept being made, such as by Jacques van Tol, member of the Nazi-collaborating (but Dutch) NSB party, who expressed anti-Semitic views in his radio comedy show, even after most Jews were deported from the Netherlands, around 1944. Present-day (Jewish) Dutch comedian Micha Wertheim pointed at this in a recent piece (of 28 april, 2016) in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant.

Again, “humour” as such is just human behaviour, people interacting: this can be positive or negative, collectivistic or highly individual, upsetting, philosophical, simple and basic, colourful, prejudiced, unintelligent or intelligent, or intellectual,.. as varied as all human utterances. Some comedians you might like more than others, just like many remember some conversations in pubs, bars, or clubs as funnier than others, dependent on themes, people involved, and expression modes. Each individual finds different things funny, often.

CULTURAL AND SOCIAL DIFFERENCES

Since it is nothing more (or less) than human interaction, beyond personality differences, also cultural differences definitely play a role in what is considered funny. This also because individual personalities are often shaped in part within specific cultures or ethnic groups, along with life experiences. Sarcastic, put-down humour by members of a dominant ethnic group in a society, is seldom considered funny by members of minorities in such societies, recognizing the negative (exclusionary/discriminatory) sentiment behind it all too well. There are exceptions, of course, such as when irony or deeper layers are involved.

We return to the psychological functions of the Wikipedia article on humour, such as the “self-enhancing” function. Members of minority groups often (though not always) use their “different” background in their (stand-up) comedy, also new and upcoming comedians. Though comedic quality may differ, I can understand this to a degree. That is respectful to the person of the comedian as well, who will talk about him or her, and what he/she knows. If you’re not interested in that person and what makes him/her tick, you should not have an ongoing relationship, not even as an audience. It is as simple as that: people will talk about what they want. Expecting anything else is kind of bossy or authoritarian.

SARCASM

I argue that sarcastic, put-down humour is mainly the terrain of the insecure, socially prejudiced or frustrated, but often also of the socially privileged. Pointing at cultural differences – generalizing these – is not quite the same, especially when the group criticized is the dominant, privileged group. That White people cannot dance as well to the beat as Black people, is one such topic used by several Black US (and other) comedians. Too generalized, perhaps, but on the other hand elucidating interesting cultural differences. Some may find some such generalized humour offensive, but if you give you must receive, you can also argue. During the Minstrel tradition in the US (and Britain too, by the way) up to the 1950s, Black characters were constantly dehumanized and ridiculed, also regarding their supposed cultural traits..by White people. Remnants of the Minstrel tradition continued up to this day, in popular culture or festivities (including in the Netherlands: the Black Pete figure).

Another type of sarcasm is personal attacks, such as on famous personalities, found in several countries. Here you can argue that their very public fame or power warrant those attacks. It can be excusable, and on occasion funny.

On the other hand, I personally do not like too much another type of sarcasm, which is also quite common in the Netherlands (both in comedy and society), as well as in other countries: sarcasm, putting-down “weak” and uncommon individuals (foreigners, minorities, fat people, handicapped, those with “strange” clothes or hair a.o.), with no real power in society. That’s basically kicking a horse when it’s down. That is again the “aggressive” type of humour. More aggression and depreciation than humour, even though it might not always appear this way. In the Netherlands, as well as to a degree in public comedy-rich Britain, this type of sarcasm seems remarkably hip and progressive. Seems..

Comedians talking about their “minority” background can on the other hand be shared under the rubric of “self-enhancing” or self-upliftment humour, or in cases the “affiliative” type . Perhaps not always everyone’s cup of tea, but more positive.

Other stand-up comedy is more observational, relating about daily, mundane issues, such as shopping, or expiration dates on food products (Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about that) that many, irrespective of background, might relate to. Seinfeld does not seem to use too much his Jewish, New York personal background, focussing mainly on outer observations on daily matters, seemingly devoid of his cultural identity perspective (at least in part). He does this well, though. Bill Cosby also seemed to avoid his specific background in his comedy, being of course mainly known for more or less universal “family life“ observations, also seemingly irrespective of his background.

British comedians, especially those belonging to the White English majority, do not use their background in their comedy as much, at most sometimes regional origins or their hometown, though not as much as Irish or Scottish comedians, while Black British (or other minority) comedians tend to discuss their background more, sometimes quite well and funny. Lenny Henry has some genius comedy bits from this perspective (he has Jamaican parents, and grew up in the British Midlands), as does someone like Gina Yashere (who has a Nigerian background, and grew up in London). It is appropriate as art, I think, because only they can tell such stories well, as they lived them. That is both educational and entertaining, as in the age-old, world-wide storytelling tradition.

METHODS

Cultural differences in humour also relate to specific techniques. My impression is that sarcasm is relatively more present in the Netherlands, in Germany, as well as to a degree in the US and Britain. It seems to me less common in Spain, both in daily usage as in comedy. Comedy in Spain tends to focus a bit more on "the absurd", or on exaggeration, but of situations. In Italian "humour" sarcasm seems a bit more common. In several countries, anyway, it is often confused with Irony. In daily speech, people use “sarcasm” and “irony” interchangebaly, though they are different things. Sarcasm is basically “biting” or “criticizing” humour – chastizing if you will -, whereas Irony has to do with the humourous combination of contradictions.

Other techniques are exaggerations (hyperboles) or “reframing”, showing the absurdity of certain situations by placing them in another light. Spanish comedian Agustín Jimenez for instance related in a comedy bit that the cartoon series the Ninja Turtles is such an odd concept that it must have been invented under the influence of hallucinogenic substances/drugs. This is a form of both reframing and satire, with (perhaps) some exaggeration. US comedian Dave Chappelle said in a funny comedy bit that characters from the children’s series Sesame Street seem to represent pimps or hard-drug addicts to him, making it, along with other aspects, a show with bad role model for kids. Both reframing and exaggeration, and both I found funny.

What Chappelle also does well (along with other comedians) is using, what seem to be, conspiracy theories – such as regarding White powerful racists - for comedic effect. Other Black comedians do this too, like Chris Rock, especially regarding race issues. Even if some conspiracy theories seem very absurd (some even seem somehow plausible, must be said) or very much exaggerated, they still make an interesting point about social and racial inequality, and thus have a function. The function to make people laugh, but also beyond that.

In Dutch comedy (cabaret, and a bit more recent also Dutch stand-up comedy), sarcasm is common, because it proved to be more popular. Philosophcal or ironic comedy performers were and are there too in the Netherlands, but became less mainstream. Dutch comedians with a minority background (black, Surinamese, Moroccan, Jewish, South European or otherwise) tend to use this unusual background, as in other countries.

A few of the Dutch comedians went on to perform in English (such as at the famed Edinburgh festivals), including Hans Teeuwen, though not many.

Cultural differences relate also to style of speech and humour. The same applies to daily conservations in the same cultures. Raising one’s voice (publicly) is not in every culture respected or even accepted. In Northern Europe less than in Southern Europe, generally speaking. In most talk shows I see in the Netherlands, if someone raises his/her voice – during a heated debate, say – the microphone is taken away from that person, or someone else (not screaming) is allowed to take over. In other countries (Spain, Latin America, parts of Africa and the Caribbean) there are talk shows where screaming is continued relatively less interrupted.

Also, in “Latin” cultures, France, Spain, Italy a.o. “colourful” language and long, elaborate, “overly literary” sentences are considered in cases “funny”, which shows in some comedy as well. Luis Piedrahita is a Spanish “monologuista” (like stand-up) specialized – not totally unlike Jerry Seinfeld - in observational comedy about daily, small matters, but jokingly analysed with elaborate, “literary drama” wording, and semi-philosophical connotations. This way Piedrahita discusses for instance the annoyance of non-absorbing tissues in bars, or products left before the register at supermarkets. It is not so tedious as this seems, and Piedrahita achieves being funny and maintain interest with this material quite well.

PERSONAS

Many comedians – in different cultures – present a “type” of person, a persona, bringing stand-up comedy after all back to original theatre. US comedian Katt Williams presents thus a slick, Black street hustler (“pimp”) persona who loves to have fun, other comedians a likewise struggling, but less “slick” and more philosophical, reflective persona (e.g. Richard Pryor). In Jewish comedy, the “schlemiel” traditional folk character, known in Jewish Askenazi culture: a socially unsuccesful, insecure and “weak” man is known, personified by among others Woody Allen in his work. In British comedy you have “working-class” or “middle-class” types/personas among performers: some genuine, some acting as such. Some present (as some comedians in the US) a lazy, and happy-go-lucky persona. In Spanish comedy there is also a “working-class” persona among several comedians (e.g. Agustín Jimenez from Madrid, who combines this with big-city, “street-wise” aspects, a bit similar to Katt Williams), while also Dutch comedy knows these class-related personas (Youp van het Hek is from, but also jokes about the higher classes, though his comedic quality is not always so good, I think).

This (seeming) self-depreciative humour is found in many cultures, and can be very good from a comedic point of view. It is the “self-enhancing” type of humour, to refer again to the Wikipedia article, while it is also pleasant as the comedian in some way associates with the weak and powerless in society. Such a comedian shows his/her vulnerability, humility, and humanity, mostly working well with a diverse audience. I do not think a truly boastful, “know-it-all” person will be funny beyond the aggressive sarcasm type, or the “affiliative” type (i.e. only funny because “one of us”), but someone who pretends to be but really is ironic, might well be funnier. Again this shows, that combining contraditions is at the core of much successful comedy.

Not locking oneself up in a cultural or national frame broadens also the audience, making comedians connect to diverse audiences and people, even “educating” people from other cultures about theirs and their background. This differs per comedian, some have a more “in-crowd” humour, others a more universal appeal, though to differing degrees. The same applies to other art forms as well, of course.

Essentially, good comedy makes art out of “telling something” or “giving opinions with humour”, by detaching it from personal bias, insults, and taking it higher and to a next level. Many people who talk negatively: bullying, being racist, putting down, expressing stereotypes and prejudice, degrading or excluding others etcetera, often present this as “humour” or “comedy”, as some may know from (bitter) experience. Good comedy, however, takes humour away from such personal bias and abuse, you might say. A truly good thing can be abused but never fully corrupted.

One of those good things, I find, about comedy in general - and stand-up comedy in particular - is that it can allow to look at reality from a different perspective. This can be rebellious to and subversive of the powers that be. Comedy therefore tends to have a progressive, Left-wing image.

History has shown, on the other hand, that this is too simplistic. Like I mentioned as examples, there existed anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist comedy, but also pro-Nazi and pro-Fascist comedy – with succesful humour and comedy programmes publicly broadcasted, supported by Nazis or Fascists – in several European countries in the 1930s and 1940s: thus reactionary rather than subversive. Even today, some seemingly “hip” and progressive comedians – even broadcasted by Left-wing/liberal broadcasting agencies – at times express racist or otherwise stereotypical cliché views (such as about certain ethnic minorities, or women), with not always so much irony as one assumes. That Moroccans steal a lot, Surinamers are lazy or often late, and women cannot drive well are for instance such overly repeated stereotypes in Dutch comedy. Still, maybe that is all in the game, and as long as people can object to it and present counter-views, it is bearable.

JAMAICAN MUSIC

Finally, I would like to focus on comedy in Jamaican music. Mainly, because Jamaican music is an area that I developed some expertise and knowledge in, as readers of this blog might know. I have been a reggae fan at this point for about 30 years now, gathering much knowledge about Reggae, Jamaica and Jamaican music throughout this time. At the same time, I also followed comedy (internationally, I learned English quite early in my life) for also quite some time by now.

In the English-language Wikipedia article I departed from, about humour, there is also an interesting quote by an artist of Mento music (an older Jamaican folk genre, preceding Ska), called Lord Flea. Mento has some similarities with Trinidadian Calypso, though they are different genres. They share, however, a “humourous” social comment function, a type of storytelling or journalism. Not everyone knows this about Calypso, especially when only aware of the “party” and “Carnival” roles of Calypso (and Soca) in Trinidad, but Calypsonians tended – as in other Caribbean genres – to comment on social reality, often (politically) satirical, critical and from an Afro-Trinidadian perspective: politics and social changes were all discussed, along with daily and sexual matters, that too. Not all lyrics were always very progressive, or very militant or rebellious, but some Calypso lyrics definitely were. Many lyrics had the “double entendre” (double meaning) as culturally typical: often with hidden, indirect sexual “jokes”, or “biting” if playful sarcasm, satire, or critique as well. This is known as “picong” There was, in short, quite a lot of humour in Calypso lyrics.

The same applied to old Jamaican Mento (especially popular up tot he 1950s). Sexual “double entendre” joking songs are known in Mento (the song “Dont You Touch Me Tomato”, covered later), so there is that type of humour, that is a form of comedy, using the same techniques (reframing, similae, metaphors, puns, hyperbole etc.). Other humourous lyrics with such techniques – not only about sex – were also found in mento lyrics, that at times commented as well on social inequality, poverty, and injustice. Humour and playfulness recurred however throughout Mento lyrics.

Jamaican popular music genres that followed (and were influenced by) Mento, originating in the 1960s - Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae – maintained some of this Jamaican folk music tradition. Ska was known as joyful, dance music, but also had “commenting” lyrics. The same applied to the slower genre Rocksteady, known for romantic lyrics, but also with many socially critical lyrics. Reggae, especially Rastafari-influenced Roots Reggae since around 1972, had much more socially critical, or even Black Power and militant lyrics. Originated among poor Black people in Kingston ghettos, this is not so strange. Rasta artist Bob Marley, even if he reached more or less the mainstream, maintained largely such “serious” and critical lyrical content, which shows integrity and character, I think.

Reggae became even known as “sufferers music”. Was there still a place for humour in all this? Lord Flea said in the Wikipedia article that even serious, dramatic stories were imbued with some humour in Caribbean/West Indian lyrics. Roots Reggae lyrics often deal with ghetto poverty, the history of slavery, violence, racism, social inequality, oppression, as well as with Africa, and spiritual themes. It furthermore protests against Babylon oppression. Dramatic or philosophical themes that seem by themselves “heavy” or “serious” content.

Too heavy and serious for humour or comedy, perhaps? Sometimes, the matters discussed are too sad and serious for too much humour within those specific lyrics. Some artists still know or knew how to combine this with lighter, joking notes within lyrics as well, without disturbing the militant, critical message. The reggae band Culture with Joseph Hill for instance, Peter Tosh is another example, other examples: the Gladiators, Don Carlos, Ini Kamoze: humour was not absent in even their lyrics about serious themes. Not to mention producer “Lee “Scratch” Perry, described as “mad genius”, and known for his erratic, “extravagant” behaviour, yet who wrote Rastafari-themed lyrics as well.

Mentioned can also be “word play”, or “puns” – a common device in all comedy - , in the case of reggae often found in song/track titles of Dub versions of vocal songs. The title of the original song (with vocals) is then taken and renamed for the instrumental, remixed “Dub” version. Lee “Scratch” Perry was quite creative and funny with this renaming, but others as well.

SPIRITUAL

That “humour” and religion (Islam, Christianity ao.) do not go together too well, is stated by many, also in response to recent events. Yet, Rastafari adherents do not consider theirs a religion, more a “way of life”, or perhaps a spiritual movement. Yet, overall, Christianity and the Bible has influenced large parts of Rastafari. One can even argue that the Protestant Christian notion that religion should be serious and sober (or “pure”), present in Jamaican society, may have influenced Rastafari originating – in the 1930s - in the same context. Yet, Rastafari arose at the same time in a wider Afro-Jamaican cultural context, with many remnants of African spiritual values. These values contain more “play”, contradictions, “irony”, “parody”, and “satire” in a general sense, as part – and not so much against – this spirituality. This is a recurring conflict and contradiction, on several continents: large, established and powerful religions (Christianity, Islam) versus traditional African spiritual values. Sometimes a middle-ground seems to be found – combining aspects of both, e.g. the interpretation of Islam in African countries like Guinee, Senegal, in North Ghana and South Mali. Increased, more “Arabic-focussed” fundamentalism within Islam now however tries to “correct” this violently, as the Boko Haram movement in Northern Nigeria sadly shows. In Senegal a similar tendency is developing, I recently read.

The conflict between Protestant Christianity and African values is also there in Jamaica, but not so violently: a middle-ground seems to have been found. This includes Afro-Jamaican percussive music historically also in Christian churches in Jamaica, as well as several tenets of the Africa-focussed (yet partly Biblical) Rastafari movement. I argue that the same applies to “comedic” or “theatre” aspects that are more frowned upon in the Bible and the Quran. It is not in the whole of these books, but a general tendency in both these “holy books” is that “laughing” and “joking” tends te be placed in negative terms, disturbing a serious, totalitarian mission to convert and upholding the fidels against the infidels, and to strive to “purity”..

Spirituality, even apart from these overvalued books (that is a personal opinion of mine), still needs to be serious at times, I do realize and understand that. Spirituality is a deeper consciousness, with undeniable serious aspects. Yet, true consciousness needs putting things in perspective as well, combining contradictions, looking “from a distance” at what might be seen as absurd.. the very function of humour and “comedy”.

TOASTING

The history of Reggae music in Jamaica, the importance of Dancehalls (see my previous blog post) as local, also for performance in the development of Reggae.. all this shows that “having fun” and “creating joy”, also by Dee Jay vocally “toasting” over intrumental records is there. The very origin of the word “Toasting” in the Reggae and Dancehall context is funny in and by itself. Beth Lesser, a writer on Reggae, researched it (for her 2012 book ‘Rub a Dub style : the roots of modern dancehall’ see: http://www.bethlesser.com/publications/rub-a-dub-style-the-roots-of-modern-dancehall/ ), finding that it comes quite literally from the tradition in British and other cultures of someone offering a “toast” with drinks at a gathering, with a speech addressed at those present. Taken from somewhat elite wedding ceremonies, “toasting” in a funny way thus got a new meaning at the Dancehalls, as Dee Jays with a microphone “give a welcome” or a “toast” to the audience, only in this case of course rhythmically/musically.

The early Dee Jay’s like King Stitt and Sird Lord Comic (note also this moniker) and others employed a lot of joking when chatting on records, and the same applies to the Originator, U-Roy, the first Dee-Jay putting “toasting” on record. Partly, U-Roy imitated (or parodied) Black US radio presenters talking “jive”, heard in Jamaica. Many in U-Roy’s wane continued fun and parody in toasting, even if they expressed Rastafari consciousness, Biblical or not, (as did I-Roy, Prince Fari, Trinity, Dr. Alimantado and others), humour, joy, and a funny way of relating recurred interchanged with serious subject matter. Later, “slackness” (lewd, explicit) dee-jays like Yellowman and Shabba Ranks, also focussed on humour – in their case often sexual jokes. A good example of “self-enhancing” humour ( as the Wikipedia article termed it) is the overt joking of Yellowman about his unusual “yellow” albino looks in Jamaica; this could have made him a paria (and it did for a part of his life), but he boasts about his success with women (chatting “All of them have yellow children..”). Also artist Eek-A-Mouse comments often comically in his lyrics on society in his own way, using parody of certain phenomena (gun fights, cowboy films, him being tall, how he got his nickname “Eek-a-Mouse”). As a form of story-telling.

This humour would remain in Reggae, especially common among Early Dancehal dee-jays, and to a degree also in later Dancehall. As the slackness lyrics got harder, and Jamaican crime also more violent in the 1980s and 1990s, though, Jamaican “humour” in lyrics by people like T.O.K., Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Konshens often got “harder”, as well as more sexually explicit. Humour remained there in this type of Digital Dancehall, sometimes mild, though more than before also a bit more cynical or boastful: “jailhouse humour” is how I can describe it. Exaggeration is a technique used here, and as said can still be playful and truly funny at times, though it differs per artist: not all humour is negative. “Carnivalesque” humour - as part of a Caribbean cultural code – also recurs regularly, such as in the performance of an artist like Elephant Man.

Moreover, artists who kept making Conscious Dancehall and Reggae to this day, included humourous notes between spiritual and serious subject matter at times in their lyrics. I can mention “playful” and satirizing songs by Don Carlos, Culture (on a party in hell for instance: the song ‘Good Times’), Junior Kelly, and several others including humourous notes as part of social comment in their lyrics. Too many examples too mention really.

This again goes to show that humour or “comedy”, at a more “abstract” level; not sarcasm or personal insults in humour form, but more detached focussing on the contradictory, “the absurd” and ironic in society and among people, certainly contributes to a deeper consciousness. The better examples of “socially critical” stand-up comedy by the likes of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and others, also proved this.

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