For the record, I didn’t cheat. Over a hundred people wrote me with their suggestions, and not one of them picked both jokes. Although some came close. For all you poor-guessing losers out there, don’t feel so bad. Only the Mighty Kreskin could have won that contest.
The key to figuring out which jokes piqued the wrath of the venue promoters in Johannesburg lies in a glitch in the matrix of South African culture. It manifests itself, sadly, in the cuntrosity of the people. And by that, I mean the white people.
South Africa is a puritanical country with a long history of institutionalized disenfranchisement that many of the white people there arrogantly defend with a Gestapo-esque blind sense of nationalism. Kind of like America… 70 years ago. Except Americans spent the better part of the 20th century struggling through the WEB Dubois’ “Color Line” so that at least the fair-minded crackers among us can admit, “Oops.” We can at least discuss the possibility of reparations (as long as black people agree to stop Martin Lawrence from making another Big Momma’s House). In fact, we have come so far that we–a country comprised mostly of honkeys!–might elect a black president this year! Granted, South Africa beat us to the punch here. They already have a black president, but that’s only to the severe chagrin and/or embarrassment of every white South African I met. Whenever I mentioned the opinions and politics of the incumbent president, it was uniformly met with an eye roll and a nervous laugh.
As a result, racial humor seems to work differently in these two bizarrely analogous yet distinct societies. In America, most racially insensitive/potentially incendiary jokes work on two deeply psychological levels:
1. Deindividuation. There needs to be a large group of people to buffer the possible personal nature of racial jokes. In other words, smaller crowds become a much trickier forum for anything edgy, particularly regarding race, sex, and religion. If the joke is thrown into a ribald crowd of people who feel anonymous, they will laugh from their gut without feeling singled out.
2. White Guilt Delay. Even in large crowds, ‘white guilt’ is a hugely important factor in the reception of jokes about race. White people will look around at whatever race is the subject of the joke to see their reaction before they will allow themselves to laugh. Once they see that, they might laugh, approximately 5 seconds after the joke has landed. Mike Vecchione calls it the ’5 second white guilt delay.’
Mind you, this works only with a GOOD joke… or somewhat good joke. When you combine a shitty, bomb of a joke with racially challenging material, you have Michael Richards. The problem with Michael Richards is not that he said the forbidden word, it’s that he is (was, rather) the shittiest comic on the Laugh Factory stage.