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What’s in a joke?

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, April 13, 2006

In an April 12 Viewpoint letter, the St. Mary’s Board of Governance defines a joke as “something that is funny and makes others laugh” and then goes on to implicitly characterize the infamous Jockular “parasite” joke as an unfunny lie. But there is never an explanation of what does, in fact, make a joke funny and laughable. In my experience, a reasonably popular description of a successfully funny joke is one that employs a small percentage of truth and a large percentage of exaggeration. Conveniently, this idea applies to the two comic strips also published on April 12. Jockular suggests that Count Chocula Cereal “may cause heated affirmative action debate” and CroissantWorld says that class registration will be replaced by a “punch the monkey” system. I do not consult the comics as a source of daily news and, therefore, do not believe that people are actually choosing classes by whacking monkeys or getting into arguments about the color of their cereal, just as I do not believe that St. Mary’s students are parasites. I do, however, recognize that our class registration system is flawed and our campus has a tendency to erupt into debate over almost any issue, and that is why the jokes are funny. The point then is that from my Notre Dame student perspective there is a small amount of truth behind the exaggeration of the parasite joke. People have recently defended the relationship between the schools as being characterized by equal opportunities, but in some cases that does not ring true. In my experience, there is no opportunity at St. Mary’s equivalent to attending a Notre Dame football game or a nationally-televised Big East basketball game. The fact that those opportunities are available to St. Mary’s students is not a problem unless it infringes upon the ability of Notre Dame students to take advantage of the same opportunities, as was the case in years past when St. Mary’s received an allotment of basketball season tickets despite the fact that there were not enough to meet the demand of Notre Dame students. While it may not be an issue of critical importance it is, nonetheless, one reason why students at Notre Dame feel that the relationship with Saint Mary’s is slightly unequal. The affiliation between the two schools is not parasitic and it is, in many ways, mutually beneficial, but it is not completely equal either. That observation is not an attack on the character of Saint Mary’s, it is simply the truth about the nature of our connection. But for some reason, no one wants to say it in a reasonable manner. I can understand why the parasite joke might not make a Saint Mary’s student laugh, but if you cannot acknowledge the comical exaggeration of most jokes then you are not very likely to ever appreciate or laugh at one, because spreading “false statements as hilarity” is what comedy is all about.

Jonathan Umplebysenioroff-campusApril 12