Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Great moments in... Film Jokes by 1-Line Actors

I dated a bigot once. It took a long time before I realized that she hadn't been joking when she claimed a racial problem would keep me from being accepted by her family. Once it was clear that she had been serious and I heard my future m-i-l use a slur - it was heart-breaking, and shameful. Bigotry is just so awful.

Of course, having grown up in NYC, I'm used to the fact that many natives have (at least) two weird traits: (a) they are very racially-aware without necessarily being racist and (b) school kids make lots of ethnic/race jokes with and at their friends, but only in an ironic way. No, really, I've thought that old school NYC rules require everyone to be able to tell one funny joke with a racial/ethnic component, yet to not be genuinely bigoted at all; this is totally crazy, but it's true.

And lots of NYC neighborhoods were defined by the ethnicities of their residents. In the past, there might have been a lot of racism and violence, sadly. Even today, tho, people are still aware of which groups make up which parts of town; it's considered "information" not an "objective judgment."

You might only have subtle indicators as to whether someone's being genuinely horrible, but it's the wise-ass spirit that's part of the character of this town. I haven't shied from it, when I know I won't hurt anyone's feelings, although we could just, y'know, not joke that way and find something else to be clever about...

It's an interesting challenge to not just react and have to discern actual racist intent. A coworker made a crack about my background within the first 5 minutes of starting the job (he went with that old chestnut, latino=stabbing), and I just immediately knew he didn't mean it in the least, and that he wouldn't have joked that way if he'd meant it. 

Maybe going to k-12 in this town is the only way to really understand it...

Hollywood, at its best, has pulled off some beautiful jokes that are racially-charged, but without racist intent. It's tough to find the right guiding line for claiming that one joke isn't offensive while another one is, yet I think it comes down to (a) whether people being of different race/religion/gender/orientation is just a comically-fortuitous coincidence, and/or (b) if the joke's actually funny.

I can think of a few real gems, but the sweet line below is delivered by Steven Williams. He's an actor I've always enjoyed and always wanted to see more of. You might recognize him as a Trooper in The Blues Brothers, or as Mr. X in The X-Files, and he's on that CW show, Supernatural. I'm not kidding, this guy is fantastic in Ft13th Part IX, and he was great as 21 Jump Street's Captain Fuller.

Maybe you already recognize it from the Youtube still, but I'm going with the 80's classic Better Off Dead, a movie I revere. It's a funny and absurd and pleasant comedy and I will review it at some future time. But if I had to think of great one-liners, it would make the grade even if I didn't restrict myself to ones with a racial component. Scenes like this were meant to be shared:


  1. Technically, it's more than one line, since the reporter interrupts him, but I'm partial to Xavier McDaniel's cameo in singles:

    1. HAHAHA! I'll take the interruption. I haven't watched the clip yet, but I know exactly to which scene you're referring; it's a big sign when you remember a throwaway moment from a movie you haven't seen in over 15 years.

      Great choice, man!

  2. Now I'm trying to think of one. The only thing I'm coming up with is something a friend of mine said that I thought was hilarious. We were talking about the actor who plays the Dos Equis guy, and we hypothesized that he might have been a Mexican actor from the 1950s or something, because some of the footage they use of a younger him looks like genuine film footage. We come to find out that he's actually an actor named Jonathan Goldsmith, which suggests he's Jewish. My friend, who is a comedian and deals in edgy humor, came right out with "Stay thrifty my friends."

    I hope I'm not offending anyone reading this by posting this, but it's to your point -- as long as you know the person doesn't really think that, and the joke is funny, it's okay. We all know it's a stereotype that Jewish people are good with money, so he was just using that shared information we all possessed to make a clever play on words.

    Besides, there was a Jewish guy present, so that made it okay.

    1. Very nice, Vance, that is very funny. But it doesn't have to be a race/ethnic joke, I just realized that I wanted to use this Better Off Dead clip, but it's a joke that has a racial component. It gave me a good opportunity to expound on the topic, and when racial jokes are/n't cool. But you obviously got the point already: it's all about not hurting anybody...


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