17 September 2015

Some jokes aren’t funny

This is the forty fourth in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults, consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you!  Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

There was a young boy once who was an expert at impressions.  He could imitate anyone and everyone.  No one knows how he developed this ability.  Maybe he had an eye for the most prominent characteristic of a person and maybe there was coordination between his eye, his brain and the muscles of his body (especially his face) to depict accurately what he saw.  

He was so good that he could recreate entire episodes that he had not witnessed but which were related to him by someone.  Someone would say, ‘we were in such and such a place when this happened, so and so said this and we all laughed’.  He knew his friends well.  So he would take the story and play it out, showing how this one said this and that one said that, along with facial expressions and gestures.  He could also imitate voices.  So the re-enactment was very real.  He had his friends in fits of laughter.

It was not only about imitating friends.  He could talk like someone with a hairlip.  He could play a deaf-and-dumb character. He could pretend to be blind. He could also walk like someone suffering from Polio.  

None of his friends were deaf and dumb. None were visually impaired.  No one had polio.  They all laughed.  And he laughed with them.  But one day he stopped laughing.  This is how it happened.

He was about to cross a road along with a friend.  This was in Nugegoda, close to the Supermarket.  It was around 7 pm.  There wasn’t much traffic and so the vehicles were moving very fast.  They were in a hurry.  All of a sudden our friend decided to use his skills to get the vehicles to stop.  He began to limp in exactly the same way as a person with polio.  He limped this way to the middle of the road.  And stopped.  The vehicle that was coming at them quite fast, also stopped.  The driver clearly had seen him limping.  After the car stopped, he dropped the limp and walked firmly to the other side of the road.  The two friends laughed.  In their ignorance.

A few days later the friend was relating the incident to another friend.  The other friend, obviously wiser than these two, was not impressed.  

‘Wrong!’  he said.

‘Relax! It was just a joke.  The man in the car was totally fooled by the limp.’

‘That’s exactly why it is wrong,’ he wise boy replied.  

Then he explained.

‘Now think of the driver of the car.  You fellows fooled him.  Sure, he would have felt a fool when he saw a boy who he thought had polio suddenly straighten up and cross the road as thought he never ever limped.  But just think.  Perhaps he would one day see another person with polio crossing the road.  That person won’t be faking it.  Don’t you think that there’s at least a small chance that the man would not feel pity?  He might not feel compelled to make allowances for that individual’s ailments.  Sure, he might never have to deal with a limp-situation. Perhaps even if he did, he would have more sense than you two jokers, and slow down for some poor individual to make it to the other side.  We don’t know how much you fellows annoyed him.  What you’ve done is is put at risk some unknown, unfortunate individual.  There’s nothing funny about it.’

He was right.  And that was the end of imitating people suffering from such conditions.  

Some things are funny in certain situations.  They are not in others.  Encouraging with laughter might not appear to be a problem when it’s a joke among friends, but it can embolden the joker to do things that can cause trouble.  Got to be mindful. 

Other articles in this series