An American journalist and a psychology professor went to the West Bank to find out what Palestinian humor is. The punchline: They found it.
Two Americans, a journalist and a psychology professor, set out in search of humor in the West Bank – and they found it, according to the Washington Post.
“Everyone thought we were crazy when we said we were going to the Palestinian territories in search of comedy,” wrote Joel Warner and Peter McGraw. “You mean the war-torn region that’s been under Israeli occupation for decades? A place that’s synonymous with suicide bombers and Israeli army incursions?”
“But that’s exactly what we discovered during our travels in the West Bank: lots of comedy.”
The two tell of Birzeit University anthropologist Sharif Kanaana, who has dedicated his career to collecting and archiving the thousands of Palestinian jokes, and relate one about various heads of state who meet with God and make requests for their people. To each, God says, “Not in your lifetime.”
Then former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asks for his people’s freedom. God replies, “Not in my lifetime.”
From a group of men sharing a hookah in Ramallah, Warner and McGraw got the unofficial humor standings in the Middle East. Palestinians apparently are less funny than Egyptians, but a lot funnier thanJordanians.
“Have you heard the one about the Jordanian businessman?” one of the men asked. “Every morning before work he puts on his shirt, tie and angry face.”
They met stand-up comic Adi Khalefa, who told them about getting on a plane in Israel and noticing a sign on the bathroom reading “Occupied.”
“Not just Palestine is occupied, the bathroom on the airplane is occupied?” Khalefa exclaimed. “From the river to the sea, our bathroom will be free!”
The two explain what they found in terms of what they call the “benign violation theory,” which has been developed by McGraw, director of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
They explain the theory as holding that “humor arises only when something seems wrong or threatening but is simultaneously seen as okay or safe… A dirty joke trades on moral or social violations, but it’s going to get a laugh if the person listening is liberated enough to consider subjects such as sex okay to talk about. Puns can be seen as linguistic violations that still make grammatical sense.”
The West Bank, they say, is “full of violations waiting for some joker to make benign.”
“But sorrow, trouble and turmoil have done more than just give rise to a lot of comedy in the West Bank; such circumstances have also defined the very essence of Palestinian humor. The jokes we discovered were for the most part dark, sardonic and self-deprecating.”
Interestingly, they say that the Palestinian humor they encountered corresponds with Jewish Humor.
“Both cultures are defined by struggle and hardship, so it’s only natural that they at times turn to humor as a psychological salve, a form of self-preservation. They have learned to put themselves down before their enemies have a chance to do so.”
*Youtube video here.