Sure, It’s Funny. But Am I Allowed to Laugh?

The other night I saw a Jack-In-The-Box commercial promoting their breakfast burritos. The tagline was, “Burritos so big they make everything look smaller.”

I stared at the TV, then rewound it.

Yep. I saw it again.

Little people, dwarves, midgets—call them what you will—holding burritos the size of bricks.

Initially it was more surprising than funny. The funny came the second time around.

But was it funny? Was it allowed to be funny? If I’d seen it in public (like in those grainy newsreels where crowds gather outside the appliance store’s plate glass window to watch catastrophe unfold on the town’s only TV) instead of in my own kitchen, would I have shook my head and muttered to strangers, “Well, that was in poor taste,” or would I do what I did in private: Say “Ha!”?

Likely I’d walk away silently, and when I got home I’d find it on YouTube to show my husband. Because taste aside, it was funny. Maybe just not a public kind of funny.

I’m not sure when the societal shift occurred, when we were deemed boorish for laughing at Blazing Saddles, et al. Is it because we’re perceived as laughing at people, people who are different than us? Because I’m here to say, I don’t discriminate. I laugh at myself more than I laugh at strangers.

I also laugh at Asians, blacks, and gays. I laugh at Russians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. I laugh when people do or say funny things, regardless of their income or religion or where their parents came from.

But that commercial made me squirm. My “Ha!” was a “Ha! How clever! But can they do that?” not a “Ha! Midgets!” Okay, maybe some of it was the midget part, because it was unexpected. I felt bad, though, because those little people weren’t saying or doing anything funny. They were just being themselves.

And for me, that’s the difference, and why I felt bad: It’s not funny when people are exploited. But give me cowboys waiting in line at a tollbooth in the middle of the desert—or better yet, around a campfire eating beans—and I’ll laugh every single time.

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