Dare to Ask: Why is it OK for comedians to joke about
By Phillip Milano
As a black child, I was beaten as punishment/discipline and so were my
friends and relatives. Black comedians often joke about childhood beatings. Why
does this seem acceptable?
T.C., 24, black female, Enterprise, Ala.
Because most of us who were beat did do something wrong. Mistakes and "bad"
things generally lead to negative results. The problem, of course, is that
people who get beat the most are people who probably have difficulty controlling
themselves or understanding why their behavior is wrong.
Omelio, 28, black male, Philadelphia
I don't know anyone who thinks child abuse is funny. Who are you hanging out
Dot, Los Angeles
It's fodder for comedy just because it's a shared experience. Nowadays, of
course, more and more people can't tell the difference between corporal
punishment and child abuse, and of course a fair number won't even recognize
there is a difference, so it's not funny to them.
Jason, 25, white, Bloomington, Ind.
Clearly, white comedians also joke about getting beatings. Just last week --
this is so funny -- we went to see this one, and he was like, "Ha, if one of my
father's progeny exhibited behavior on a Friday that contradicted our
patriarch's instructions, even though he'd already chastised them verbally, he
would advise them that he might mete out such an enhanced level of physical
discipline that it would cause the offspring to be relocated corporeally into a
future time period, approximately 96 hours from the exact moment he or she was
being chastened in such a tangible manner."
The guy had us rolling in the aisles. The rawness of it all -- we got it. And
the memories of our fathers saying the exact same thing ...
But to see why black comics joke about it, we called Alonzo Bodden, who won
the third season of NBC's "Last Comic Standing."
It's bonding with the audience, he said, because many African-Americans did
get spanked or worse.
"But we're not joking about abuse or being scarred for life," he said, just
enough punishment to keep the kids in line before they're too old and won't
"I was disciplined by my folks ... and my baby sitter had a razor strap --
you'd see that leather hanging on the door and think, 'I don't know what it
would take to reach that level, but I don't want to go there.' "
Bodden said he and his friends used to wonder how white kids got away with
talking back to their folks, but today he sees a lack of discipline from all
And he disagrees that those who do lay their hands on their kids are only
African-American (in fact, some studies show parents who are black, Southern or
poorer all use physical punishment at a somewhat higher rate than other
"Believe me, white families laugh at the jokes, too, because they experienced
it ... I'm sure there were a lot of ass-whippings in the trailer park, too."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
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