If you’re offended by seeing any of the following words in print: “fucking”, “shit”, “crap”, “asshole”, “box”, “it”, “stupid”, “up”, “damn”, “beneath”, “mp3”, “truth”, or “cattle prod”, then you might as well read on since you’re now already offended.
I’m sure you get these sorts of emails all the time, so I hope adding one of my own won’t bother you too much. I never caught much more than a few minutes of “Mind of Mencia” and to be honest, I never gave it much of a chance. I tend to find racial stereotypes to be the cheapest jokes; anyone can make them and everyone finds them funny, even if they feel uncomfortable laughing at them. I prefer the sort of humor that makes you feel stupid for missing the point.
But I happened to sit down the other night right after one of my roommates turned on “No Strings Attached” just as you were starting the bit about watching “The Passion” at church. You talked about that movie the same way I do. And it dawned on me after watching the rest of that special; I’d been missing the point. You’re not using stereotypes to make people laugh; you’re using stereotypes to make people think. You’re using their discomfort as the joke. I suddenly felt pretty damn stupid.
I bought your Stand Up episode off iTunes and listened to your mp3’s on your website. You might be the first person I’ve heard in the past 5 years who’s said something worth saying about 9/11. Honestly brother, my hat’s off to you. Anyone who can do what you do has my respect and admiration.
I consider my stories my greatest asset. I share them with people like a connoisseur might share a fine wine. I don’t wonder if someone will enjoy it, I know they will. Sure they’ll laugh, what I really want is to make them think, make them feel. For some people, the closest they may ever get to experiencing life is listening to one of my stories.
You, sir, don’t need one of my stories to experience life, to think or to laugh. But sometimes it is a pleasure to share a fine wine with someone just because they’ll appreciate it in the same way. At least, I suppose that’s what people do with fine wine when they aren’t smashing bottles of the stuff on the hulls of ships or spitting it back into their glasses.
So, if you’ll forgive me for taking up your time to share a story with you, I’d like to relate a tale from a few years back if only in the hope that it might make you feel for a second that you’re not the only one on the planet who’s sick of people living without thinking.
I used to teach freshmen business math at Texas A&M University. I only taught for 3 semesters before I was asked to leave because the department was getting tired of having to listen to complaints from students about me and my class. One of those complaint-generating classes was the day I lectured on conditional probabilities.
I started with the following example: I’m a floor manager in a Nike sweatshop in Indonesia. It’s my job to ensure there are as few defects in the shoes as possible, so I keep statistics on all the workers. Since I started tracking this data, I’ve found that child 15243 produces 200 shoes per week with a 3% defective rate and child 12399 produces 180 shoes per week with a 5% defective rate.
I then proceeded to ask a number of various questions such as “How many defective shoes do I expect child 15243 to produce?” and “If I find a pair of defective shoes, what is the probability that child 12399 made them?” Everyone got progressively more uncomfortable until I got to the last question for the example, “If I walk over to the pile of shoes, pick up a defective pair, and beat child 12399 severely for being so fucking worthless, what is the probability I should have beat child 15243 instead?”
At this, a few of the guys were trying to hold back their laughter while most of the rest of the class was visibly enraged. One of the cutesy little sorority girls sitting near the front of the class called me an asshole.
I’m an asshole? I’m a math prof with a damn fine example of conditional probability trying to convey a concept most of you feel is beneath you because you’re confident you’ll never “have to use it again”. You’re the people who think you’re paying for a piece of paper not an education. I’m the guy who’s making jokes involving sweatshop kids. You’re the people who buy fashion designer crap made by little Indonesian children who have to work 20-hour days in deplorable conditions just to eat a half of a handful of rice. I’m “raising awareness” about a segment of international society that I feel is amoral. You’re subsidizing this evil to appease your vanity. But I’m the asshole because I can find something wrong and still make a fucking joke out of it?
I quickly transitioned to another problem as most of the class tried to figure out what just happened. Most were still angry, judging by the looks on their faces. The guys who held back earlier laughed pretty freely. I’m fairly confident the girl who called me an asshole was one of the students who complained to my boss about my insensitivity to world issues. My boss laughed at the story when he called me in, but asked that I refrain from potentially offensive examples in class. I laughed and told him I never used potentially offensive examples. He smiled and dismissed me.
I loved teaching, probably for much the same reason you love comedy. People need to think, they need to laugh, they need to experience life. It’s pretty damn fun to be the guy with a mental cattle prod in front of a bunch of people who forgot what it feels like to have a synapse fire. It’s like we as Americans took Pandora’s box and crammed all our feelings but one back in and locked them up with Hope still stuck inside. Now, all that’s left to feel is Offended.
If we’re going to be angry, it better be at the right thing for the right reason. We’re not assholes when we talk about things that really happen. We’re not even assholes for telling jokes about them. We’re assholes for thinking that if we ignore a problem or call it something nice then it just goes away. We’re assholes for letting someone else do our thinking for us. I love the term “asshole”. An asshole is nothing. The only time it’s something is when it’s full of shit.
Thanks for letting me share one of my stories. And thanks for not being afraid to talk about the truth.
Good lord that makes me miss your class. My favorite problems where the ones involving Freebirds.
They just opened on up in Lubbock and I was trying to explain, to a girl I work with, the manner in which you wrote your problems. It was great to read this.
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