Are ‘African jokes’ played out?

Who (can) make "African jokes", are they funny or do they go too far?

The flyer for an upcoming April 2012 show featuring a roster of African comedians in Britain. Via Youtube.

When I started watching Jump Off TV’s online UK video debates, I wasn’t quite sure what had hit me. I was left confused. I desperately wanted to disagree vocally with what was being said, but after fifteen minutes of watching people shouting on the internet, that opportunity never rose. I didn’t know what to say or think. Now that I am a regular viewer of these heated emotional debates I know not to worry too much about a thing. You must either enjoy or not click. That is the rule. This week’s topic was “African jokes”: who (can) make them, are they funny or do they go too far?

To avoid any misunderstandings (and for those not familiar with British comedy culture), it’s perhaps good to be clear that in the UK, the African jokes are often performed by comedians who were either born in Africa or have parents born there, and when the panelists speak of African jokes the meaning of “African”– often if not always – is “African in the context of the UK society.” So it all differs from the better known American examples, but other than that there is no good way of explaining this discussion. It has a life of its own and it would be difficult to figure out what was concluded. There just isn’t a consensus on what is funny and what people are allowed to say.

Comedians often work as social experimenters who try to say something out loud so we can see what we think about it. Sometimes situations are very clear cut – most of us agree – and other times people differ quite a bit in their responses to a joke or a routine. A recent example of the latter was when South African comedian Trevor Noah joked about the African-American community in the United States. Many viewed the routine as tasteless, while others, such as South African author Zakes Mda, liked it a lot. So the nature of this discussion is such that we could all disagree even if we didn’t shout as much as the panelists in this week’s, or indeed any week’s, Jump Off TV UK debate. That said, it is the casual atmosphere of the chats and the passion, amplified by a few drinks, that make me return to these debates. You know, if you like that sort of thing.

If you are easily offended (or if you hold, say, more conservative values), you’re probably better off skipping this. And if you’re at work, watch it with headphones, as the strong language starts from the very beginning.

Further Reading

Mike Epps’ got “Africa” jokes

Remember Mikko’s post on African Jokes? Comedian Mike Epps, a few days before he threatened his daughter with violence, gets some cheap laughs at the expense of Nigerians on late night US television.* Host Conan O’Brien gently …