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Deaf Humor:

[Also see: Jokes]

DrVicars: What do you think is the difference between Deaf humor and Hearing humor?

KC: All in the delivery?

DrVicars: Certainly the "delivery is different" when Deaf humor is conveyed via ASL vs. spoken English, but I'm talking about the humor itself, not whether it is signed or spoken.

The whole joke or story depends on the winner.
In deaf humor the deaf person generally wins because of his or her deafness.

There is a anecdote about a Deaf couple who were recently married.   "One night during their honeymoon the husband leaves the motel to go get some snacks.  When he returns he realizes he has forgotten which room is his. So he begins honking the horn of his car until all the room lights turn on except one. That is his deaf wife."

DrVicars: :) The deaf person won. Deaf humor tends to have the Deaf person succeed because of his deafness.

Art: Instead of making fun of Swedes, for instance, they make fun of hearing people?

DrVicars: In a way yes. But there is a difference, we are talking about a culturally oppressed group finding amusement and success in the very condition that the dominant culture pities us for.

DrVicars:  Deaf humor isn't against hearing people, it is just in support of Deaf culture!

Lii: They also can laugh at themselves. That's a very healthy attitude.

DrVicars: Yes true.  Now, let me give you an example of what I'm talking about:

DrVicars: Okay, there was a logger. He went to cut down a tree. He used his ax a few times, yelled "timber," and the tree fell. Then chopped for a while on a second tree, yelled "timber," and that tree fell as well. He went through the same process with a third tree, but the third tree wouldn't fall over. So he tried a chain saw, and then explosives, finally he called in a "Tree Doctor." The doctor checked out the tree, thought about what to do for a minute then fingerspelled "T-I-M-B-E-R." The third tree finally fell down. The doctor explained to the lumberjack that this particular tree was Deaf.

DrVicars: You see, the strongest tree, the one that held out the longest, was the Deaf one.

T2J3: I knew deaf people who would use visual puns in ASL but I cant remember any.

Sharp: It seems to me its more of an "ignorance is bliss" situation--What you can't hear can't hurt?

DrVicars:  To an extent that is true. You know, sometimes Hearing people tell me I'm lucky to have a hearing loss because I'm not exposed to much of the swearing, barking, and various other annoying sounds that go on. I know they mean well, but I don't feel lucky. That is because I'm bicultural.  As a hard of hearing person I've lived in the hearing world and I know what hearing is like.  Imagine telling a person whom had his arm cut off, "You are lucky, now you will never get bitten by a mosquito on that arm and you will save a lot of money on soap and lotion."

Tigie: Do any deaf people think it's an advantage?

DrVicars: Oh yes!  Many do.  It depends on your upbringing. If you were raised culturally Deaf then you tend to feel that being deaf is  part of a heritage.  You are part of the "Deaf Way." In the Deaf Community we even have festivals and events that celebrate our membership in the Deaf community.

DrVicars: There is a big difference mentally and emotionally between those who grew up Hearing and later became deaf versus those who were born deaf. (And people like me who have one foot in each world). Congenitally deaf people (deaf from birth) have never experienced using speech for communication. From the beginning, they have developed other methods of interacting and therefore do not miss the ability to hear. Occasionally though, I get students in my college class who are losing their hearing and it is incredibly difficult for them, (some even become a bit suicidal). It is hard to imagine until it happens to you. I think we need to be careful though about stereotyping. Responses obviously vary from individual to individual.

Tigie: Thanx

Lii: I can tell you one thing. I'd much rather lose my hearing than sight or something.

DrVicars: Anyone know what Helen Keller said about that?

Lii: No. She's been my personal hero.

DrVicars: She said something to the effect of: "Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people."

I believe her statement was a lot more applicable in the "old days" than today. Now we have lots of assistive technology that bridges the gap between deaf individuals and the rest of society. For example: TTYs. Anyone used one of those before?
[Note: A TTY is a "teletype" device that allows typed communication to be transmitted via phone lines. 
Technology marches on: Now we tend to use two-way wireless messaging, or videophones.]

Art: Yes, I helped set up a person with cerebral palsy with one.

Jessie: no

Tigie: Did HK have to fingerspell everything?

Lii: I didn't think so.

Tigie: Instead of using ASL I mean?

Lii: I thought she used her hands to feel the letters that formed the words, which was different
than fingerspelling, wasn't it?

DrVicars: She did it all.  She learned how to read raised letters.  She learned to talk and to sign. She learned fingerspelling. I've even seen pictures of her lipreading Annie Sullivan. Helen would place her fingertips and/or thumb-tip on Anne's lips and feel them.

See:  Hellen Keller.

Notes: For additional information on Deaf Humor, check out Bellugi and Klima's book, The Signs of Language. 

Here's a discussion and excerpt:

Another type of Deaf humor can be categorized as linguistic.

Production and misproduction of signs is a common way to elicit laughs in ASL. One example, described in Bellugi and Klima's book, The Signs of Language is how we can change the root sign, UNDERSTAND, to LITTLE UNDERSTAND by using the pinkie rather than the index finger.

Much of this linguistic humor is lexically based, and the punchlines to many ASL jokes are related to the production of the words. One of my favorites is the "giant" joke. It is funny both culturally and linguistically:

"A huge giant is stalking through a small village of wee people, who are scattering through the streets, trying to escape the ugly creature. The giant notices one particularly beautiful blonde woman scampering down the cobble-stoned street. He stretches out his clumsy arm and sweeps her up, then stares in wonder at the slight, shivering figure in his palm. "You are so beautiful," he exclaims. The young woman looks up in fear. "I would never hurt you, he signs, "I love you! We should get MARRIED." Producing the sign MARRY, he crushes her. The giant then laments, "See, oralism is better."

There are several components which make this joke successful in American Sign Language. First, it is visually active, because the expressions of the townspeople, the beautiful girl, and the giant can be dramatized to perfection. Secondly, it is linguistically funny because of the sign production MARRY which causes the girl of his affection to splat in his palm. Thirdly, it is humorous in its irony. Culturally Deaf people detest oralism; therefore, the irony in the giant's conclusion that oralism would have saved his beloved girl is funny."

Also see:  Emmorey, K., Lane, H. L., Bellugi, U., & Klima, E. S. (2000). The signs of language revisited an anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima. Mahwah, N.J Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.)

In a message dated 4/25/2006 6:42:49 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Hi, I teach Deaf children up here in Canada at a school for the deaf.  One of my grade 7 students is hard of hearing.  She has just discovered "knock knock" jokes and, since I'm the only one who can understand them in the class she only tells me. (my other students are deaf)  Have you seen ASL pun jokes like knock knock jokes for children?  I've seen the "please but" joke many times, but wonder if there is more out there. (do you know the "please but" joke?  I could write it for you if you want, it is clean.
I do know the "please but" joke.  (Train crossing ;)
Yes, we deaf have many "pun" jokes
One day I'll do a webpage on them all (but not this year), too darn busy.
Let me give you an example. One of the signs for honeymoon is to spell the word on both hands starting from the outsides and working your way to the middle and end up with two N's next to eachother.  The N's are vaguely similar to one of  the signs for fornicate-(The sign that starts with "S" hands (or cocked V hands) and flicks them into "V" hands , palms down (as if representing two people laying side by side.))

[Also see: Jokes]


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