ethnic jokes

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The English are not alone in having an active repertoire of jokes which rely for their point on negative ethnic stereotypes, as all European countries have their joke cycles about particular groups. In earlier times, the groups singled out for ridicule were more likely to be the inhabitants of a local town or village—Gotham, for example—but this has gradually given way to jokes about particular nationalities or ethnic groups, although different regions still hold stereotyped views about others. There is a range of stereotyped traits assigned to particular groups in jokes, but the most common is stupidity, presumably because it has much wider comic possibilities than, say, meanness or avarice. In England, jokes or humorous tales depicting the Irish as stupid were circulating at least as early as 1739 when some were printed in Joe Miller's Jests (see Halpert and Widdowson, 1996: 647–53), and were taken abroad by Canadian, American, and Australian settlers, where they also flourished. Jokes and tales about the Irish have existed ever since, and there is no doubt that racist stereotypes are perpetuated in this way, but as two of Sandra McCosh's English informants said: ‘we have nothing against the Irish; my father and his father were Irish. They’re just supposed to be stupid’ (McCosh, 1976:120). See also FOOLS, WISE MEN OF GOTHAM.Christie Davies, Ethnic Humor Around the World: A Comparative Analysis (1990); Christie Davies, ‘Fooltowns: Traditional and Modern, Local, Regional and Ethnic Jokes About Stupidity’ in Gillian Bennett, Spoken in Jest (1991), 215–35; Sandra McCosh, Children's Humour (1976); Herbert Halpert and J. D. A. Widdowson, Folktales of Newfoundland (1996), ii. 647–53.

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