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What are you laughing at?


EVEN in the worst of times, Filipinos seldom lose their sense of humor. Sometimes this takes the form of self-deprecation as when visiting more advanced countries — I was shouted at for standing in the bike lane and pretended I didn’t understand what they were upset about. (Okay, that’s not funny.)

Maybe with the pandemic and the deaths of people near and dear as well as the midnight rants of insomniacs, people don’t find much to laugh about. Still, humor seems to be making a comeback. The coming elections will provide grist for the humor mill.

In times past, before political correctness became a “woke” concern, we remember ridicule as a form of attack. At Plaza Miranda back then, such wind-up campaigns would feature the whole ticket, and speakers letting loose all sorts of rhetorical excesses as a form of mass entertainment. One aging and perennial senatorial candidate of another party was praised for his public service, having started as a waiter at the Last Supper. Ageism at that time was not recognized as a reprehensible slur.

Even in the years of Martial Law when humor was considered a form of insurrection, some TV host playfully rephrased the slogan — “sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisekleta ang kailangan,” substituting discipline for the two-wheeled form of transportation. Harmless, right? But the offending TV host was required to cut grass at the main thoroughfare as punishment.* Was this too somehow a bow to humor by the repressive regime? Still, the message sent was not intended to be funny.

Trolls have used ridicule (the lowest form of humor) as a weapon. Sarcastic swipes at the targets compare previous remarks made five years ago with actions taken at the present time. Party switching, pronouncements of withdrawal from this contest, possibilities of substitutions at the last minute, and fake news on electoral violations are all unleashed with a cackle of delight.

Art Buchwald (1925-2007) was a noted American humorist. In his final days he wrote amusingly about his confinement in a hospice in his last book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye. At his prime, Buchwald wrote for the Washington Post and was syndicated in 500 newspapers around the world. He wrote, “Whether the best of times or the worst of times, it is the only time we have.” Is that not a slight bow to Charles Dickens’s opening in A Tale of Two Cities?

Our own Joe Guevara (1917-2002) in his column “Point of Order” always looked at the funny side of politics and the passing scene with his one-liners.

Maybe because of social distancing and the abolition of parties (the social kind) in the last two years, the occasions for merriment and laughter have been banned. Can laughter be elicited in virtual meetings with turn-taking and muted interruptions? Don’t you need a bit of inebriation and brazenness with the ambiguity of the anti-terrorist bill to loosen up your funny bones?

Surely, there will be occasions for humor in this political season. The debates and who will be participating in them will be fertile ground for the “grin shoots” to develop. Can you imagine on the floor our retired boxer duking it up with the former head of the PNP? Is “capital punishment” spelled with a capital letter?

The video blog on the questioning of the esteemed senator (without gloves) by a patient colleague on the appropriate organizational structure for the boxing commission was a classic metaphor for two ships passing in the night. Shouldn’t the boxing organization be under the sports commission, your honor? No, Mr. President (of the Senate), it is a big business. (Maybe it should belong to the Department of Trade and Industry?)

Humor will have its turn. The insomniac seems to have lost interest in his weekly exercise of exploring the variants of the oldest profession and its progeny as well as the weight and hairstyle of critics. Besides, the ratings have dropped.

It is time for the real clowns to take the stage. Let’s not forget the nuisance candidates who want to change the name of the country or campaign to be the 51st state of the union.

Sometimes, politics and humor don’t mix. Political jokes, after all, can sometimes get elected. And that’s no laughing matter.

*Ariel Ureta, the TV host to whom this quote was attributed, called the story an “urban legend,” saying it did not happen. (Ariel Ureta says the “Sa ikauunlad ng Bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan” story about him is an urban legend |

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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