I had just told one of my best jokes. In California, people would now be rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. Well….. maybe that is a little exaggerated.
Instead, here in Peru, I didn`t even get a chortle or a snicker. What I did get was a bunch of blank stares. My audience started looking at each other, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders. Then someone, more honest than the others, looked directly at me and said,
“That isn`t funny”.
Of course I was crushed.
I have had to learn the hard way, frequently falling flat on my face, with audience reactions like the above, that my jokes don`t travel well.
After a few experiences like that, I realized that Peruvians and Americans are different in what each considers to be funny. Clearly, our senses of humor are different.
Sadly, then, my career as a comedian vanished the moment I crossed the border into Peru. Now I just try to stay quiet unless there is an audience of expatriate Americans.
However, it is hard to reform totally. I do tell some of my fifth grade jokes to my classes at the University, but then, they have to laugh, don`t they? Like the one about the restaurant on the moon…. Great food, but no atmosphere. Ha, ha.
The first barrier to hilarity is the problem of language. A joke translated from English to Spanish is doomed. Unless you are a linguistic magician, forget it. On the other hand, if I tell my joke in English to Spanish speakers, it is also risky. Many times, understanding the joke depends upon pretty sophisticated language skills and a solid knowledge of the culture. Sometimes, it succeeds. Other times, the person laughs just to be polite. Or I get the blank stare.
Some of my students thoroughly enjoy American television programs like Friends or Two and One Half Men. However, the humor of such programs is based on situations, and there is plenty of context. It is just not the same as telling a joke about the farmer`s daughter and the travelling salesman.
Finally, comes the time when someone tries to tell me a joke in Spanish. I don`t want to be rude so I laugh. Often, though, I don`t get it. Maybe as I stay here longer, and my Spanish improves, I will get into the humor.
Then, there is the ultimate, and most scary, step. That is when I am ready and have the guts to tell a joke in Spanish, and my audience roars with approval. Right now that is just a dream, but, who knows, with a lot of hard work and enough courage, that day may come. That will be a great day when I and my Peruvian friends can tell each other jokes and both sides will laugh sincerely.
In the meantime, have you heard the one about the lawyer and the priest……?