»  Taki's Magazine

March 24th, 2011

  Laughter in the Dark

With the nation broke, Congress snoozing, and the President dithering, what we need is a little humor. Here are two offerings of different kinds that will, I'd guess, appeal to two different taste cohorts. My own taste — English Lad Crude & Silly — inclines me more towards the first offering, but you can make up your own mind.


Indian pop lyrics. Here's a catchy little number from the land of curry and call centers. Sample lyrics:

May he poop on my knee?
(Repeat twice)
Kitty all go see
Much a finny-D.
Could you tell it to her maid
And see me be?

Would you mustard my hole
With a genie, babe?
(Repeat twice)

May he poop on my knee?
 … …

Those are not the actual lyrics. The actual lyrics are in Hindi, or something. That's just what they sound like to an English-speaking ear. (Oh, you know what I mean.)

There's a whole genre of these things. "My loony bun is fine Benny Lava" gets my Best Dancing Award. "All along watch you pumping my retard (and you fill me with tar)" has a nice frantic quality. "Let's punch an apple" is the more authentically Indian sound, though, while The Nipple Song is hard to beat for scenic staging. (Nipples feature a lot in this genre. Every nation has its favorite body part, I guess.)

The trick can't be new. Human beings have been making fun of each other's languages and dialects for as long as we've had the power of speech — half a million years, according to some authorities. As kids in England we mocked the American accents we heard in the movies:

Yank: What kind of work d'you do?
Brit:  I'm a clerk.
Yank:  You're a what?
Brit:  A clerk.
Yank:  If you're a clark, why don't you go "tick, tark, tick, tark"?

Etc., etc.

Indeed, what those YouTube posters are doing with Hindi can be done to some degree with one's own language. Back in the days of cassette tapes, Maxell Corp. made a neat commercial by playing the lyrics-sound-like game with Desmond Dekker's "The Israelites."

You don't even need an exotic dialect to work from. I recall in my early-teen years, when Elvis's song "Stuck on You" was a hit, having long schoolyard discussions about what it was that Elvis says in the line following the line "A team of wild horses couldn't tear us apart." Well, we all knew what he said. He said: "Uh biduh bayduh biduh booduh baddy bye"; but what did it mean? The controversy raged until one lad, whose older brother played in a pop group, procured the sheet music.

Oh, the Hindi thing works with Urdu, too. Just stay the heck away from the Mongolian versions.


And then there's this nicely-produced book of cartoons a kind publisher sent me. (My line of work doesn't pay worth a damn but you get free books up the wazoo.)

The book is Diversity Lane: A Liberal Family Saga. It offers two hundred-odd of Zack Rawsthorne's cartoons satirizing the bourgeois Left. You've probably seen some of these cartoons if you visit conservative websites much. Zack's been doing them for three years now, and the series of course has its own website.

As with all good cartoon series there is a manageably small cast of characters: husband (ACLU attorney, ponytail), wife (elementary school teacher), two kids (cynical girl, clueless boy), wife's live-in lesbian partner (angry activist who "believes everything should be equal to everything else"), and wife's loopy lesbian ex (Wiccan pot-head stuck in hippie phase).

Zack takes them through various adventures. They adopt a black orphan: "You had her all morning at Love Me Yoga and you took her to the Vegan-Go-Round twice this week! When do I get to be seen with her?" Obamamania permeates the family home: the towels by the bathroom washbasin say HOPE and CHANGE.

There are swipes at gay rights, open borders, Islamophilia, global warming, France, race panic ("Liking snow isn't racist, is it?"), and Installation Art ("Let's face it, we're all afraid to ask whether it's important art or just some junk the janitor left behind.")

I approve of the concept here, but I can't say I got any belly laughs from Diversity Lane. A couple of chuckles and a dozen or so smiles — that was about it. I'm not sure why this is so, and it may be just me.

Certainly political cartooning is not a dead art form. Michael Ramirez occasionally gets it right, though he has the knack of making his characters look funny, which helps a lot. Sean Delonas peaked a few years ago, but still hits the mark once in a while.

These guys are drawing actual politicians, though, and mocking the powerful is always easier than doing the same to mere abstract types. The exaggeration of Obama's ears, Bush's smirk, Bill's bulbous nose or Hillary's thick legs, reminds us of universal human imperfection and pierces any illusions we may have had that these pols of ours are exemplars of sagacity — or of anything, other than ambition. Thus prepped, we are in a mood to laugh even at a feeble joke.

The model for what Zack Rawsthorne is trying to do is the Doonesbury strip. That is on the other side of the political aisle, and doesn't get any laughs from me; but it's well done and keeps a few narrative threads going. Perhaps you can only do this kind of thing well with a strip — something Zack might want to consider.

Or possibly I've just been too long aware of the bourgeois Left and their absurdities. The amusement's worn off, leaving only irritation. For someone younger, to whom the narcissism, hypocrisy, and moral status-striving of these types is a newer revelation, Diversity Lane might be an appropriate gift. The act of buying it would at least be a small poke in Garry Trudeau's eye.


A few days after this was posted I learned that misapprehensions of song lyrics have a name: "Mondegreens." The name is explained here, with many illustrative examples.