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January 29, 2013 8:37 am

All joking (aside): To be taken literally

Written by Dante Geoffrey

A few weeks ago, as I’m sure no one noticed, my column title changed from “Culture Shock” to “All joking (aside).”

The rebranding of my tiny corner of the newspaper was necessary as I learned from both time and reader reaction.

The old title had to go because I was no longer feeling like I didn’t understand, or belong in, Powell. There was little left for me to be shocked at. The new title was chosen as a way to preemptively strike down the notion that what the reader was about to consume was completely serious.

Readers have been angered by my writing for two reasons (which is way less than the number of reasons I hate my writing). The first, they simply did not agree with the idea I was presenting. The best example of this came from a recent column in which I expressed my wish for smoke-free Powell bars. I know, I know, where do I get off?

The second reason which incites a less-warranted anger, comes when readers simply misinterpret what I’m saying. This is not new to me.

On Columbus Day 2010, long before I knew Powell existed, I thought (correctly) that it would be funny to post this on Facebook:

In honor of Columbus Day I’m headed to an Indian casino to sneeze on the blackjack dealer and claim the table as my own.

Before I continue, let me clarify — I did not do any of those things. Yet, I still said that I did. Why? Because I thought it would be unequal parts funny and poignant.

It baffles me that I had/have to explain this, but I did not actually mean what I wrote in the literal sense. I thought that was pretty obvious. I was wrong.

Later that night I went to the newsroom of my college paper, (possibly to do some work, probably because there were girls there) where I was asked by my then-editor, “How was the casino?”

I laughed, assuming he was doing a bit. He was not. He stared at me blankly as I laughed.

“Oh, I didn’t actually go, I was joking.”

An even blanker stare. “Oh,” he said. He was so confused I felt guilty.

But I had never seen anything like that before. Someone with the inability to perceive and process sarcasm, irony, humor or the historical strife of Native Americans.

I suppose there’s a slight chance he was going full-bore Andy Kaufman on me, but I truly believe he is (or was, just in case he’s dead) someone who thinks in 100 percent literal terms.

I tell you this story because it was a lesson to me. It taught me that the intent of the writer will not be clear to every reader; and satire, irony and sarcasm are probably more difficult to communicate clearly than other forms of literature.

(Before any angry English professors scoff at the idea of me creating literature, let me remind everyone that, technically, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay both create films.)

Jokes will strike a chord with the people who share a sense of humor somewhat similar to that of the joke teller. So more people will “get” a broad joke, like something you might see on any CBS sitcom.

The less broad the joke, the less people will find it funny, and the less people will even recognize it as a joke.

And that’s where I start to get in trouble.

I would venture a guess that not everyone in Powell shares even a sliver of my sense of humor. It would be unlikely if my neighbors are spending their nights like I do, watching old Saturday Night Live clips and listening to every comedy podcast I can download (the sound of human voices makes me feel like I’m not so alone) while brainstorming inane Facebook posts that I’m sure inspire as many puzzled groans as laughs.

And it’s quite possible that the jokes, often placed in parentheses (example: fart) aren’t clearly jokes.

I don’t expect those that don’t find me funny, or don’t realize that I’m trying to be funny, to change their minds. You’re not wrong to not find me funny.

You would only be wrong if you expect me to stop trying.

My only expectation of you is to give me the benefit of the doubt when you read something of mine that prompts you to ask, “why would he say that?”

There’s a good chance I said it not because I believe that statement, but because it provides a dash of humor and hopefully illuminates a different (and likely dumb) perspective.

As pompous as it sounds, I want to use my humor for (what I perceive as) good. When I make a joke about being an awful person to an employee of an “Indian” casino on Columbus Day, what I’m really trying to say is, “Hey, let’s all keep some perspective on what’s happened.”

Could I have just said that in a clear, straight-forward manner?

No. Because that’s not funny.

To those who find my thoughts to be despicable (yet continue to read them) I can promise you this: I will always aim to be more funny than offensive. If something is meaner than it is funny or important, it’s not a good joke.

At the very least, know that my sense of humor occasionally provides some practical purpose here at the Tribune. Just a few weeks ago my editor told me she uses me as a litmus test to see if headlines could be read in an inappropriate manner. So for every line of my columns that you hate, just know that there’s a discarded “Girls go wild during PMS dance” headline that only I and the most immature of eighth graders would laugh at.

And please, if you read something you don’t like, don’t understand, or both, ask me about it. I’m always happy willing to explain or defend what I write. If I couldn’t defend it, I probably wouldn’t have written it.

The comment section of the Tribune website is sorely underused, though I guess that’s understandable when there’s a good chance readers will run into the writer in town for the opportunity to complain face-to-face.

But, if you’re so inclined, I invite you to visit our website and tell me that I’m an unfunny jerk who shouldn’t be given the privilege of being published. And then let me try to convince you otherwise. At the very least, my desperate plea for your understanding and acceptance might be good for a laugh.

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