Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Understanding the Texas sense of humor, practical jokes

We Texans think life—and everyone in it--is funny.

We spend a good deal of time making as much fun of everyday living as we do making fun of ourselves.

I heard someone describe it as “American sarcasm” and I want to clear that mistake up right now. Sarcasm is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” Often people mistake sarcasm for wit. While sarcasm generally is witty, wit is not always sarcastic. This is the great humor tautology. Sarcasm can figure into the humor equation, but it is not the sole ingredient in humor, and that’s true of Texas humor, too.

Not everybody gets Texas humor. Sometimes it borders on the bizarre. I admit that. Even though I was born into the culture, I really didn’t see what was so funny about the time my father rigged my car’s engine to smoke and whine when I started it. He thought it was hilarious.

Daddy loved April Fools Day. Every April 1, he’d booby-trap his secretary’s desk with rubber snakes and cockroaches. He stopped short of fake dog poop. That wasn’t classy. Carol stayed his secretary for 18 years. I guess she thought it was funny.

I mentioned sarcasm earlier. The sarcasm in Texas humor usually pokes fun at those who need to be taken down off their high horses a notch.

One of my favorite jokes is that of the farmer being inspected by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector. The farmer gives the man the go-ahead to look anywhere he wants except for one pasture.

“Sir,” said the OSHA inspector haughtily. “I am an OSHA inspector. See this ID card? It entitles me to be anywhere I want to be during an inspection.”

“That’s fine, but I’m telling you that you really don’t want to go into that pasture,” the farmer said.

“I will go where I need to go and no one can tell me I can’t,” the inspector replied.
Pretty soon, the farmer heard a mighty commotion coming from that pasture. He saw the OSHA inspector being chased by his dairy bull.

“Help! Help me!” cried the OSHA inspector. “Stop this bull!”

“Just show him your ID card!” the farmer hollered back.

That is a prime example of Texas humor, and it was probably based on an actual event.

Another first class example of Texas humor is the fact many of us seriously supported singer/songwriter Richard “Kinky” Friedman for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

I said “seriously” supported, but this is Texas after all.

Campaign slogans for Friedman’s run for the governorship included, “Kinky: Why the (heck) not?” and “My governor is a Jewish cowboy.”

Umm…yep. That’s Texas humor in a (pecan) nutshell.

I’d like to point out at this point that I see the humor in the fact that the word “gubernatorial” begins with “goober.”

And I admit that I voted for Kinky. After all, Carol Keeton Strayhorn Rylander Hampton Laverty Oberlander had all her ex-husbands to vote for her and she didn’t need me. And we ended up sending Rick Perry right back to Austin. I'm not entirely sure Kinky was serious, but it was fun while it lasted.

Speaking of nuts, I was at one of the multitude of pecan shops along our Texas highways when I overheard a woman from another state remark about all the delicious “PEE-cans” in Texas. In Texas, we say “puh-CAN.” But from her it was “PEE-can” this and “PEE-can” that, and I had to save her from embarrassment. After all, she was a guest in our fair state and I wanted to make sure she had a pleasant stay. So I told her ever so gently, in hushed, gracious tones, “Hey lady! A PEE-can is a chamber pot!”

Are ya with me so far?

My friend Kristin Molinaro likens Texas humor to the prickly pear cactus. It’s well-rounded and dry on the outside, while holding a lot of water on the inside.

Sometimes it can be sharp. It shows up in places you’d least expect. And if you’re not careful where you walk, it will take you out at the knees.

I’d have to agree. Take, for example, our Texas public school requirement of indoctrinating every Texas seventh grade student with a year’s worth of Texas history. And I do mean “indoctrinate.” No wonder folks from out-of-state think we Texans are members of a cult. And that’s part of the joke. We’re not really. We just thought it’d be funny to watch all those non-Texan middle school parents wig out about having to do little Alamo shadowbox projects with their children or watch them get all balled up in a knot about spelling Mirabeau B. Lamar correctly.

Texas history, too, is fraught with examples of pithy humor.

On October 2, 1835, Texan settlers and a detachment of the Mexican army went head to head over a broken cannon. The thing didn’t work, but the Mexican government had previously sent an oh-so-politely worded letter which essentially said, “We’d like to have that gun back now.” The Texians (that’s what we called ourselves back then) saw the request for what it was, took an old wedding dress and stitched a black star and a cannon on it over the words, “COME AND TAKE IT,” which was a slightly more elegant way of saying, “BITE ME.”

I can just see the fathers of the Texas Revolution sitting around a campfire and posing the question, “How can we really poke the ruling government into a blind, blithering rage?”

“Hey! Let’s really get their breeches in a wad!” one might have said. “How ‘bout we hang that gun out in front of ‘em with a big flag that says, ‘COME AND TAKE IT!’?”
And a collective guffaw probably ensued, followed by another settler saying, “Ya know? If they didn’t want us to get their goat, they shouldn’t have told us where it was tied.”

Yep. That’s Texas humor, alright.

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