Just a Joke

I just finished reading Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s Stupid is Forever.

The author is a larger-than-life person in the Philippines. The memes where she figures are strange and sometimes twisted homage to her influence to Filipinos. She became a justice secretary, Regional Trial Court judge, a senator who authored many laws, and an elected judge for the International Criminal Court, among other things. And, for an unknown number of Filipinos, she is one of the best presidents that the Philippines will never have, specially since she passed away last week on Thursday, September 29.

Her titles and achievements make her appear like a serious person. But, make a short search over at YouTube, you’ll discover that she uses epigrams that come in the form of pick-up lines, classic rhetoric, and local hugot lines; people practically roll in the aisles when they hear her brand of humor and they have loved her for it. Some senators have tried to imitate her style but, personally, they cannot pull the same punches that she does.

These epigrams make up most of the senator’s book. There are also a few speeches in between every few chapters. But I strongly believe that readers were after the humor more than the lectures.

After reading the book – which I enjoyed – I became fixated on humor, their forms, and one other matter.

In the age of social media, humor practically guarantees a following or, at least, attention and likes. The fresher, the better. But to gain popularity or virality, one doesn’t necessarily need originality. A person could feed off someone else’s jokes, pair it with an appropriate image, drop it somewhere in the World Wide Web, and watch the ripples reach far and wide. I’ve read only one book by a comedian, Braindroppings by George Carlin. With a literal paper trail, it’s easy to verify whether words are his or not. But how about other people’s humor?

People search for the author of a quote but we don’t we do the same with jokes.

Maybe, my curiosity is misplaced. Yet, I still couldn’t help but wonder. Does humor need the same confidence demanded of passages and sources? A joke could be funny even without a reference. I guess laughter is its own credit. And I suppose we cannot treat jokes with same rigidity like we do with music and lyrics and numbers and statistics. Where would the fun be if we did?

Where would the truth be without proper citation? Is a quote just a toothless dog that barks until a name gives it teeth and a good bite? Is plagiarism exclusive to the serious and is not for the silly?

Possibly, I am in the minority. Maybe, even a rarity. Or I could be afflicted with rambling and overthinking. I just think that the intelligence required to come up with a string of words that encourages, empowers, and enlivens a person, a people, or a planet is the same requirement for any kind of joke that sells. There is always a genius – and a name! – behind every humor that we hear or read.

Credit where credit is due. “But is a joke just what it is, a joke?” My last thought as I close the book.


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