What's funny? What isn't? And why do I never get a laugh when I tell that joke about the moose?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

U is for Ugly

(Good Lord, where did the month go?)

Bessie Braddock (to Winston Churchill): “Winston, you're drunk.”
Churchill: “Bessie, you're ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober.”


These days, it’s not considered “polite” to laugh at ugliness, especially ugly people. If we look back at laughter through the ages, though, ugliness was frequently an object of laughter.

During the middle ages, a hunchback was viewed as the height of comedy, for example. Jesters were frequently disfigured in some way—and Punch and Judy are just plain horrible to look at.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so perhaps is ugliness. I think it’s a fear reaction, myself.


Cyrano De Bergerac was a real person: a poet, soldier, and arguably one of the world’s first science fiction writers. Oddly enough, despite his reputation, he WASN’T particularly ugly, though he did he have a SORT of big nose.

It was the playwright Edmund Rostand who made the fictional Cyrano the hugely ugly, big-nosed character we all know and love. (One wonders exactly what Rostand had against the real-life Cyrano…)

Rostand’s play is surprisingly problematical these days—I can’t think of a film or stage production that hasn’t had it’s flaws. But Cyrano’s list of insults remains a highlight, regardless of the production.

In case you don’t recall: a truculent soldier tells Cyrano that his “nose is big!” Cyrano’s reaction is “is that the best you can do?” He proceeds to create a score of insults he COULD have offered:

“For example, thus: AGGRESSIVE: I assert that if that nose were mine, I'd have it amputated on the spot.

PRACTICAL: How do you drink with such a nose? You must have had a cup made especially.

DESCRIPTIVE: 'Tis a rock, a crag, a cape! A cape? Say rather, a peninsula!

INQUISITIVE: What is that recepticle? A razor case or a portfolio?

KINDLY: Ah, do you love the little birds so much that when they come to see you, you give them this to perch on.

CAUTIOUS: Take care! A weight like that might make you top-heavy.

ELOQUENT: When it blows, the typhoon howls, and the clouds darken!

DRAMATIC: When it bleeds, the Red Sea.

SIMPLE: When do they unveil the monument?

MILITARY: Beware, a secret weapon.

ENTERPRISING: What a sign for some perfumer!

RESPECTFUL: Sir, I recognize in you a man of parts. A man of... prominence!

LITERARY: Was this the nose that launched a thousand ships?
These, my dear sir, are things you might have said, had you some tinge of letters or of wit to color your discourse. But wit? Not so, you never had an atom. And of letters, you need but three to write you down: A, S, S. Ass!


Steve Martin’s excellent film Roxanne does a fine job of updating Cyrano for the 20th century (if not the 21st) and even manages to give the story a happy ending! Like Cyrano, Charlie Bailes—in this incarnation a fire chief in a small town—decides to out-insult his tormenters…and produces 20 insults about his enormous proboscis. Some of them translate more or less directly from the Rostand version, while others are a bit racier than might have been permitted a couple of hundred years ago. (I think specifically of the observation “a man who can satisfy two women at once!”)

By the way, at one point, Charlie asks his crowd of admirers how many insults he’s come up with. A voice in the crowd shouts out “Fourteen!” so Charlie has to do another six. Actually, he’d done 18 or 19 insults by then, and only owed a couple more. Some friends, Charlie has!


Then, of course there are the “Yo’ Mama” jokes. We’ve discussed these earlier, as “Your Dentist” jokes, in deference to sensitive feelings. But here are a couple of dozen in the original format—thanks to a “Yo’ Mama” web site:

Yo mama's so ugly, they filmed "Gorillas in the Mist" in her shower.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she joined an ugly contest, they said "Sorry, no professionals."

Yo mama's so ugly, when she looks in the mirror, the reflection ducks.

Yo mama's so ugly, it looks like she's been bobbing for french fries.

Yo mama's so ugly, we put her in the kennel when we go on vacation.

Yo mama's so ugly, her shadow quit.

Yo mama's so ugly, Rice Krispies won't talk to her.

Yo mama's so ugly, her mama had to tie a steak around her neck to get the dog to play with her.

Yo mama's so ugly, she makes blind children cry.

Yo mama's so ugly, I took her to a haunted house and she came out with a job application.

Yo mama's so ugly, even the tide won't take her out.

Yo mama's so ugly, people go as her for Halloween.

Yo mama's so ugly, Medusa is jealous.

Yo mama's so ugly, she practices birth control by leaving the lights on.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she got in the tub, the water jumped out.

Yo mama's so ugly, she has to trick or treat over the phone.

Yo mama's so ugly, she makes onions cry.

Yo mama's so ugly, she threw a boomerang and it wouldn't even come back.

Yo mama's so ugly, Yo father takes her to work just so he doesn't have to kiss her good-bye.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she was born, the doctor slapped her and her parents.