Why Are Accents Funny to Dumb Immigrant Kids?
I’ve got the morning off, so here’s my take…
Accents are just the foreground—they’re not funny on their own (shitty “ethnic” comics who think they’re funny, though…). The real magic of Peters’ humour is in the punchlines themselves, not the funny sounding delivery.
Good accents are hilarious, particularly Peters’, because a) they’re spot on and b) they (hopefully) come from understanding, open-mindedness and (dear God, I hope) empathy. They can broaden our understandings of other people and provide a nice foreground for the jokes Peters is really trying to tell. And of course, just for fun: Peters makes fun of his dad’s accent in the same way that he jokes of his misunderstanding of punani—he’s acting like the goofball immigrant kid who really wants that cheap laugh. I’ve been there.
I’ve honed my Chinese accent just as I did my Filipino accent: careful observation, a patient ear, an eventual understanding of first generation immigrant issues, and a particular culture’s feelings and even values. It’s not just how they say it, it’s what they’re saying, and Peters knows that. Chinese people have awesome food, so they talk about how awesome their food is. Filipinos like karaoke (full disclosure: I am Filipino and I fucking love karaoke), so why not sing songs in a Filipino accent? And plenty of immigrants show up in Canada with no money, so they talk about the use in saving 50 cents versus eating a decent meal. Get it?
Also, the audience: certain audiences will “get” the accent, just like any tool of humour. For example, I don’t find Irish or British Isles comics funny because I don’t understand the difference (and there are massive differences) between, say, the ramblings of a working class character that goes to this church as opposed to the ramblings of a working class character who goes to that church.
Likewise, my close friends are my audience. We all grew up in the same neighbourhood full of immigrant kids with funny-talking parents. We sometimes feel like translators, and don’t always hear what we’re listening to. We can skim over the details and the nuances of other peoples’, even our “own” people’s, needs while joking about our parents around salespeople at the mall. That can lead to hurt feelings, or even to getting hurt by belt-weilding pissed off immigrant parents.
This doesn’t even come close to explaining accents in humour. Just the two pennies of a guy who actually jokes around using these accents. I live in Scarborough so I’m surrounded and humbled by the cacophony of the world’s accents and I usually feel like I’m laughing with the accents rather than at these funny brown people with probably stinky houses.
I’ve got waaayyy too much to say on this topic. So I’ll end with this little anecdote:
One of my best friends, a lovely and sporting Egyptian fellow, is fucking horrible at accents yet constantly tries to drop them when we’re joking around. They all sound the same. Meaning, they all sound Egyptian. We say his accents are fucking horrible, and he laughs and tells us to shut the fuck up. We admit his African accent is really good. But the joke isn’t the accents: it’s how fucking horrible this immigrant dude’s attempts at Apu-at-the-Kwik-E-Mart is.
Not all accents are funny. My sphynx-loving brother can’t seem to get part a) down, but he definitely has part b) down because his dad owns a convenience store. So the running gag stays funny because it reminds us of where we’re from and the people we encounter on a daily basis, hence David’s answer re: why accents are funny.
David’s question: how do non-immigrant people find accents funny? Do they? As Robert Hough stated in Toronto Life, “his attitude has been revolutionary in its simplicity: these jokes are not for [white people]. If you find them funny, good. But really, they’re not for you.”
PS. *Steps on soapbox* I personally don’t like referring to people as white. Reminds me too much of Vancouver’s green men, except in all white. And I’d hate to piss an Italian or Armenian person off. And I prefer the terms brunette and blonde, in no particular order. Blue eyes are cool, too. The hell was I talking about?…