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Ability To Laugh Heartily English Literature Essay

What is meant? How does he learn to laugh? What roles do comedians play in Modern society? (Choose specific comedians to discuss.)

“I have since learned that that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro...” (Johnson, p. 26) what the author tries to convey in this passage is the resilience of the American Negro, at that time, ability to find a genuine way of disarming others around them with this laugh. This laugh did not give validation to what another person might say, but rather disregarded it in an unassuming manner. This heartily laughter is not a ploy put on by the individual but is part of them; and is more than a way to disarm others but a way of protecting themselves from what others may say: “In fact they talked straight from their lungs, and laughed from the pits of their stomachs. And this hearty laughter was often justified by the droll humor of some remark. ” (Johnson, p. 26)

On page 26 when the narrator states, "I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro..." I believe that he is saying that in order to have survived in their repressive and segregated society it was necessary that they laughed and found happiness as an escape from their unfair reality. At the time this quote is spoken he is examining the lower class of black people that he had never seen before. “These people talked and laughed without restraint.. and this hearty laughter was often justified by the droll humor of some remark” (26). He saw the poorest of people expressing happiness, rather than sadness about their conditions and not self-loathing and dwelling on their situation. As we all know it can be so easy to dwell on our misfortunes, and it takes real character to rise above and appreciate what blessings we do have.

I believe that the narrator learned to laugh when he joined his fellow boarders for breakfast after his first night in Jacksonville, and throughout his time with these men at the cigar factory. “It was not long before I enjoyed the spirited chatter and badinage at the table as much as I did my meals, - and the meals were not bad” (31). For the first time in his life he finds himself working as opposed to being provided for and living in conditions not to the standard that he is used to. It is in these circumstances that for the first time he learns the value of living in the moment and enjoying his fortunes, rather than dwelling on his socioeconomic status and race (though these remain prominent issues in his life).

The American Negro, according to the narrator, has this ability to find joy and happiness even though his lot in life doesn’t promote it.

The narrator states, "I have since learned that that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro..." (26), and with that could be stating that without the happiness through the laughter that the slaves created, they would not have survived what they were forced to endure. They were forced into horrible living and working conditions, as well as barely treated as human beings let alone equals, and with that they learned to laugh and have some comedic relief in the cruel times to juxtapose the suffering they were facing. They were upset at what they were undergoing, but created their own happiness in order to make it through.

in The Autobiography of an Ex-colored man by James Weldon Johnson, the narrator says, "I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro" (26). During this time, in the 19th and 20thy century, racial discrimination, and slavery was a prominent issues in many American countries. The segregation between the whites and the blacks was a major issue, and both sides, mostly the blacks faced many hardships and struggles daily. It was believed that laughing heartily was a unique cure for the Negroes to forget about their problems they faced daily, and focus on having a good time, and laugh hysterically. The narrator says, "These people talked and laughed without restraint. In fact, they talked straight from their lungs, and laughed from the pits of their stomachs" (26). The blacks would come together at a club, or a bar, and they would just laugh at random things, hysterically, and it shows that they were just having a good time, and not worrying about issues bombarded everyday in society.

The narrator tries to find his identity in life, he considers himself to be a white man because of his white skin. However he assigns himself as a coloured man as well because his mother is coloured. He realized that “for an instant I was afraid to look, but when I did, I looked long and earnestly, I had often heard people say to my mother: ‘what pretty boy you have. I was accustomed to hear remarks about my beauty; but now, for the first time, I became conscious of it and recognized it “ (17). This means that he was shocked that he was a coloured man, and he didn’t want to be a coloured man in an inferior race.

 "I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro... (56)". What is a laugh? A laugh is having amusement towards something said or a funny action done. It makes the person relieve themselves of stress and makes life fun. When a person laughs they mostly ignore the things around them and get caught up in the moment of enjoying themselves, without thinking who’s watching them. The narrator learns to laugh because he experiences difficult times in his life, such as his mother dying, losing his money or even losing his job in the cigar factory. But he learns to realize it is what it is. Life does not stop, bad things happen for a reason. So accept it, and learn to enjoy life and laugh about it because there are always people who have it worse than you and you should be thankful for what you have. In addition the narrator realizes that even in harsh conditions in life, learn to live and find beauty. “Ma fr’en ? He ma fr’en ? Man! I’d go to his funeral jes’ de same as I’d go to a minstrel show” (56). When someone dies their is grief, however there should be happiness as well, because it is part of life and we should accept it. A person starts a new world of life. Moreover, the narrator experiences that even though the coloured people have a constant struggle in life, especially the poor people, they are loving life, because before the civil war they were slaves. But now they are free, and can do whatever they want, even though they are poor they laugh it off: “Only one thing about them awoke a feeling of interest; that was their dialect…I heard it in all of its fullness and freedom” (56).“And how the scene of the struggle has shifted! The battle was first waged over the right of the Negro to be classes as a human being with a soul” and now they are free (75). Therefore love life for all it is, for what you have, because you don’t know what you have until it is gone. The troubles that one has, laugh it off, and enjoy life. Accept who you are and what you have.

The novel The Autobiography of an Ex-coloured Man by, James Weldon has a clear focus on the hardships and struggles on both sides of racial discrimination in America. In my opinion the quotation, "I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro..." (26) Is actually very powerful, in the fact that it is very true.

2nd part:

 Comedians in modern society provide entertainment, offer a break from reality and can also educate about social norms and societal issues as well as break down some social barriers that are difficult without comedy. The comedian which readily comes to mind, who I have watched countless times on the television and have also seen live, is Toronto born Russell Peters. His acts are based upon making fun of all races in a way which is clever and generally non-offensive (to each their own opinion). In a society where people are so nervous about whether or not they are being racist, comedians like Peters help to ease our tensions, laugh about our own backgrounds, and co-exist in a multicultural society. Recently I saw one of Larry the Cable Guy’s performances on the comedy channel. He was entertaining and did bring to light issues about socioeconomic class, allowing those in his portrayed position, as well as the affluent to laugh and share the same entertainment. Comedians like Steven Colbert and John Stewart both address societal issues in a way which is entertaining and can make you question and critically analyze the topics at hand. It is clear that comedy does more than simply provide entertainment.

The roles comedians play in society is comic relief where they make their audience relax, laugh heartily at random jokes, and be relieved from stress, struggles, or problems many face daily. Comedians bring together a laughable atmosphere for people to enjoy, and laugh until their stomach hurts, and they tear from laughing so hard. Famous comedians in our modern society are Russell Peters, and Dave Chappell. These two famous comedians are of racial minorities, and they tend to have a good time making funny jokes about their own race. For example, Russel Peters is Indian and he makes random jokes about Indian people how they smell as well as how cheap they are. On the other hand, Dave Chappell is black, and he makes hilarious jokes about black people such as how black their skin is, and etc. These two comedians make racist terms about other races such as Chinese, Latin, and Jewish people. Today in our modern society, when racist jokes are spoken about, they are not taken seriously, and people laugh along with them. However, if a racist term, or joke was said by someone in the 19th or 20th century, it would be taken seriously and would be considered brutually offensive to another. Moreover, in some cases, that person could possibly be imprisoned, or even killed.

            The roles that comedians play in society are important because they make life fun and joyful even in the harsh times. Comedians can make fun of serious things without spilling any blood. Meaning they can make a joke out of something and no one will mind it. For example Russell Peters, he makes fun of ethnic backgrounds, races, and culture but he does it in a way that people enjoy his show. The roles that comedians play in the modern society help break reality, stress, racism, etc. Many things that are serious or problematic in life can be eased by comedians. Also, comedy can help with prejudices and allow others to accept social norms that one may not like about another person or culture. Comedians allow important subjects to be discussed freely and making light of certain topics allows society to cope with some subjects easier. For example, Chris Rock, a black comedian has routinely made jokes about black people even though he himself is black. This allows all of society to realize that yes their are some issues in the black community but also  that not all people from a particular race, religion or ethnicity are the same. When he is making jokes about black people he is indirectly pointing out that generalizations can be exploited in comedy but they should not be utilized to judge others.

Comedy plays an important part in modern society because it allows people to actually enjoy laughing at themselves and others. It provides a way to make “fun” of other people without coming off as racist or ignorant. For example, Russell Peters is known for making jokes about the way his own race acts, talk, etc. as well as other cultures such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and so on. People enjoy his jokes because they know the intention is not to sound racist or rude, but because the jokes are almost always true and that is what is funny. The best attitude to have is to be able to laugh at one’s self; this is common among comedians. Being able to laugh and enjoy another person’s views on politics, cultures, social issues, and what not, allows a person to be more easy-going and laid back. Needless to say, everyone needs a good laugh to lighten his or her mood in dull situations. Laughing contributes to happiness; and at the end of the day, modernity is about happiness.

The importance of having that “ability to laugh” is an instantly understandable idea to people. It is a natural part of any person; for Johnson to point out specifically the laughter of the people in this scene conveys much about the state of how black people were treated during this time. It should never have to come as a surprise that people are still laughing and merry, as it does to the Ex-colored man, and that is why that line has such an impact.

In modern society the importance of humor is not lost. Comedians make fun of the tedious parts of life, making it less tedious and stressful. This has always been true; there are satires and comics throughout history, but modern society takes humor everywhere it goes, as every medium we have has a humor section to make light of it, even music. Weird Al, anyone?

The narrator learns to laugh, I feel with each passing experience. Even after the loss of his mother, and his journey to the South, etc, he finds those everywhere he goes with this much appreciated ability of genuine laughter. As he notes in the South, “The unkempt appearance , the shambling, slouching gait and loud talk and laughter...” (25)To see those in conditions far inferior to his, with the a capacity to do something as free and joyous as laugh in inspirational. This man travels much of the globe and sees people in all kinds of situations and with all sorts of attitudes. I believe one of the critical points in his journey was at the very simple moment where he was watching a game between coloured folk, and he notes, “I noticed that among this class of coloured men the word ‘nigger’ was freely used in about the same sense as the word ‘fellow’...”(43) He experiences this as an outsider would the wonder at such conversational norms, and this helps him to realize that the words themselves don’t necessarily mean a whole lot until you put them in context. He learns to experience culture as something to be taken in stride, and humour is necessary in order to face degradation.

The role of comedians in modern times is to stand up in front of a generally diverse crowd, and place humourous ridicule upon judgement, stereotypes, human behaviour, etc, in a way that brings people closer in understanding. Most people can appreciate a comedians jokes because they take those things which are normally considered taboo, and throw them in the crowds face in a usually exaggerated manner. Comedians, some which were mentioned, including Russel Peters, George Carlin, Eddy Murphy, Dane Cook and Dave Chapelle, are all very controversial comedians. They take those serious issues, race, politics, gender, stereotypes, ETC, and twist them in such ways that make it easier for people to see the ridiculousness of getting too worked up over issues which can so easily be turned comical. As the narrator states after seeing a comedian performance, “ Here was a man who made people laugh at the size of his mouth," (49)

Comedy can be seen as a form of escapism, similar to that of music. When we laugh we are relieved momentarily of present stresses and worries, reclining into light-heartedness and detaching ourselves from all of the seriousness in life. I know that when I’m having a bad day, to watch a comedy series or movie, I am taken temporarily out of my unpleasant state and into anew, coming out of it refreshed with new energy and thoughts. A show that always seems to take my mind off troubles is Trailer Park Boys, they seem to bring me back down to earth when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Will Ferrell is a favourite comedian of mine who plays characters who can’t ever be taken seriously.

Comedians relate their own experiences to the audience, making light of everyday happenings within their environment, providing universal appeal, "When one has seen something of the world and human nature he must conclude, after all, that between people in like stations of life there is very little difference the world over." (p.40) At the core, all of humanity can relate to each other, with our basic needs, goals and desires, and of course our follies. Our nature alone can so easily be mimicked. They’re creating that essential connection amongst us as a society, where individuals can relate to one another as individuals in modern society, exposing all the irony and peculiarity in life. Comedians help us break out of moments of isolation and hopelessness, encouraging us to laugh rather than cry or rage out. Exposing obvious human foibles and shortcomings makes for good self-reflection. Much like to "live the questions" as Rilke wrote, accept that we are, for the most part, at a loss for answers and have a laugh at it! We can be no less naïve than a child.

 

To me the quotation explains, that there’s no use in dwelling on what has been done, but rather to shake it off and laugh. At this point the main character is meeting people of colour who are genuinely happy, and content, they realize that laughing is healthy, it’s the only thing you have left, when everything is so depressing, and dark, an negative the only way to bring light to it is to laugh it off. The narrator seems to think that regardless of how awful or negative something may seem, when we laugh; we often see the positive and the good behind it. Something’s in life are genuinely tragic it is through laughing, or making them into a more positive experience that we can overcome them, and be a happier person for it.

Earlier in the book there is a quotation that I found related to what is later written on page 26; Earlier Weldon writes, “In the life of everyone there is a limited number of unhappy experiences which are not written upon the memory, but stamped there with a die…there are the tragedies of life” (9). To me this quotation is quite the opposite; he is saying that there are few moments in life where you are unhappy, whereas, on page 26 it is more about savouring those happy moments, which you get so few of; because the unhappy ones seem to take over. I just found this contrast, especially because on page 9 he was referring to his friends (white) who when younger were spanked for misbehaving, and later on page 26 referring to his new friends (coloured), that solidifies the discrimination that has occurred between the two races, that white people have so few unhappy memories, and coloured have so few happy ones, this to me was just something interesting.

As for the second part of the question, I touched on it when I commented on what Ashley said. I believe that comedians are supposed to joke about subjects and topics that are otherwise considered taboo; this is to bring some light humour to them. When something is so dark and tragic, it is hard to see any positivity within it; however comedians are successful at this. Specifically I talked about Ricky Gervais, a celebrity comedian who hosted the Golden Globes and was scrutinized because he made some rather harsh remarks about many of the celebrities. In my opinion, he himself is a celebrity and has more right than anyone to point out the flaws that accompany that status and make fun of them. It gives those of us who are not as famous (or not famous at all) a chance to laugh, instead of being spiteful for not having such a status we are able to laugh about it. It also allows the celebrities themselves to ground themselves and gain some humility. To me Ricky Gervais, is a very notable comedian, who does just what comedy is supposed to, shed light on an otherwise award or dark topic.

 

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