Laughing in the Philippines

Filipinos have a sense of humor appropriate to their social condition. That would be earthy rather than nuanced.
“Huh? Nice going, Crazy Joe, confusing us in the very first sentence.”
By earthy, I mean Filipinos “get” sex jokes and ridicule because sex is very popular here and ridicule is an art.
But take a stab at satire and minds glaze over. Or humor that requires having read a lot or traveled a lot. Little foundation exists here from which to laugh. If you don’t know stereotypes of Mexicans in America, you don’t get ethnic digs aimed at Mexicans and the Americans who are so biased they end up being the butts of their own jokes.
My readership drops like a rock when I publish book reports or articles on reading, and my readership brainpower is probably among the upper 10% of Filipino intellectual might. Maybe 5%.
I bring this up because I am reading a totally hilarious book and I’d guess I get only about 25% of the jokes. They come so fast, faster than the three stooges can throw pies. Pages and pages of the author’s wild-ass I’ll make it up as I go slapstick on a novel.
The author may surprise you if you are a spy buff and enjoy the Bourne series by Robert Ludlum. Because the writer of this hilarious book is Robert Ludlum. Yes, that master of multi-dimensional spy intrigue.
The book is “The Road to Omaha”, written in 1992. I found it at my favorite used-book store at Robinson’s Mall in Tacloban.
Figuring out the plots for all those intricate spy books must have driven Ludlum up the wall because he lets his laundry out in this masterpiece. If a racial slur exists, it is used in this book. Ludlum applies stereotypes and slurs like Sancho Panza applies idioms.  Hebes and Wops, Spics and Darkies, Chinks and Redskins romp through the plot burying our ordinary outrageous stereotypes in an abundance of laughter. There are about a dozen main characters and they are positively uproarious. The main main-man is General MacKenzie Hawkins’. My favorites are his two adjutants, D-One and D-Two, a couple of Spics who tried to mug the General in the men’s room.
Meet the General:
The lone figure in the nondescript gray suit huddled over the rolltop desk, which wasn’t much of a desk, as all its little drawers had been removed and the rolling top was stuck at half-mast, was General MacKenzie Hawkins, military legend, hero in three wars and twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. This giant of a man, his lean muscular figure belying his elderly years, his steely eyes and tanned leather-lined face perhaps confirming a number of them, had once again gone into combat. However, for the first time in his life, he was not at war with the enemies of his beloved United States of America but with the government of the United States itself.
Here are our esteemed General’s professional values, expressed out of his own mouth during confrontation in the men’s room with his future special forces:
“Get this straight, soldados estupidos! Never in all my years have I ever let a man’s race, religion, or the color of his flesh have a goddamned thing to do with my appraisal of his qualifications. I’ve promoted more Coloreds and Chinks and Spanish-speaking personnel to the officer corps than most anyone in my position – not because they were Coloreds or Chinks or Spics, but because they were better than their competition! Is that clear? . . . You’re just not in their ranks. You’re pissants.”
Well, fortunately, the great general was also a great trainer, and the two pissants were trained up to become his most loyal special forces, rising within the span of a few days from private to corporal to sergeant to lieutenant to captain. That’s where I am now, halfway through the book.
What is my point in raising this matter?
Well, for one thing, to say without equivocation that humor is good for the soul. Sex jokes are funny (I have an extensive repertoire of two jokes), but I prefer the innocent and impromptu kind. Like when I told my son to go take his bath. He raised his head up from his toy trucks to exclaim loudly: “I can’t hear you, I have bananas in my ears”. He is 3 1/2.
I also enjoy word play. . . an original JoeAm-ism: “. . .declare an empanada and wage a fat war.”
My second point is that fiction is fun and I rather think fiction writers are among the deepest souls on the planet. Mr. Ludlum made his name with spy novels. But clearly there was a deeper and broader writer underneath.
The humorous Ludlum.
Possibly he prayed, too, eh?
Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Two of my favorite writers, one British, one American. Tremendous senses of humor, often attached to compassion, rendered within totally serious affairs. Kafka, master of the absurd. Jonathan Swift, master of satire. Humor requires seeing things in different dimensions, true and warped. Timing is everything.
So, to my recently adopted motto, I add a third and fourth admonition.
Aim high. Shoot straight.
Read lots. Laugh well.
9 Responses to “Laughing in the Philippines”
  1. AJ says:

    Hahaha, I love racist jokes in literature. In real life, not so much. I'm not that eager to get hurt physically.I didn't know what Spics or Wobs were until now. A few more words I'll have to avoid when not around other Filipinos.BTW, you might want to check out've got a ton of kid quotes in one of their FB pages, it's amusing what kids say.

  2. Wop is Italian. I think Spic was originally used for Puerto Ricans, but has been broadened to include all Latinos. A case of the discriminating bastards not being so discriminatory in their discriminations.I'm like you. I appreciate an author who can wield a good, honest racist slur in proper context, of which humor is a good one. But in real life, it is wise to be more considerate. You can never tell who has a sense of humor and who does not.Also, stand-up comedians are great at racial insults in a (generally) un-insulting way. I like Chris Rock's in your face stuff, and of course, the Master, George Carlin.

  3. ps, thanks for the reference link to kid humor. I'll check it out tomorrow when I am not so bleary eyed.

  4. J says:

    Haha, I read Omaha too! And its prequel, Gandolfo! 🙂

  5. J, I hope to discover that treasure buried somewhere on the cluttered shelves of the bookstore, too. Gotta dig . . .

  6. Greg says:

    Thanks Joe. I've added both The Road to Omaha and The Road to Gandolfo to my list.

  7. Anonymous says:

    From: Island jim-e (Sat/pm)1. Soooo sorry to be late (crazy rabbit to alice in Alice in Wonderland)…! But I had to "tank up" on some great "Manila Sunshine" (see contents of the drink)some good old CO-2 mixed with a large portion of "CM" and "road- rage!"… and I just returned to my "nest/cave/shelter and fox-hole"!2. I love a good "belly-laugh"…would like to experience one every day if possible…but the type of laughter that concens me is the PH-version of the "nervious/insane" (smirks/titter)–laughter I hear around me almost daily! This type of nervious-laugh or "expression" is used as a form of or to express a state of bewildernment- embarassment, ignorance, bad manners, rudeness, etc..One Picture worth a thousand words! PICTURE THIS!This type of laughter–well visualize/picture this: "splash-splash" I was….(song tune):Several PH-"adults" standing around and watching about 50 babiesin your family bath-tub playing, laughing, shouting with glee asthey piss/pee/crap and spit in the water they are foced totake a bath in….!As long as it is socially acceptable to pee on the public sidewalks….we as a society, culture, community, familygroup will be sleeping in the trees–and "full-of-pee-ooohs"! Question: I wonder where the nick name "pinoy" came from?or need it be changed to 'PEE-NO'! I wish them well, hope to see positive change in my lifetimeor I would invite them to a "PEE-ALL-OVER" PARTY and "case-of-giggles" and to fill the next bath-tub with jim jones combo pick lemonade!Oh…thanks for the "memories"…!From my rocking chair–island jim-e (aka: the criket)

  8. ewwww, the babies. I would not laugh, and if I had one of the little things, it would be far from the tub.The public restroom situation in the Philippines is not the best, for sure. The Department of Tourism is asking restaurants (ala McDonalds) to open facilities to non-customers. I confess that on my long drives through the mountains, I like the freedom to water a local palm tree. Make me feel native.

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