Humor and Jokes in ASL and Deaf culture

British humor. Native American humor. Deaf humor is there. To understand humor in a culture is to understand their culture, history, heritage, and language.

Deaf Jokes basically come in two main forms: language-based play and Deaf experience.

Language-based jokes

Language play and poetry are often lost in translation between languages. To understand language-based humor, fluency in language is required.

Translation: "Advanced ASL Math: How to Count Chickens" by Erik Witteborg aka ewitty. One chicken plus one chicken equals how many? The teacher asked him. He wrote down "duck". The teacher criticized him but the boy believed he was right. He didn't understand what was wrong. His explanation? Ha. Funny.

This joke cannot be translated into any spoken language or other signed languages because of the language play on the phonological level of ASL.

Pun is another. It's a play that uses homonyms or a double meaning of a sign. One example is:

"When dating a hearing ASL-signing firefighter, it was time to give him a name sign. Thinking... Ah! One of the possibilities of his name signs was combining the initial letter of his name which began with a L and the ASL sign for FIREFIGHTER, which resulted in also... LOSER. My boyfriend was about to thwap me with a good laugh." -- Jolanta Lapiak, 2009.

There are numerous humor-based nonces (the words that are used only once (i.e. first and last time) but fully understood without explaining the meanings). Portmanteau is a very common technique for nonces. It means a word that blends or combines two words (signs).

E.g. When talking about not wasting papers or printing both-sided rather than one-sided, a Deaf guy who often does language play told me a nonce by blending the ASL words SAVE and TREE.

Everyday language play, which indicates visual culture, includes wipers on the eyeglasses in the rain; toothpicks to lift up eyelids when one is very tired and needs to pay attention; "I have four eyes", usually not referring to the eyeglasses, but another pair of eyes on the back of the head...

Another play is the sign. E.g. In the Hong Kong Gorilla story, the giant gorilla spotted a pretty blonde lady where all other people scattered, running for their lives. The gorilla grabbed the little lady and held it in his left hand. He admired the little human, signing (translated as) "You're so beautiful. I love you. Don't worry, I will never hurt you. I want to MARRY." When signing the word MARRY, it crushed the little lady to death.

Deaf experience jokes

Deaf experience jokes tell stories and jokes about themselves as Deaf people, about hearing people, visual culture, etc.

Oppressed groups such as Native Americans/First Nations, Blacks, and Deaf have their genre of humor to release a sense of pain from all kinds of oppression. They encounter some everyday discrimination, ignorance, microaggressions, and such. Humor in oppressed groups help release these.

Some light-hearted jokes can be shared with the outsiders to help illustrate their experience of the oppression. Some jokes cannot be shared with the outsiders for the lack of their understanding of the people's history, culture, experience, etc. Maybe a few jokes may be never shared with anyone outside the core of their culture.

Zap stories are a humorous stories about how Deaf people up-one hearing people who harrassed them. Examples of the zap stories are the public telephone, "Nabil's Story", "55 miles per hour", etc. Some of the zap stories are true stories, especially the public telephone and Nabil's Story.

Classic Deaf jokes

There are several traditional jokes over the past decades and beyond. Some jokes are classic that they have been passed on over several generations, such as "The Hotel", "The Timberman" and "The Hitchhiker".

Related posts

Enjoy some zap stories.

Classic Deaf jokes: The Timber and Lumberjack, King Kong, Hitchhiker, Birds on the Telephone Line.

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Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

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