Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Subjective vs. Universal Humor

     Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings is unlike other comedic works we have read because Tyler Perry, through the voice of Madea, is speaking very directly to us. As a book of advice, it allows Madea to address us as her audience and draw us into her world. Perry starts off by explaining the character of Madea, telling us she represents the grandmother figures he grew up with who would help to watch over the kids and give life advice. Madea gives plenty of advice, but she doesn’t perfectly fit the mold of a helpful old woman. To create the humor in the book, Perry relies on exaggerating Madea and what she says. For instance, Madea claims her mother was “six foot eight and weighed 410 pounds” (11). Madea herself is a very large woman who has been married several times, killed many husbands, eats nothing but fried foods despite her diabetes, and had a daughter so rotund she used to roll her around rather than carry her. Her advice is also humorously hyperbolic: for health, she says to use Vaseline for everything, and in relationships, she advises that when a man you’re trying to break things off with starts to act crazy, the solution is to be even crazier.

     Clearly, Madea is meant to be funny partly because she is so wild and unexpected. However, what’s interesting about Madea is that, as a character, she’s based on an in-joke. She is a caricature of a type of woman that only exists in a setting like the New Orleans neighborhood in which Perry grew up. This shows that Perry intends for the book to appeal primarily to a particular audience of older black people who would have had the same experiences. Madea speaks mostly to black men and women, so much so that she tells anyone else, “If you are not a black person and you don’t understand something, read that part to a friend who’s black and ask for an explanation” (XIII-XIV). The humor isn’t intended to appeal equally to everyone, and Madea suggests that humor is therefore not universal but dependent on shared experiences, in this case culture. She even says at one point that if “you happen to be a black person reading this and you don’t get it, oh, well, you’ve spent too much time away from your culture” (48). Perry implies that certain types of humor are subjective; if you don’t laugh at Madea’s humor, the reason isn’t that she’s not funny but that you’re not in on the joke.

     However, at the same time, Perry—and Madea—want to reach many audiences. Madea explains that she is writing this as a book of advice “to help people understand that you have to feel good about yourselves” (17). Even if you don’t understand or relate to everything (XIII), you can still find Madea’s wisdom helpful in its most important points. Perry himself has said that his audience is “…all. It's the middle class, it's the poor, it's the rich. It's all of them, and the young and old. And that's why my stories are the way that they are” (Beliefnet par. 1). While much of the message and the humor is directed at a particular audience, Perry uses more universal humor, like hyperbole, and general advice as a way of broadening his appeal to people of different backgrounds. So while some of Madea’s humor is subjective and group-specific, even at the very core of what Madea represents, it seems that other kinds of humor and truths transcend these boundaries. 

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