Let me tell you a story about a man, a horse and a joke

5 Apr

The jokes of a people tell you much about the people.

A little hobby of mine is to learn of and listen to the jokes of foreign cultures. I’m proud to say that with patience, an open mind and an attention to the nuances of language, I’ve been able to laugh alongside many a hysterical foreigner.

In so many cases, it’s really about the language, which because it is not English can be used in ways that English cannot.

Chinese, for example, has so many sound-alike words that there is an entire genre of Chinese comedy called Cross Talk, where Abbott and Costello-like characters stand on stage and grossly misunderstand each other. These bits are much like “Who’s On First.”

This week, large numbers of Chinese people are cracking up not over misunderstood language but over a short video. It is of a man getting brutally kicked in the head by a horse. The humor is not in that brutality but in a message conveyed by the kick – a message that has nothing to do with animals.

Here’s the background.

In China, there is a popular idiom that translates literally to: “Pat the horse’s ass.”

When someone pats the horse’s ass, they are sucking up to the boss or flattering people to get ahead. We use the similar expression, “kissing ass” or “brown nosing.”

While many Chinese have benefited from patting the horse’s ass, there is a danger to the practice if it is too transparent. It can backfire. Most Chinese who watch their sycophantic colleague advance would prefer that they fail. No one likes as ass kisser.

In the video widely circulating among Chinese, the victim, prior to being kicked so hard and so directly, walks across the street and actually pats the horse’s ass.

The payoff for doing so is pretty damn clear.

And that’s why it is so funny to this culture that relies heavily on metaphor and symbolism. The humor is achieved without a single word.

All right now Mister and Misses America — DO YOU GET IT?

Lanny Morgnanesi

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