Did you ever hear this one….
“The Transformers arrived in Baghdad, they couldn’t do any martial arts!”
“The Iraqis made them wear white robes!”
And have you ever wondered about Iraqi jokes on Americans? Here’s one:
“An American guy harassed a lady from Fallujah.”
“How did she protect herself?
She told him: “Buzz off before you become ‘breaking news’ on Al-Jazeera.”
It sounds dark to an American right? But they don’t mean it that way really. The difference in the tone may be because they have lived such difficult lives for so long. People in all kinds of weird, frightening, and even disturbing circumstances, still make jokes about what they live with every day. It’s a coping mechanism.
So for real, if you are a member of the International Society for Humor, trying to study cultural humor around the world, teaching laughtivism (toppling regimes with laughter), studying what makes things funny, or just a tourist in Iraq, I try to share some quick insights into Iraq’s cultural humor.
I’ll start by sharing one irony I witnessed when I worked as a linguist for the U.S. Army in Iraq. So just imagine this, more than 200 U.S. Army installations all over Iraq during the invasion, and lots of Americans were wearing t-shirts saying: “Who’s Your Baghdaddy?”
Now keep in mind that thousands of Iraqi locals, including Iraqi Army soldiers and commanders worked on these U.S. bases without ever understanding the connotation of dominance, let alone the sexual component in the context of the American invasion of Iraq.
I was dumbfounded when I saw this!
Even more ironically, the Haji shops were selling the t-shirts – and locals were completely blind to the meaning and wearing them in the streets of Baghdad. Hilarious – right?
Jokes are like aphorisms, they lose their charm once you explain them. But one way to understand a society is to embrace the nuances and subtleties of its comedy. Understanding Iraqis cultural humor improves social bonding.
During my linguist years, I couldn’t translate many of the jokes, but I was able to replace some of the jokes using cultural relevance that fall into a general pattern – like stupidity jokes. In general, Iraqis humor falls into six distinct outlines:
1) Stupidity Jokes: Each country has stupidity jokes. Americans have blonde and Pollock jokes. English people joke about the Irish being stupid. Iraq has Kurds and Dulaims…
So take this as the piquancy of stupid Kurdish jokes:
A Kurdish store owner has a big sign saying: “We Sell Cold Ice Here!”
Or take this Pollock joke:
“How many Pollocks does it take to screw a lightbulb?” Five: one to hold the bulb and four to turn the chair.”
The classic stupid jokes, like screwing in a light bulb with 5 people, are told by using the Kurds or Dulami, instead of Pollock, for instance.
2) Cheap jokes: Mosul province is renown for cheapness with money.
To simply say: He is Moslawi”, is a derogatory joke about a guy who is very cheap.
So take this one:
“Four Moslawis played Monopoly…They couldn’t end the game”
“Because nobody bought anything!”
3) Pernicious jokes: people from Nasiriyah province get a fair share of pernicious jokes. Iraqis make a derogatory joke about someone who enjoys creating a misfortune for others. Here are two jokes:
“A Nasiriyah man filmed his father’s funeral.”
“What did he do once he had the film?”
“He was always showing it to his mother!”
And….check this one:
“A Nasiriyah asked his Dad for money. His dad refused to give him any”
“What did he do?”
“He wrote on the house: ‘Here lives a terrorist!’”
4) Sexist jokes: Iraqis are never unified. However, one man unified Iraq- Saadi al-Hilli…also known as Abu Kalid. He is a singer born in 1922 died in 2005. Many of Iraqi generations grow up hearing sexist jokes about him. Walk in the streets of Iraq and ask about Saadi al-Hilli, and rest assured…people will laugh!
One of his old songs socially stigmatized him nationwide. He became famous as a person going around Iraq looking to have sex with gays.
5) Pothead jokes: In the past seven years or so, pothead jokes have become popular in Iraq. . A quick Google search with the key words “Tahshish Iraqi” (Iraqi Pothead) would return a profusion of small posters with jokes written on them .Take for example this joke:
“An Iraqi pothead started to scream in the middle of the night from having a nightmare. His wife woke him up…’what’s wrong?’
I dreamed I was an Iraqi.”
6) Political jokes: Back during Saddam’s time, people couldn’t joke about Saddam or the government. It was a red line. You could be executed for talking about the government if anyone reported hearing you to the intelligence office. However, political jokes were said, in fear, and only among socially trusted people. Also, adults were afraid to tell them in the presence of a child. Their fear was that the kid might repeat it publicly somewhere, like in school – putting his or her parents in danger.
Here is the joke that was said in fear.
Each Iraqi Army base had a giant portrait of Saddam. An Iraqi soldier sitting under the shade of his picture looks at Saddam’s picture and said: “Dear God, can you please remove Saddam from Iraq?”
Suddenly, one of Saddam’s Intelligence officers screamed at him: ”what did you say????”
“No!…No…I said: ‘dear Saddam, could you please remove God from our life!’” the soldier answered.
I mentioned at the beginning the term “laughtivism” (toppling regimes with laughter). Some Iraqi opposition (around 1998-2002) to Saddam were broadcasting jokes about the regime and the Ba’athist party to Iraq via radio channels outside the country. It was a way of mocking and demoralizing the regime.
American’s gift to Iraq is freedom from a dictatorship. This freedom brought with it a sense of a relief. Political jokes became very common in Iraqi culture. Now, it’s almost hard to imagine an Iraqi politician not being satirized.
However, even with the spread of freedom in Iraq, religions remain off limits. Christians and Muslims alike, don’t want their respective prophets to be joked about.
Someone might ask if there are schools that teach comedy in Iraq. There aren’t. There is no Second City concept in Iraq. There are no stand-up clubs or improv comedy theaters.
However, American Media influence in Iraq produced two bastard children of American comedy. These people promote their comedy via their Facebook and YouTube accounts. Two people are currently known in Iraq:
For stand up comedy, Ahmed Waheed. He writes “stand-up” comedy transliterated in Arabic alphabets on his Facebook account.
And, Ahmed al-Basheer has a show that is the Iraqi version of the Jon Stewart show.
So that’s a glimpse into the Iraqi mind, via their humor. I hope it gave you some insight and maybe even made smile. 🙂
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