Is There a Joke in It?

JokeI have often thought what a difficult job it must be to be a comedian in the Philippines as they have a particularly amusing habit of having to announce a joke. When you’ve asked questions and got to the bottom of it, it’s again just one of those things which is easily explained and many of the assumptions as to why this is are not what they seem. Allow me to be a little clearer.

I was baffled as to why people here often say “joke” at the end of the sentence. It can be said in a variety of ways; sometimes to cover embarrassment at what they had said, or often simply to announce that it was meant humourously.

The covering embarrassment aspect is a difficult one to explain so bear with me. If someone compliments you, chances are they may kill the compliment by saying “joke” at the end to cover the embarrassment of having complimented you. It’s as if saying something nice about you causes an after-blush at having said it, so they say “joke”. I won’t pretend to fully understand it but the best I can do to explain is to say it’s possibly due to shyness. It’s like saying “I like you” then following it with “not really” to mask their embarrassment of having flattered you. Yes all very confusing.

That’s one way that joke is used at the end of a statement but the other use of saying joke is a little misleading too. I used to think that perhaps they had trouble working out what is funny and what isn’t and needed telling. I was utterly confused by the “joke” at the end as after all shouldn’t we know that without being told.

However this was simply my misunderstanding and Filipinos are not missing the joke as often as it seems nor are they explaining that it is a joke literally. So why do they need to announce it’s a joke?

Well it’s nothing more than a punch line which is commonly said after a humourous comment.

It’s a little like the old music hall drum roll at the end of a one liner in painful British music hall jokes which later was turned into saying boom boom after the punch line. Well, with Filipinos it isn’t necessarily after just one liner’s, it’s just announcing a joke, a little like canned laughter (which is used frequently on TV and radio here).

Why am I bothering to explain this? Well its one of many sources of misunderstanding between foreigner and Filipino. It’s a silly thing but I for one thought that they simply didn’t know a joke until they were told to laugh. Well it’s true up to a point but that’s common in many cultures. Americans invented canned laughter, British in days gone by would say boom boom, Filipinos say joke.

Sometimes it’s said to cover an unflattering remark or mild insult; they cover it by saying “joke” after. It’s as if to reassure you they are teasing and it wasn’t meant offensively. Confused? So am I.

The moral of this tale is, don’t assume it’s down to any kind of inability to recognize humour, it’s just something they say.

Filipinos laugh long and loud and are generally a happy people without meaning to sound cliché, but they are. Regardless of their willingness to laugh, sometimes they are not always going to get some of our humour. There is an excellent chance they will be taking your words literally and sometimes offended due to misunderstandings in what you have said. It’s happened to me dozens of times.

English is not their everyday tongue.If occasionally irony sometimes passes them by; I think it’s entirely forgivable when you consider that English is not the first language.

Being a silly European fellow, I had quite a time whilst learning the importance of “Joke” when I was teasing or just making a funny remark. Thinking myself to be a bit of a comedian I would happily make remarks which could be teasing the person or just generally being a fool. You would not believe the amount of times I unintentionally insulted people and wouldn’t know it.

In instances where it has happened with me, it could possibly be because of the crossover between English and how they comprehend English and not realizing I’m not serious. They tend to take your words very literally in their interpretation. When you think about it, it’s obvious as English does not come natural, it’s taught.

Although Filipinos have the talent to learn English as well as their various dialects and nearly all speak Tagalog, it’s asking a lot to expect them to fully comprehend the abstract in English with ease, as the abstract is often a feature in humour.

It’s not something entirely due to misunderstanding English as they do the same amongst themselves and you always hear them saying “joke” after they have made a funny or tease even in their own dialects. It’s just something they do and its open to misreading it from our side as foreigners.

However, you have to realize that the potential for misunderstanding or simply not getting you in the first place is far higher with someone speaking in English to them. We don’t always make it simple for them in how we put things in humourous conversations.

It’s totally impressive that even those with basic schooling in many cases still have some grasp at least of English. But you have to remember that where there is any degree of difficulty in understanding, they are going to take the literal meaning first before the abstract can be understood. You say “joke” at the end and they will re-process your remark and chances are no offense will be taken and they will see the joke.

This may seem a tedious point to write about, but I do so because it’s one of many areas where things are not as they seem and the likelihood for misunderstanding is high from both sides.

I’ve had conversations with other foreigners who have stated that Filipinos are dumb as they don’t know a joke until you say it’s a joke. This is harsh and misconstrued on the part of the foreigner, and I admit that I myself believed for a while that our humour was just not translatable to them. Sometimes that’s true, but assuming they say joke because they don’t know it’s a joke unless told is a major discredit to the Filipino. It’s just us not understanding the context that saying “joke” is used.

So if you’re trying to be funny, say “joke” at the end. Just be aware that some do not understand your humour, but many do and once you say “joke” at the end, they will probably laugh anyway just to be polite, but inside they may be saying to themselves, “what’s this cranky foreigner talking about”.



Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippine Transportation, Philippines

7 responses to “Is There a Joke in It?

  1. It’s Benny Hill all the way for me, my Pinoy friends tend to like slapstick and visual comedy and defiantly struggle with dark or nasty/sick humour.
    Good article though (joke lang)


  2. The other cultural difference in humor is the Filipino practice of titling a joke in print with the punch line, which of course is a spoiler.


    • Rick, to be honest, im not sure if ive been read as mocking. I’m not really honestly. Thats nothing to do with your comment Rick i understand what your saying. But in answering you my mind went walkabout so brace yourselves.
      Comedy has its weaknesses in all cultures and i don’t think that Filipinos do not have the ability to be very amusing. In fact im giving comparisons with humour (Yes that’s Humour Rick with a U) :).
      We used to announce jokes too. I’m sure that eventually real comedy will make its way past the laugh machine of TV/Radio helium. I do smell it all about to happen really.


    • Furthermore Rick. I truly (and not doing the blogging BS thingy) appreciate your blog. You say it about right for me, anyway keep up the fight Rick.


  3. I’m a Filipino and I must admit Filipinos don’t have “sophisticated” humor, even if the joke is in our native language. Most of the comedy skits on TV revolve around Big Chief (lead comedian) scolding or slapping his sidekick, which I don’t find amusing to be honest. Maybe because I’ve stopped watching local shows for as long as I can remember.


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