Keep Laughing with Jim Breur?

November 30, 2011

Political Theory


Over Thanksgiving break, my parents and I attended NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Long Island, New York to watch Jim Breur and his comedy routine.

Jim Breur began his career as a comedic on Saturday Night Live. From 1995 to 1998, he amazed SNL viewers with his uncanny impression of Joe Pesci, silly laugh, realistic animal sounds, as well as his creater of the infamous “Goat Boy.”

As a native of Valley Stream, Long Island, he says it’s easiest for him to make a Long Island crowd laugh, which, for the most part, is definitely true! As a Long Islander, I would know! You will see what I mean if you watch Jim Breur talk about his wife and kids in this hilarious clip, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5fY5Z8xLys! If you enjoyed that, get a better taste of Jim Breur’s known humor and watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QqzDy0rloI&feature=l where he imitates metal music!

However, at some points in Breur’s routine, his humor was offensive and, even shoddier, racially deragatory. What was even worse was that he was making fun of real people and people he personally knew. For instance, he used physical movements to display African Americans, like a mentally and physically disabled African American bartender he knew as well as a tall, muscular African American man coming into the town to flirt with the bigger, Caucasian women. He was fearful of these African Americans and wished to keep them in Rosedale, Queens, a town heavily populated by African Americans during Breur’s adolescent years and one that bordered his home of Valley Stream, Long Island where the majority of people were Caucasian. This relates strongly to the identity and race debate that Anthony Appiah acknowledged. At this moment, Breur and those in the crowd who applauded and agreed with his humor are perpetuating a racial stereotype: that African Americans are frightening due to their outer appearances and that they are attracted to women that are curvaceous. They, as a prominent Caucasian society, are forming an ascriptive identity for these African Americans. Jim Breur and his fans categorize themselves as Americans while they believe that the two men should be categorized as African Americans, a different race. Yet, the two men may categorize themselves differently. The two men may identify themselves as Americans too.

He also offensively stereotyped and poked fun at people with turrets. He would make funny movements and sounds imitating them. He even created the Goat Boy on SNL that he is famous for to mimic those with turrets, as you can see in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-VJ91ERvZY&feature=related. Furthermore, Breur commented on his elderly father’s inability to control his own bodily functions and, for a lack of a less crude term, pooping his pants. Personally, this was extremely offensive. My paternal grandfather has recently lost his ability to control his speech. So, to me and especially to my dad sitting beside me, Breur’s comment was far from humorous. It was too realistic for the both of us and brought about too many unsettling emotions. I believe that these examples also relate to the identity debate, as Aimee Mullins mulls over the two different dimensions of identity formation of disabled persons in her TED talk. Breur identifies those with turrets as being uncoordinated and stupid and the elderly, like his own dad, as unhelpful, or even useless. Those with turrets and the elderly, however, may see themselves as valuable. Do you believe that Breur’s comedy routine relates to the race and identity debate and Appiah, as I do? Why do you think people, like Jim Breur, are still perpetuating these racial stereotypes? How do we, as a society, stop this perpetuation? Can we?

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6 Comments on “Keep Laughing with Jim Breur?”

  1. Rainyo Says:

    I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of Jim Breuer, but he has made me laugh in the past (shout out to “Half Baked”). Comedians are a tricky thing because stand-up really has no guidelines to what a comedian can or can’t say, it just depends on how ballsy the comedian is willing to go in his/her routine. Now I have seen some really screwed up stand-up before. For example, I find Bob Saget’s stand-up pretty repulsive. There was a bit he did where he talks about his sexual encounters with Kimmy Gibbler on “Full House”. Jesus, Bob, that’s my f*%#ing childhood you just tainted with that joke. But that’s not to say others don’t find Bob Saget’s stand-up hilarious. And, I guess I don’t entirely not respect the guy. Bob’s reoccurring role in “Entourage” is absolutely brilliant, he gets me rolling every time. So, I may not like all of Bob Saget’s jokes, but hey, he makes people laugh, that’s what comedians do. Their job is to bash on everybody and everything, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. But I do think there is a line that can be drawn between joking/social commentary and downright hate speech. I’d say Jim Breuer’s social commentary on black men flirting with curvy white women to be pretty tame as opposed to the hate speech brought on by Michael Richards (“Seinfeld”‘s Kramer) during his famed Laugh Factory fiasco. I mean Richards’ racially driven jokes, which were already bordering hate speech, escalated t the point where he was calling an African-American audience member the n-word straight to his face. That’s not funny, that’s sadistic. Now doing a bit about a tall black man hitting on an even larger white woman, that’s funny. Like I said before, comedians (not counting Richards, who obviously isn’t a comedian) don’t focus on one particular faction, they’ll focus on anything culturally relevant. Bits about Mexicans hopping the border can be hilarious when put together properly, and I’m of Mexican decent. I think what I am trying to say is that even though there are no boundaries to comedy, most comedians know the difference between poking fun at a particular faction (Breuer) and being blatantly racist (Richards).

  2. aecorwin Says:

    I also feel that there is a line within comedy that is often pushed, but is important not to push too hard. The reason that comedy is usually so funny is because it makes fun of something that is, usually, based in some fact. However, it is important that comedians recognize how far is too far and when they are overstepping the boundary. Sure, there is humor in making fun of people to an extent, but when this goes too far, it leads to an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. I can’t say that comedy is never funny, despite its truths. It is. Yes, there are truths behind jokes, but this is why they are funny in the first place. The fact that people can relate is what provides the humor, otherwise no one would understand the joke. However, comedians have a very difficult job as they must know when to stop, and it is hard to ever poke fun with the assurance that no one will be offended. I do believe that if you are offended by Breur’s jokes, you have every right to be, however, without making fun of people he would have no jokes left.

  3. rachdavidson Says:

    I completely understand where you are coming from. I often find myself laughing at offensive humor and taking pleasure in these types of jokes. But, when we really look at it, why is putting down others necessary for our entertainment? When you look at most stand up comedians acts, generally they are making fun of another group, and I guess occasionally that is fine, we all need to take a step back and laugh at ourselves sometimes. But, I tend to find the funniest jokes are the ones that push the limits the farthest; it feels sick to think that I laugh the hardest when someone else is put down the most. What kind of world do we live in? What does this suggest about who we are? Think about it, if you went to a stand up show, and the comedian didn’t poke fun at different types of people, you would probably be pretty disappointed. Not because we like to make fun of people, but this is how we get our entertainment from these shows. I am not sure when this came to be, or why it has stayed, but it seems to be an unescapable cycle. And thus, I am not sure we can stop this. I say all this now, but I know the next time someone cracks a joke making fun of someone else, I will most likely laugh and brush it off. It is a lot easier to judge from afar, but when in the moment it is a lot harder to take a step back and realize the hatred that is going on. We all just get caught up in the entertainment.

  4. daniellwang Says:

    Although I see that many of Jim Breur jokes are very offensive, I do not think that we as a society should try to stop these comedians. I think that Mill’s theory of a ‘marketplace of ideas’ is very important to maintaining a fair democracy. Obviously, these comedians do not seriously believe the stereotypes of their racially offensive jokes, but these jokes should still be considered a type of free speech that is worth protecting. Maybe it does not contribute in terms of substance, but comedy can be considered art and I think is irreplaceable to our culture. Also I think that accusing them of “perpectuating racial stereotypes” may be a bit harsh. I like to believe that as a whole, our society is slowly moving towards one where most people are blind to color. Obviously, there is still a small proportion that believe these racial stereotypes, but I think the majority of us do not.

  5. jpstern Says:

    Its not just Jim Breur that makes racially offensive jokes, its almost all comedians. It’s terrible, but almost everyone in the crowd will laugh. It’s hard to tell when an audience is laughing nervously because they don’t know how to react to such harmful jokes, but sometimes its actually just funny. No one is able to control everything that they laugh at because laughter is a involuntary action. Even though they may realize that something is wrong, it still may seem funny because these stereotypes are just part of our culture. Shutting comedians up would potentially be the only way to fight the racist trend, but that is not going to happen because comedy is such a big industry and is a huge part of the american culture.

  6. Jason Cohen Says:

    Personally, I think Jim Bruer is hilarious. Especially due to the comedians on the scene currently who have pushed that racial boundary even further than Bruer. The man isn’t a big name in Comedy, and perhaps his material is flying under the radar when discussing intolerant humor, but when I read this article I immediatly thought of the infamous Kramer from seinfeld meltdown. If you want to discuss predjudice, simply search for that video on youtube and bring that into the discussion.

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