In 2002, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire conducted a study in an attempt to find a joke that people all over the world find funny. After pitting joke against joke, he found that the following joke and the most international appeal:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"I've been thinking a lot about humor since I got to Afghanistan. Not only because I miss doing comedy, but because after two weeks working with people from all over the world, I am learning that humor, laughter, and a cheerful demeanor are among the most powerful tools to bridging communications and cultural gaps. Some of the people I am working with are of English-speaking nations, but most are not. But for whatever reason, we all seem to make each other laugh. In only two weeks, I've laughed with people from Eastern and Western Europe, from down under and the real-life home of Middle Earth, and even from Afghanistan.
One of the funniest things I noticed also was that some bodily odor jokes also translate well. In one of my first days here, one of the personnel from one of our partner nations told a fart joke at dinner that made our whole party laugh. And then a few days later, one of my European co-workers took off his shoes in the office. I counted no fewer than three people from three different country walk by and remark that he needed to put his shoes back on.
So stinky feet jokes are universal. I never would have guessed.
Word has also gotten around that I performed stand-up comedy. I've told several people how did what I did on the stage. When a one of the local Afghans I work with found out, he talked to me about Afghanistan humor, which is definitely far behind American humor in terms of showbiz. But here in Afghanistan they laugh at folk tales of Nasruddin, a poor Don Chixote-like character who reacts to situations with wit, wisdom, and an odd way of looking at things. These tales have been passed on for generations through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and much of the rest of Southeast Asia. Each Nasruddin tale has a twist on the end, some of which I have found funny and some that are definitely lost in translation.
Here is a Nasruddin tale:
MORE USEFULAnd here is another:
ONE DAY MULLAH NASRUDDIN ENTERED HIS FAVORITE TEAHOUSE AND SAID: 'THE MOON IS MORE USEFUL THAN THE SUN'. AN OLD MAN ASKED 'WHY MULLAH?' NASRUDDIN REPLIED 'WE NEED THE LIGHT MORE DURING THE NIGHT THAN DURING THE DAY.'
OBLIGATIONThey are definitely interesting little anecdotes.
NASRUDDIN NEARLY FELL INTO A POOL ONE DAY. A MAN WHOM HE KNEW SLIGHTLY WAS NEARBY, AND SAVED HIM. EVERY TIME HE MET NASRUDDIN AFTER THAT HE WOULD REMIND HIM OF THE SERVICE WHICH HE HAD PERFORMED. WHEN THIS HAD HAPPENED SEVERAL TIMES NASRUDDIN TOOK HIM TO THE WATER, JUMPED IN, STOOD WITH HIS HEAD JUST ABOVE WATER AND SHOUTED: "NOW I AM AS WET AS I WOULD HAVE BEEN IF YOU HAD NOT SAVED ME! LEAVE ME ALONE.
I'm sure as I continue in my year in Afghanistan, I'll find more pieces of the Afghanistan cultural and comedy scene. But for now, here are a few articles I found on comedy in Afghanistan.
Putting the Laffs in Laffghanistan - Splitsider.com, 17 August 2011
In Afghanistan, comedians joke their way to civic renewal - Christian Science Monitor - 23 Feb 2005
The Ministry Sends Up The Afghan Government - Splitsider.com, 4 Aug 2011
And here are a few on an Afghan-born, Florida-raised comic who returned to Kabul in 2001 and performed pranks and hijinks up until recently, when after realizing social progress was taking too long, finally moved back to the states.
This "Jihadi" is Armed With a Subversive Sense of Humor - Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2011
In Afghanistan, Performance Artist Packs Up His Bling - NPR.com, 7 Oct 2011
Aman Mojadidi - Good-bye Homeland - Slash.fr