Culture & History

So Do Mexicans Have a Sense of Humor?

The international rumpus in 2011 over jokes about Mexicans made on the British television program Top Gear, and Mexico's reaction—probably overreaction—to some silly comments, may cause people to wonder...

Comedy and Tragedy - Theatre Masks

The international rumpus in 2011 over jokes about Mexicans made on the British television program Top Gear, and Mexico’s reaction—probably overreaction—to some silly comments, may cause people to wonder whether Mexicans have a sense of humor, particularly about themselves.

These days, the first place to go to find out what people are saying about a given news item is Twitter or some other social networking site. There it was clear that some were totally wound up by the scandal, proffering expletives against the British in general (a giveaway), while others inexplicably muttered self-deprecating things like, “maybe we should do something to change this foreign idea about us.”

The ones who seemed to capture the whole picture responded with their own jokes. “Now that they’ve apologized, can I ask if Monday’s a holiday?” was one. “I was going to say more against Top Gear, but remembered I was Mexican and just couldn’t be bothered,” said another.

Mexicans share many different kinds of humor. They enjoy slapstick, but also embrace other kinds of comedy, from the more brash American styles to the cutting British kind. Monty Python films were popular in their day, even with Spanish subtitles. So many appreciated the irony of the past week’s outrage, since in Mexico jokes about Argentines, Spaniards and Americans, for example, also based on national stereotypes, are common enough.

Mexican humor also extends to the country’s and its people’s idiosyncrasies, obviously with a great deal more accuracy and pointedness than any foreigners could muster. Some speak of a double moral standard, although the latest outburst could be a broad application of the expression, “la ropa sucia se lava en casa,” keep certain things in the family, or merely an attempt by someone to attract attention. It hardly matters.

Few things are sancrosanct in Mexico when it comes to making jokes, although for certain historical and political reasons, the “símbolos patrios,” or national symbols — the flag, emblem, and national anthem — are mostly left alone. There is also a large divide between what might be termed popular humor and institutional humor. Officially, the government doesn’t find too much to laugh about in itself, although its individual members might.

It’s probably in political satire that the Mexican humor departs the most from that of the British, and with the exception of newspaper cartoons, is the inferior of the two. Clearly Top Gear doesn’t fall into this category.

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