A Black man, a White man, and an Asian man walk into a bar. The Black man orders a Chivas on the rocks, the White man orders a Jack Daniels neat, and the Asian orders a vodka with a twist. The Black man lifts his drink and says “Cheers!” The White man and the Asian man also lift glasses and say “Cheers!” Then they all sit down to watch the game on the bar’s new wide-screen TV.

Wait…did you think there was a joke here?

Now I would guess some of you clicked because you don’t mind a good joke no matter what the topic. And others clicked ready to tell me off. And then there are some of you that just like anything that takes place in a bar. (-;

The whole debate about whether jokes like this are offensive or just plain not funny is an old one. Some people will listen politely. Others will walk away. And some can’t get enough.

As for me…I would love to find a one-size-fits-all response, but as someone who tries to see things from all points of view, it hasn’t been easy. I love to laugh and certainly want to join in when others are having fun. I just don’t like jokes that classify people by race or size or religion or net worth or country of origin or whatever.

Maybe it’s because my parents came from Poland and lord knows I’ve heard my share of Polish jokes. And I’m short. And Jewish. And I wore glasses. And we were poor. And my parents had accents. And I was a nerd (still am I’m afraid.) So the joke groups that cover me are pretty extensive. Thank goodness I’m not a blond!

But whatever the reason, from a young age I cringed when someone started a joke with any statement that I knew meant I was going to be asked to laugh because of some put-down based on race or looks or other things out of one’s control.

When I got older, for a while I did the polite laughter thing, despite feeling horribly uncomfortable. Until one day I couldn’t stand laughing at the expense of others and I began to tell people I just don’t appreciate that kind of humor. And I went further explaining how offensive all this was and that it was based on stereotyped crap. I was hell-bent to educate. (Bad move, by the way. Seems people looking to just have fun are not especially open to someone else’s ideas of enlightenment.)

Well…my new evangelical zeal went over like a lead balloon. My friends at the time said I was ruining their fun. And I guess I was…although I sure didn’t want to be put in that position. They swore it wasn’t about prejudice – anyone was game. If they told a Black joke one day, they explained, there would be Irish and Italian jokes coming soon. (Guess I was the one being enlightened now.) “Lighten up!” they told me. “You’re too serious!” (I am you know. Sigh.)

So I dug deep, trying to see their point of view. After all, jokes like these have existed forever, haven’t they?

“A cave man walked upright into a bar with his glyklk bjkl wife.” I’m sure that killed at caveman comedy clubs, even though glyklk bjkl women surely took offense.

And we all know people who make fun of their own race or religion or place of origin. Comedians do it all the time. If they do it, is it really so bad for us to do it? It’s just a joke, after all. But I think if someone does it on themselves, it’s kind of a public exorcism – and they also are bringing it out into the daylight for all to see and hopefully examine. And that might actually be a useful thing. Maybe.

But then again…don’t these jokes – even when told on ourselves – come with a basic underlying acknowledgment and almost a reinforcement in the truth of the put-down? And don’t they just help perpetuate prejudice and intolerance in society as a whole?

My gut tells me that they do. And yet the ability to find humor in our pain is at the heart of our human souls. When does the line get crossed? Can there even be a line? If a joke isn’t funny unless it uses the stereotype, what are we really laughing at?

So what’s a short, Polish Jewish girl with glasses and raging liberal tendencies who is friendly with people who are Black, Asian, gay, lesbian, red neck, physically-challenged, oversized, undersized, Irish, Italian, French, West Indian, Puerto Rican, German, Canadian, born-again Christian, atheist, orthodox, Muslim, and Buddhist to do? And don’t even get me started on misogynist jokes!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Even the glyklk bjkl ones.