Mexican humor goes hand-in-hand with mockery. But this shouldn’t be taken offensively; it’s just our way of socializing. The closer the relationship, the harder the mockery. It’s simple, funny, and a little bit awkward.
Mexico is all about diversity and we are used to confronting this with everyday jokes. Don’t get alarmed if we call you gordo, negro, chaparro, chino, fresa, or gringo. It’s a common approach toward friendship and the very first step toward a more specific, and probably more insulting, nickname. We’re just so, so, so…
Stereotypes in jokes are just part of our everyday chit-chat; we can’t help it. Of course, people avoid these when talking in public or when foreigners are present, but it’s so rooted in our language that sometimes even important politicians mess it up without even noticing. Remember former president Mr. Fox (internationally famous as the most insolent president in recent memory)? One time he told Fidel Castro to “Finish your dinner and then leave!” Nobody does that. Well, almost nobody.
Nothing escapes a Mexican’s dark sense of humor. We mess with politics, races, nationalities, religion, corruption, insecurity, sexism — delicate matters are quickly overtaken by improvised bursts of humor that are, if not encouraged, pretty much tolerated. But don’t you ever, and I mean never ever, dare to make a joke out of our national symbols, our Lady of Guadalupe or anyone else’s mom. We have our limits.
Jokes start getting spicy and sarcastic even before we are really capable of understanding what they mean. For a lot of young kids, jokes are a first approach to adult themes! In a classic Mexican scene, a little boy or girl will return home from school and tell mom the last joke he/she learned today, just to end up grounded for the day because mom doesn’t like Pepito jokes, the main character and hero of these “transitional” jokes.
Spanish is a difficult language and it seems to be tailor-made to generate confusion. Mexicans have learned to potentiate this fact through inscrutable localisms and word games whose only purpose is to have a good time among friends. Language mischiefs are the weapons of choice of Mexico’s most-famous comic actors like Mario Moreno Cantinflas, Germán Valdés, Tin Tan, or the recently departed Roberto Gómez Bolaños aka Chespirito.
If you want to put your Mexican Spanish to the test, watch this clip of Cantinflas explaining the atom and the logic behind the bomb. Don’t worry if you cannot understand it; I can’t understand it either.
A foreigner tries to pull a little joke on us! Then we’ll get all sensitive, demand public apologies, and blame the world for being so unfair. Remember the Brasil FIFA World Cup? Mexico was almost sanctioned for shouting puto to every foreign goalkeeper (it’s similar to calling someone a pussy).
The Netherland team’s goalie received a thousand puto shouts, not only from Mexicans in the stadium but also from every single Mexican watching the game from home. Netherland wins and KLM dares to tweet this innocent joke. The result? National outrage against the airline of course!
Our mothers used to tell us, “El que se lleva se aguanta” (“If you can’t stand the heat, get the fuck out of the kitchen.”), but it’s one of those things that just didn’t stick.
Calaveras (skulls) are little written compositions that are used as mocking epitaphs for friends who are still alive. A calavera depicts situations in which someone we know dies and is taken away by the grim reaper as a consequence of something hilarious and quintessentially characteristic of their personality. Sounds creepy, but they’re actually quite funny.
Then you’d better listen to Chava Flores, a famous Mexican singer and composer who specialized in depicting the streets and habits of Mexico City. His songs are embedded with the most-innocent kind of humor (with some sprinkles of albur of course) and are great portraits of Mexico. From the common scenes of a funeral in “Cerro sus ojitos Cleto” to the first impressions of a metro user in “Voy en el Metro,” Chava manages to put a laugh in even the strangest of situations.