MALTESE HUMOUR – but seriously

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Maltese people admit, that by their own standards they are rated as the nation of gemgem, that is, a pack of grumblers. They – we, that is, are known to complain about almost anything. We grumble about the good weather, because one may think the sun as being too hot, even if it is a fine day in January. We complain if a drizzle of rain showers the land in April, because the lady of the house wants to hang her washing on the terrace.  Some hard core church goers even complain about the priest officiating Sunday mass if the length of the homily goes beyond the usual ten minutes. Commuters constantly complain about buses arriving late or full, (well now there they may have a point).

But do the Maltese have a lighter side to their character? Do they let matters slip off lightly? Are they relaxed to the point of letting their hair down and have a good laugh any time the occasion arises? Really now, when was it the last time that you and I heard someone crack a joke, chuckle or giggle at someone or at anything, as we went along our daily life? On the bus maybe? At a restaurant or in bar? Do people laugh when watching a sitcom on television? How about at work? Do they care to share a joke with colleagues?

Defining Maltese Humour  

I tend to agree that most people anywhere in the world do not exactly belch out laughter all the time. Some individuals, whether comedians on stage or friends at a social gathering are adept at creating jokes themselves. There are those who are ever so prepared to play pranks on friends and friends who accept those pranks.

Most Maltese seem to enjoy a funny moment or joke, but yet retain a poker face throughout. Some would mutter under their breath and laugh silently, as if they are fearful that they might get wrinkles by stretching their facial muscles too much. I suspect that some are fearful of losing their macho image if they are seen laughing too hard.

Most Maltese people laugh out noisily at slapstick, but fewer laugh out loud at witty jokes. Others opt to reserve their best hearty laughs at minor accidental mishaps, say at someone suffering a sudden knee jerk, when slipping on a wet patch. Truly though, when one is caught unaware by a bizarre happen-stance, our mind gets a rush to laugh or cry in dismay, in order to eliminate that element of surprise, depending on the situation.

How can one resist a bout of laughter if say, a senior citizen attending mass lets himself relax a bit too much and breaks wind that resonates all over the church nave? The resulting laughter from the congregation is a statement that demonstrates that a taboo has been broken in the sanctity of the church. Indeed some of the best laughs we get are from jokes that fall under the category of taboo-breaking.

Like many other nations, most Maltese laugh at cheap jokes, especially at those that carry a degree of sexual innuendo. Many laugh heartily at classic jokes that are unveiled throughout a five or ten minute stand-up comedy sketch on stage. Others laugh best when they are presented with a witty retort or a clever twist of plot at the end of a comedy.

Laughter in unison is a communal approval that the joke or the funny situation merits approval. We look at one another to get an hidden approval that it is ok if we  laugh at the joke. Laughter is like clapping hands in approval for something that is amusing.

Personal Humour

All over the world people laugh at funny situations while others do not. Humour remains to be a very personalised affair. I remember once, attending a Christmas panto in one of Malta’s theatres. The audience attending the play was very appreciative at the fare being dished out. The more so each time a popular comedian appeared on stage cross-dressing in female attire. To me, the level of the script of the play was so poor and the production certainly did not merit that much laughter. But that is humour, a communication gone well between the comedian and the audience. By the first curtains-down I scurried out of the hall in dismay.

Well-scripted and well-acted comedy productions do exist and these are presented in Malta’s more respectable theatres. Then the audience is definitely smaller than those attending the Christmas pantos. By the way, I forgot to mention that in Maltese, the word kummiedja, Eng. Comedy, has an almost negative and denigrating connotation, as it implies a low quality production produced by amateurs, which is not necessarily the case.

Through exposure to the rest of the world, especially via films, television and the internet, the level of appreciation of humour amongst the Maltese has risen to new heights, each constantly demanding fresh and refined ammo. The more discerning recipients of jokes remain in search of good quality jokes.

So please, no more toilet or bedroom jokes. One needs a good clever and engaging plot and lots of smart one liners. Let’s cut down on the long drawn story telling jokes. Let’s have more wit instead.  Otherwise, we might be making the wrong sounds at the wrong time at the wrong person.

Martin Morana


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