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Looking Back

Toilet humor

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Over dinner my friends exchange notes on: what books we are currently reading, what movies we have or want to watch, and what are the subtexts or related stories behind the newspaper headlines. Conversations always start on a serious note, take a side trip into the etymology of certain Filipino words, and degenerate into corny puns or toilet humor before returning to the heavy stuff. Humor is a welcome way to break the monotony or the gravity of the discussion; when correctly deployed in a classroom or lecture hall it maintains interest and moves the narrative forward. Humor looks easy in public speaking, but it is actually difficult to accomplish.

What makes the Filipino laugh? Slapstick comedy, such as when someone slips on a banana peel, or Dolphy smacks Panchito on the head. This is often said to be the lowest form of humor, but it is effective. Humor that is funny at the moment but backfires later is the insensitive gay bar spiels that pass off as humor in TV and movie scripts; these use insult and injury to make people laugh at someone else’s expense. An example was Vice Ganda’s tasteless rape and fat jokes aimed at Jessica Soho. Mike Tan will surely have something to say about this because what we find funny does define who we are. Only humans laugh. Monkeys don’t laugh. Hyenas sound like they are laughing when they are actually warning others to back off.

Toilet humor makes Filipinos laugh. Explosive farting in public makes Filipinos laugh. I remember sitting through a concert of early music played on original instruments in the church of St. Sulpice in Paris where the high-brow audience clapped at the right time and kept the coughing, throat-clearing, and chatting for the intermission. Well, at some point in the concert, one particularly delightful tune that was taken over by an oboe solo, its sound piercing through the dark space into the soul of the audience, it was interrupted by a long fart. It was a fart that the person tried vainly to contain so it began as a sputter and continued awhile before fading into silence. I laughed—the only one—and people around me glared and hissed. I stopped laughing for a moment, turned around, and caught sight of a young lady in the audience whose face was as red as her cashmere sweater. So I laughed again and was almost thrown out for disturbing the peace. Afterwards I was scolded for laughing at someone who was probably ill or in pain. I explained that Filipinos would laugh at a fart, especially if it was audible in a solemn place like Malacañang or the Manila Cathedral.

Even Rizal would have laughed. He actually made a drawing of a farting man that is preserved in the National Library of the Philippines. You will never see this Rizal drawing in textbooks because it does not make the National Hero appear heroic. The same is true of Fernando Amorsolo’s drawing of a woman peeing under her  baro’t saya. It does not sit well with those who think the first National Artist of the Philippines was beyond depicting the call of nature.

It’s quite rare to find toilet humor in history, and I was surprised to find just that in Artemio Ricarte’s “Himagsikan nang manga Filipino laban sa Kastila” (Yokohama, 1928) when he narrated how Andres Bonifacio and the Katipuneros took advantage of

fiestas to deliver their fiery speeches to an already assembled crowd. One such event was the feast of St. Francis, patron of San Francisco de Malabon (present-day General Trias in Cavite), in 1897. Another occasion was the feast of the Santo Niño in Naik where comic relief was provided by Ariston Villanueva, the Magdiwang minister of war. He brought the house down with toilet humor.

Ricarte said Villanueva’s speech began thus:

“‘Brethren and compatriots: I want to tell you something that happened a long time ago in this town which may perhaps tickle your fancy for the moment.’ The crowd listened attentively, and with repeated shouts demanded the story. Villanueva then continued: ‘A long time ago, a parish priest of this town prohibited people from committing a nuisance around the church. This was very right as a church is a house dedicated to the Almighty and should therefore be kept clean of all filth, both within and without. Several years passed without this prohibition being violated, but one day during a feast such as we now celebrate in honor of the Child Jesus, the miraculous patron of this town, human excrement was found at the side of one of the doors of the church. Now imagine, fellow countrymen, the great disgust this caused the parish priest. All the devotees of the Child Jesus who had come to the feast were called together to find out who had so shamefully violated the prohibition. I suppose you will all ask me how they found it out.

“‘The procedure adopted by the investigating committee appointed for that purpose was very simple. They examined the excrement and decided that it was that of a woman because the urine was spread all over the pile of excrement, for had it been a man’s, the urine would have been only on one side. The opinion arrived at was circulated, and the women of the locality rightly protested, because as I have said, they respected the order.’ The speaker then descended from the platform amid great applause, much laughter, and playing of the band.”

What makes the Filipino laugh? That is a clue to national identity.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


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Tags: Ambeth R. Ocampo , column , Filipinos , sense of humor

  • buninay1

    During the Desert Storm when the US forces finally decided to retake Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, heavy bombardment was launched targeting the strategic facilities within Kuwait. While the Kuwaitis and other nationals holed up in the buildings chose to stay in the basement crouching in fear, Filipino OFWs were atop the buildings enjoying the “fireworks”, cheering on the explosions upon impact, unconcerned about their own safety, intrepid at the risking of getting scorched once a missile strayed into where they were.

    In addition to the Filipinos’ fondness for toilet humor, the Filipinos’ penchant to be on the forefront of a developing drama or event distinguishes them from other races. As a matter of fact, we have coined a word for this national bad habit. That word is Uzisero, a word derived from the high-powered gun invented by the Israelis and known the world over as Uzi submachine gun.

    This bad habit has both bad and good sides to it. The bad side is that, as exemplified by OFWs in Kuwait when it was under siege, Filipinos can be exposed to harm more than others. The good side however incidental is Filipinos prevent an already tense and serious event from escalating into a bloody confrontation. Instances of this are legion beginning from the post-EDSA 1 coup d’etats where Filipino Uziseros watched intrepidly from the sideline while pro and anti govt forces were maneuvering.

    The same peculiarity manifested again during the Oakwood hotel mutiny spearheaded by now-Senator Trillanes. Uziseros ruined both the mutineers’ and pro-govt forces overall confrontational approach on the unfolding event, with some of the Uziseros obstinately stepping into areas near the hotel where wires connected to C4 bombs were laid out. Because the warring factions were afraid that the Uziseros might get caught in a crossfire, they had to exercise extreme self-restraint from igniting a full-blown armed conflict, which helped a lot in the cooling down process that led eventually to the early resolution of the little military tantrums.

    Examining closely the Filipino identity against the backdrop of his love for toilet humor and his irrepressible curiosity for something staggering, we can easily deduce that Filipinos are both wildly visceral and loosely cerebral. Long time ago I was told a first hand account of a room-mate working at Dept of Trade and Industry. Sent to Japan for further studies, he boarded the jampacked bullet train going to school. Unlike the Japanese who were absorbed in their thoughts and were motionless, he was looking around and through the crowd of fellow passengers and in no time lo and behold a Filipina was also searching around with her head turning from side to side for the slim chance of getting sight of a someone from home amid the throng of foreigners. In short, their eyes met and they asked each other, with a index finger extended and pointed to the one addressed, Filipino? With that simple query, they were able to confirm that they were both from the Philippines. The joy, he said, of finding a fellow Pinoy in a foreign country is comparable to the bliss of finding a cold iced tea in the dry sun-baked desert.

    Not discounting the fact that our extreme weakness for crass humor and gossip could be the result of our ancestors’ desire to find an outlet for their repressed and oppressed existence, we can also safely assume that our fondness for the risque humor and the risky curiosity could have developed from our innate and inborn tendency to have a good laugh at life albeit not necessarily all the way to the bank. Our susceptibility to toilet humor and death-defying risk allows the likes of gay-bar jokers and slapstick hosts and action stars to get rich by leaps and bounds. It also unfortunately allows the likes of Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid to be voted to the senate and be a threat to the further deterioration of political sanity in our country as the next presidential election nears.

    It could be in the genes, this weakness that Filipinos bear for the basest of humor and the riskiest way of satisfying an intellectual curiosity. But then again this is what makes a Filipino. It may undo a Filipino in major big way yet he is prepared to face the consequences of his foible if only for a purely heartfelt side-spllitting laugh, if only for the vicarious experience they get from seeing the awe-inspiring Leon Guerrero stunt.

    • Isagani Gatmaitan

      …”likes of Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid to be voted to the senate and be a threat…”

      What about the ” Copy-Cat”, and… the “James Dean Spawns 1 and 1-1/2″ and the “Halimaw sa Banga”…

    • divictes

      Right observation. Foreigners even interpreted it as “our low regards for human life” ___their words exactly. I had an experience once in Saudi, our bus driver was Pakistani, at the traffic lights another bus waited beside us. its driver was Filipino. Their eyes met briefly and an idiot at the back teased the Pakistani, “Sadiq, that is a Manila driver, you are never gonna beat him in a race.” Green lights and off they go! They were racing toe-to-toe and the speed needle was quivering pass the 100 mph mark! I was sitting at the seat behind the driver and was scared but the whole bus was egging the drivers on! Just like a cockpit. At the next traffic lights, our driver slowed down for the yellow lights and stopped.,while the Filipino just shot past. Then there was an expat banging on the bus door. Judging from his accent, he was British, he confiscated the driver’s I.D and berated him for his irresponsibility and for putting others at risk, he was shaking with rage. While he was leaving, somebody yelled,” Don’t worry, friend, many Filipinos in the Philippines!” The whole bus laughed heartily.

  • $14523613

    salungso and salungki, villafuerte’s version of filipino toilet humor applied to ofws.

  • boybakal

    You’re funny….you talk of toilet humor while having dinner….you have sense of humor.

  • $3741640

    Some Filipinos do not know the the meaning of ” DO NOT CROSS…POLICE LINE “!

  • WeAry_Bat

    Yesterday, it was zoo humor… In news from China, a mother brought her son to the zoo to see the lion. The son sees the lion, the lion barks.

    It was a hairy breed of dog, haw haw haw…The comment forum erupted with glees from Filipino commentators. Fake lion, hahahaha.

    Aside from that, a breed of rodents in a snake cage, a few more mismatch and another dog in a wolf area. Hahaha…Those misplaced animals probably had a harder time sleeping than a pinoy with problems.

  • Danilo Mariano

    Do we have to think or analyze whether something is funny or inappropriate before we laugh? A genuine laugh is spontaneous. We laugh at the absurd. We laugh at a young toddler’s antics. We laugh at a hilarious joke, appropriate or otherwise.

    Do we need an laughter ratings board (as in MTRCB)? I can only say, in the face of life’s challenges, we should laugh more often.

  • ConnieLee90

    Discharge all you like and get high on your gas but please do not share the aroma !

  • resortman

    Humorous laughter is the only consolation of the poor hungry pinoys. The “masa” is helpless in the midst of scandals and controversies involving oligarchs they voted, Pinoys can just jest and laugh things out…a stomach full of gas is better than none..

  • boybakal

    Filipinos by nature are laughing people.
    Minor incident like wrong mistake, slip, there’s the laugh.
    Maybe because of hardship, the only way to combat is laugh.
    Filipinos can inject humor too even corny as we are mababaw ang kaligayahan.

    Maybe our location near the equator where sun is always hot sweat our toxic in our body.
    Been also to Europe where people are serious looking, never heard that somebody laugh or group laughing….most are always in the move walk, walk and walk.
    Maybe because it is always cold that instead of laugh, walk to have energy burn.
    In the States, Americans are fond of joke, inject wit and humor on what they say.
    They are laughing people too but not much unlike filipinos.

    Whenever you are in a restaurant in the States and you heard group laughing, for sure they were filipinos.
    You can hear their laughter every now and then.
    Americans too are puzzled why we filipinos always laugh.

    Maybe it is in our genes too.
    Filipinos are funny ugly looking creatures. No need to inject joke, just look at them and you will laugh.
    Just like my friend said….Pare yon chick tinawanan ako, Pare, noong una kitang makita, natawa ako sa mukha mo.

    • Ulipur

      TOILET HUMOR?

      “Do you know that the State Bird of West Virginia is the HOUSEFLY?

      Read inside a toilet in one resto in Ohio.

  • boybakal

    Most toilet humor ay ginagawa ng mga bakla gaya ni Vice Ganda, garapal.



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