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Using Humor to Break Stereotypes

“A founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, standup comic Maz Jobrani riffs on the challenges and conflicts of being Iranian-American — ‘like, part of me thinks I should have a nuclear program; the other part thinks I can’t be trusted …'”


This comedian doesn’t just get laughs; he uses stand-up as a platform for discussing important social issues and to foster greater cultural understanding.  His big goal is to break stereotypical perspectives of Muslims and Middle Easterners by showing that “there are good people everywhere.”  Here is another of his entertaining and educational TED talks.  

Tags: Middle East, TEDglobalization, culture, Islam.

Using Humor to Learn

Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani takes to the TEDxSummit stage in Doha, Qatar to take on serious issues in the Middle East — like how many kisses to give when saying “Hi,” and what not to say on an American airplane.

Seth Dixon‘s insight:

This comedian doesn’t just get laughs; he uses stand-up as a platform for discussing important social issues and to foster greater cultural understanding.  His big goal is to break stereotypical perspectives of Muslims and show that “there are good people everywhere.”  Here is another of his entertaining and education TED talks.  

Tags: Middle East, TEDglobalization, culture, Islam.

See on

Canadian Geography

My family loved watching the full Jim Gaffigan special “The Pale Tourist.” This is an except from that, and while some of it is obvious not correct (often the punchlines), there is a great deal more Canadian geography in this sketch than I ever expected to see in by a bona fide comedian. Like with all things, but especially comedy, know your audience(s) and know that I don’t 100% endorse all statements, but boy, I wish there were more geographically-themed humor.

TAG: Canada.

Easiest Languages to Learn

“Learning another language is a good thing, but with only a small percentage of Americans, it seems most of us can never dream of achieving this common goal.”


This video’s humor isn’t always classroom appropriate, but it conveys several important ideas about languages.  First, languages that are part of the same language family are easier to learn (leading to more cultural diffusion among speakers).  Second, not all languages are equally important on a global scale even if they are similar (some languages are ‘docked’ on this list). This list is specifically for English speakers: 

  1. Dutch
  2. Frisian
  3. Afrikaans
  4. Esperanto
  5. Norwegian
  6. Swedish
  7. Italian
  8. French
  9. Portuguese
  10. Spanish


Tags: language, culture, diffusion.

India’s campaign to change cultural practices

“Television commercials and billboards now carry a message that strike at the heart of the Indian contradiction of being the world’s fastest-growing major economy and also where relieving oneself in the open is the norm in most villages. Research shows that one of the reasons for the stubborn social practice is the centuries-old caste system, in which cleaning human waste was a job reserved only for the lowest caste. Having a toilet at home is still considered unclean by many villagers. They regard it cleaner to go to the open farms, which can cause water-borne diseases, the second leading cause of death of Indian children younger than 5.”


An aggressive new campaign is ridiculing those who are no longer poor but continue to defecate in the open–even this UNICEF campaign (some language and low-brow humor, so use your own discretion) is working hard to change the cultural patterns and practices surrounding defecation and sanitation.  There are more cellphones than toilets in India and the lack of adequate sanitation and toilets is serious enough that that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made building toilets a national priority.  Comics are using their platform to bring this issue of uneven development to light. 54% of people in India do not have regular access to toilets and these comedians are using their platform to not only get some laughs, but to advocate for social change. 


Tagsdevelopment, poverty, India.

How to Say ‘Banana’ in Spanish


I’ve lived in both the plátano and banano sub-regions of the Spanish-speaking realm and this discrepancy was one I always found curious (likewise, peanut butter is called crema de cacahuate in Mexico, but mantequilla de maní in Costa Rica). I’ve had many humorous encounters with friends from throughout the Spanish-speaking world when words that mean one thing in a particular country have VERY different connotations in another.


Questions to Ponder: Why do languages have different vocabularies in distinct places?  Why makes a language especially prone to a varied set of regionalized terms?


Tags: language, colonialismdiffusion, culture, mapping, regions.

Mariana Trench Once Again Named Worst Place To Raise Child

Parenting magazine released its annual list of the best and worst places to raise a child this week, once again naming the Mariana Trench—an undersea chasm located 36,000 feet beneath the western Pacific Ocean—as the least desirable location for rearing children. The periodical’s staff reportedly selected amongst thousands of locations, weighing a diverse range of criteria such living costs, air quality, and local amenities, categories for which the pitch-black, silt-covered abyss unanimously received an ‘F’ rating.”


Now this is funny.  True to form, the Onion is mocking how obsessed our society is about ranking neighborhoods and valuing social prestige.  Underlying this satirical humor are some real, social and spatial issues.  Buying a house or renting a place is in part an analysis of the structure itself, but value is ascribed to the geographic context of the home (as real estate agents say the three most import factors are: location, location, location).  Many parents are especially concerned about choosing the ‘right’ neighborhood and that drives the housing market.  Local amenities, schools, shopping, demographic profiles, income, crime rates, land use mix…a play a role in shaping the context in how people perceive the neighborhood’s desirability.   

Tags: housingneighborhood, cultural norms, culture.

Navigating and Occupying Gendered Space

When I was in my late 20’s in a college town, I was struck by how female pedestrians responded to my presence based on who was with meat the time.  When I was on a walk with my 1 year-old daughter, I was perceived as a kind and loving father, but when I was alone, they would often brace themselves and not make eye contact with me.  I was the same person of course, but how they perceived me (benign or as a threat) changed how they navigated through space.  How we move through space is based on many cultural norms and many of those norms and assumptions are based on gender. 

When two people are both walking in the same path, who moves first?  I had never given this much thought but there is a cultural assumption that men have a greater right to occupy public spaces more so than women–ladies “should” step aside if they don’t want to be jostled.  If you are skeptical of this claim, read this article.  In it a woman asks the question “what happens when a woman walks like a man?”  The answer: many more collisions in the streets.    

Of course not all men walk in an unyielding fashion and not all women are submissively darting out of the way, but the what is seen as more normal?  Public space has historically been masculinized and women often are marginalized in spaces, but also in terms of how much space they culturally feel they are are allowed to occupy. 

MTA spread

Here is a humorous account one woman who is demanding her space against “manspreaders” on subways and other places with limited seating.  DISCLAIMER: The link above and video below contain language that might not be appropriate for your classroom.  The video is from the Daily Show, so expect some salty language and inappropriate humor.   


Everyone should be polite and courteous, but these are a few glimpses that show that spaces is gendered and (not surprisingly) more difficult to navigate for women.

Tagsspace, gender, place, cultural norms, culture, perspective.

The states with the loosest vaccination laws


The state that leads the country in child vaccination rates probably isn’t the one you think.


I had measles back in 1977, when I was too young to be vaccinated during an outbreak in the Southern California region.  My father-in-law still lives with the effects of Polio that he contracted when he was a toddler, right around the time of Jonas Salk’s great discovery that lead to the Polio vaccine.  I care about this issue because the effects are personal–but for too many, they’ve never known the realities of a world before vaccines. We collectively have forgotten WHY life expectancy and have steadily gone up over the decades at the same time that infant mortality rates have dropped.  It’s in large part because the nightmarish diseases of yesteryear have been eliminated, if we collectively are all immunized. Unfortunately, this is the discouraging truth (for now): anti-vaxxers are nearly impossible to convince. I hope this current measles outbreak is the tipping point for their to be enough public sentiment to lead to change, because the status quo is not acceptable; 113 countries currently have a better immunization rate for measles than the United States (here is Jon Stewart’s always entertaining rant on the topic). 

 Tagsmedical, diffusion, perspective.

Scottish Independence

“Scotland is about to vote on whether to secede from the UK. There are solid arguments on both sides.”


Admittedly, this video is filled with stereotypes, bad words and a strong political bias all delivered in John Oliver’s trademark style–it’s also filled with incorrect statements which I hope most people can recognize as humor, but it captures college students’ attention.  If, however, you are looking for a more insightful piece, I recommend Jeffrey Sach’s article titled “The Price of Scottish Independence.”  Independence in Europe today doesn’t mean what it used to, and this vote will be fascinating regardless of the outcome.    


Tags: devolution, supranationalism, politicalEurope, UK..

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