What’s ethnic? Comics tell jokes about life

Canadian comic Shaun Majumder — who is part Indian based on his father’s lineage — is often asked what inspires the ethnic jokes that make up part of his act. He’s befuddled by the question.

Canadian comic Shawn Majumder has mined a deep vein of comedy out of growing up in a mixed race family in Newfoundland

TORONTO — Canadian comic Shaun Majumder — who is part Indian based on his father’s lineage — is often asked what inspires the ethnic jokes that make up part of his act. He’s befuddled by the question.

“I have a hard time answering this question,” says Majumder.

“It’s kind of like asking a fish, ‘So all these water-related jokes you tell, where do you get that from?”’

Comics like Russell Peters — who recently cracked Forbes’ Top 10 list of highest-banking comedians — have made a killing poking fun at race and stereotypes, and Majumder hosts a series of ethnic comedy showcases at this year’s Just For Laughs festival in Toronto.

The Canadian Press asked a number of performers about the origins of their ethnic material and for a sample from their repertoires, like Majumder’s one-liners about his family genes.

“I should have known I had East-Indian genetics,” goes the joke, “I was the only kid in Grade 2 with a porn star moustache.”

Papa CJ, a comedian from India who appeared on TV’s Last Comic Standing, said his material may be labelled as “ethnic” by Canadian audiences, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“What you call ‘ethnic’ material is normal to me because I’m Indian! It’s Canadian material that is ethnic to me,” he said.

“In fact, given there are one billion Indians and 35 million Canadians, on a global scale that would make Canadians an ethnic minority. Thirty-five million is just the number of Indians that are having sex at any given time of the day or night.”

Paul Varghese, who is also of Indian descent but was raised in the southern U.S., said race wasn’t a big issue growing up but it still factors into his routine.

“If you wanna know how to live in these tough economic times, talk to an Indian person because we didn’t spend money even when the economy was good,” starts one of his jokes.

“For example, my mom will write a letter to her sister in India and won’t mail it. Instead she’ll give it to her friend who’s going to India to have them hand-deliver it.”

Toronto comic Frank Spadone said he uses jokes about his Italian background to try to understand if people from other cultures relate to some of the funny quirks his family has.

For some of his jokes, he’ll assume a thick Italian accent and pretend to be his mom.

“The women today is like olive oil, they say they are virgin but you know they have been pressed a couple of times.”

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