Remaindered: Books that don’t belong

Another installment in an occasional series about books in our libraries that embarrass, confuse or upset us. Today: the particular humor of our friends the police.

Cop Jokes, Lou Savelli and Stuart Moss (Looseleaf Law Publication, Flushing NY, 2007).

Perfect stocking-stuffer for your partner

Absolutely packed with jokes about defense attorneys

Lots of vocational groups have their own oral folklore, and jokes are a big part of that. The more close-knit a group, the more prominent this oral folklore usually is, and if the vocation happens to be a dangerous one, the need for humor to alleviate the daily risks becomes greater. Coal miners, sailors, and soldiers all have their own in-group jokes, and it’s no surprise to learn that police officers boast a similar body of humorous folk speech.

What makes this book fascinating is that it’s insider material produced for insiders: Savelli and Moss are ex-cops, and Savelli has authored numerous other guides designed to be sold to police stations. His guides to gangs and graffiti are both on my shelf; I wouldn’t be able to keep straight which sets use five-pointed stars and which use six-pointed stars without them.

“Cop Jokes” is something of a departure, as it’s a compendium of witty remarks that Savelli and Moss tell us are commonplace in the world of law enforcement. If that’s true, the police humor repertoire includes a disturbing and anomalous number of “blonde jokes,” and a somewhat less anomalous number of drunken Irishman jokes. There are also lots and lots of jokes about the perfidy and moral putrefaction of defense attorneys, and plenty that make light-hearted sport of the rollicking subject of police brutality.

Among the many suggestions for “New Miranda Rights” are these: “1. You have the right to an ass-kicking. 2. You have the right to have a priest and/or an EMT present at the time of the ass-kicking. 3. If you don’t have a priest, one will be appointed free of charge, to read you your last prayer.”

Elsewhere, the authors ask, “How many cops does it take to throw a man down the stairs? None. The guy fell.”

Ha! Oh, my sides. Because, you see, violence. There’s a lot of humor there.

The book is actually a valuable peek inside the mentality of (some) police officers, with rich material for folklorists interested in how law enforcement identifies outgroups (drunks, lawyers, “perpetrators,” and, inexplicably, blonde women), how it reinforces community norms, and even how it views its own internal hierarchy (there are a lot of rookie jokes). In fact, the book is a lot more interesting for this anthropological aspect than for the jokes themselves, which are not all that funny. Like most in-group jokes, they serve primarily as a way to shore up bonds formed by sharing a common identity: if you belong, you get the jokes. If not, you find yourself grimacing at the lame gags in the “Top 10 Signs Your Partner Needs a Vacation.”

(V. Charm)

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