ELISE HU, HOST:
Anyone with a mother might not find this next story very funny. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been wading through a collection of your-mama jokes and other putdowns from around the world.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: To all your mamas out there and to my mama, my apologies in advance.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Your mama's so old, she farts dust.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Your mama's so fat, she cuts herself and gravy pours out (laughter). Sorry.
WANG: No, really. Sorry, because here's one more in Finnish.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Finnish).
WANG: Which means, your mama's so fat, when she goes to the beach, Greenpeace tries to push her back to the sea. But that's not about your mama, of course. She can stay on the beach as long as she wants. We're just having a little fun with some disses or snaps or...
JESSICA LANGLEY: Janks, yes.
WANG: Who calls them janks? I've never called them janks.
LANGLEY: So it's actually a colloquial term from southern Alabama, which is where Jerstin Crosby is from.
WANG: And that was Jessica Langley, an artist from Queens. She teamed up with Crosby and her husband, Ben Kinsley, to create the Janks Archive. They have a website with videos of people saying insult jokes in different cities. Kinsley remembers one woman in Belfast with lots of your-mama jokes.
BEN KINSLEY: And every time she said it, she was, like, laughing and, like, covering her face like, I'm really sorry. I'm sorry. It's bad. But she learned them from her 8-year-old son. She's like he, like, learns them at school and I laugh 'cause they're funny, but I don't really want him making fun of mothers.
WANG: But moms are fair game in their video installation at the Queens Museum.
Oh, I remember this from the website. This one we can't use.
WANG: And so are some body parts that I can't really joke about on the radio. Now, fair warning, some of the G-rated jokes they've collected don't survive translation, like this Finnish one.
LANGLEY: It says, your hair is like the forest, not as thick but just as full of life.
WANG: It's a joke or a compliment?
LANGLEY: Well, it's a kind of backhanded compliment.
WANG: Which you can find a lot of in another cold country.
BEN ROSENFELD: Insult humor in Russian is a little more poetic. There's wordplay involved and, like, misdirect where a lot of American insult humor is very direct.
WANG: This is comedian Ben Rosenfeld, born in St. Petersburg, now living in Queens. He's got this sweet nothing to tell you.
ROSENFELD: (Speaking Russian) Which translates to, you're very beautiful when you sleep with your face facing the wall.
WANG: But if you like it rough, something more in your face, brace yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You're as slow as pond water.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: You're as useful as a chocolate teapot.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Your hair is so nappy, Moses couldn't even part it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (Speaking Spanish).
WANG: That's Spanish for you are so, so, so ugly that when you were born, the doctor said if it doesn't cry, it's a tumor. Ouch, right? But Ben Kinsley thinks of it this way.
KINSLEY: It's really about kind of like this bonding. And while sometimes a language can be pretty harsh and rude and kind of gross or whatever, it ends up, I think, being a lot more about bringing two people together.
WANG: You know, just two people throwing insult jokes back and forth, sharing unspoken truths.
KINSLEY: It's almost like this way of getting it out, getting, like, the unfiltered, just like (groaning). And when two people share this unfiltered moment, it's actually kind of an intimate moment.
WANG: Yeah, just as long as you don't make fun of my mama. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YO' MAMA")
FRANK ZAPPA: (Singing) Maybe you should stay with your mama. You're really kind of stupid and ugly, too. Well, maybe you should stay with your mama. She could do your laundry and cook for you. Maybe you should stay with your mama. You're really kind of stupid and ugly, too. You ain't really made for...
HU: And there's no mistaking Frank Zappa singing "Yo' Mama." You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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