Are Foreclosures Funny?

BLOG VIEW: Hey, did you hear this joke that made its way around the Internet: ‘The economy is so bad that seven out of 10 houses on Sesame Street are in foreclosure’? Yeah, I know – it is not a very funny joke.

Or, did you see a recent issue of The New Yorker with a cartoon with a man and a woman walking from a house with a large ‘For Sale: Foreclosure’ sign on its lawn? The woman carried two suitcases and a glum expression, while the man lugged a large crate and said, ‘Well, this is one way to keep the kids from moving back home.’ Admittedly, that was not very funny, either.

Or were you aware of the Oregon theater company that advertised its production of Anton Chekov's ‘The Cherry Orchard’ as ‘the ultimate foreclosure comedy’? Not a very tasteful bit of marketing, is it?

Or how about the YouTube comedy videos featuring the taglines ‘A touch of humor added to the foreclosure nightmare – why not?’ and ‘Hilarious door knocking foreclosure humor’? Okay, I'll stop now – it doesn't get better.

Over the past few months, a number of websites, newspaper comic strips and would-be comedians have incorporated references to foreclosures into their jokey dialogue. Even some entities that bill themselves as supposedly helping distressed homeowners have slipped into feeble comedy: a strategic-default advocacy website called has a cartoon of Old Mother Hubbard leaving her celebrated shoe house while saying, ‘They foreclosed, so we are moving to a flip-flop.’

A great deal of comedy, of course, is built on the premise of somebody going through an exaggerated misfortune: slipping on a banana peel, hitting one's head on a pipe, getting into a convoluted predicament that raises all sorts of mayhem, etc. The key rule of this school of comedy is that extreme situations are hilarious when it happens to someone else – Moe slapping Curly is funny, but you wouldn't be amused if someone slapped you in the same manner.

But can anyone get a good laugh out of foreclosure? Considering the stress and tumult that the foreclosure process brings to people – not to mention the economic crisis it creates in neighborhoods – it might seem that foreclosure is an off-limits subject for joking.

Empirical research of the late-night comedy shows finds little (if anything) in the way of recent foreclosure-related jokes. While it may seem that no subject is immune from the barbed putdowns of the Leno-Letterman-Kimmel set, it appears that foreclosure is not a staple of the evening comedy monologues.

Very few people that have been personally affected by foreclosure are able to openly laugh at their own predicament. The only notable exception I could locate was a New York Times article where veteran comic Dick Gregory joked about the foreclosure procedures he was facing. ''I'm surprised to see there's a story about somebody losing a house,'' Gregory said. ''I thought the news nowadays was when somebody can afford to buy a house.''

The only genuinely funny thing about that situation, however, was the timing: Gregory went into foreclosure in May 1982, a quarter-century before the current crisis began. So much for thinking about the early 1980s as the good old days!

If jokes about foreclosures are few and far between, it might make a positive statement about U.S. society: There are some things that are just not funny, and the pain and hardship brought about by foreclosure is among them. We should be glad that the overwhelming majority of people are not laughing at foreclosure – when the seriousness of the subject disappears, everyone loses.

-Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

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