New Jersey: A History And Analysis Of Mocking It
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If you were conscious in the early 2010s, you probably affectionately remember a little show called “Jersey Shore.”
It was an assemblage of perhaps the finest fake-tan-slicked ding-dongs to ever grace MTV. The show is a wondrous voyage of captivating will-they-won’t-they romances set against the ever-fading portrait of youth and (hopefully fading) chlamydia.
It’s easy to draw conclusions about New Jersey from the likes of Snooki, DJ Pauly D et al. and bag on the state. And that's what most of America did.
But making fun of New Jersey didn't start with Jersey Shore, not even close. The whistle has never blown on that play, and people have jumped on the pile forever.
As this article from the New York Post lays out, New Jersey’s place as the butt of the joke goes all the way back to Colonial times; as nearby metropolitans like Philadelphia and New York City grew, New Jersey got left behind.
Benjamin Franklin wrote untrue articles about witches roaming the fields of New Jersey, detailing the comical ways the townsfolk put them on trial and were confused by results antithetical to whether or not they were witches.
So as a nation, we got off to a good start on Jersey.
And with millions of stereotypical diners, shows like The Sopranos and ‘figures’ like Chris Christie, it got easier and easier to paint broad strokes about The Garden State. Yes, part of comedy is to be reductive and paint with such strokes. But when satirizing something, it’s possible to go too big, to a point where the brush strokes are so massive they obscure the truth at the heart of the joke.
Put another way: if you're going to join the time-honored-tradition of shooting at the New Jersey fish in the barrel, you'd best not miss.
Joe Piscopo, a veritable walking embodiment of New Jersey, except here, where he's trying to play a guy from New Jersey.
“Paulie Herman At The Diner” sure did. It missed the barrel completely, shot itself in the foot then kept right on shooting at the stump. Does that even count as an attempt at a New Jersey accent? “Look how dumb people from New Jersey are!” is supposed to be the joke, but nothing in the sketch illustrates or supports that notion with anything recognizable as New Jersey. Those idiots could be from anywhere.
Many years later, another SNL sketch titled “New Jersey Gameshow,” did a much better job by featuring a cast of New Jersey characters on a game show about the state. Its ribs are more nuanced and accurate, like Bill Hader’s weird jacket and the three different “Jersey outfits” worn by the contestants. They interact with each other like natives and respond to Jersey-specific scenarios. There’s actual substance to it.
This isn’t a defense of New Jersey or for making fun of it, but again, if you are going to take a shot at Jersey, at least have the chops to take an accurate swing.
If not, don't come crying to us when they run your sorry moneymaker back to New York, Jersey-style.
Top image: MTV