I had been looking forward to asking my two sixth grade scholars about Tyler Perry- if they were familiar with him and his work, and if so, what they thought about it all. So once I was able to get us through our math lesson (quite the accomplishment), I brought up Tyler Perry. The responses I received from Courtney and Chaz were enthusiastic and funny. When I commented on the fact that they knew of him, Courtney came in close and asked me who doesn’t know him, which made me laugh. They referred to how funny Madea in particular was, how she is always smoking cigarettes and taking off her earrings (I especially began to get excited when Courtney mentioned the earrings part). Both girls were definitely fans of Tyler Perry and Madea to say the least. I enjoyed seeing their excitement when speaking about them.
Courtney and Chaz were quick to list the specifics of what they found funny in Tyler Perry’s work, but were not really sure how to answer my question about why they might find something funny. They actually weren’t really sure about what humor was, but then linked it to laughter. When I asked them about the kinds of things they find funny, I got tickling and when people get into trouble. These are two very plausible responses. The girls are definitely able to identify what makes them laugh or what they typically find funny, it just seems that they weren’t really thinking about why they find certain things funny. I can’t say that I was doing much critical thinking about why I found specific things funny when I was 11. When you’re this age, the fact that something is funny seems to be enough.
But now that I am no longer 11, I have come to appreciate the wisdom Tyler Perry is offering in all of the ridiculousness that is Madea. It is enjoyable to read and laugh at the details of Madea’s stories, but it is just as enjoyable to recognize the purpose of Perry’s humor. One of my favorite moments comes in the chapter titled “Staying Clean If You Are a Large Woman.” The grotesque, vivid imagery of a morbidly obese, nude woman in a hot bath containing Vaseline was pretty much cringe-worthy for me, but it was funny. The thought of a bath flooding a room because of a person’s size is funny as well, just as the idea that one is too large and crevasse-ridden to even wash their own body- not to mention the sandpaper. But then Perry slips in a sentence that grabs a reader’s attention: “If somebody loves you, they get in there and clean with you” (195). There are many moments throughout the novel where beautiful sentences such as this may be found- amidst the ridiculous and the laughter. Because even though it is kind of disgusting to think about bathing a figure such as Madea’s, it is true that we would be willing to bathe the people we love.
This particular moment evoked two memories from my own life. When I was maybe four or five years old and visiting my grandmother, I would ask to wash her back when she was in the bath. I don’t know why I wanted to do this, maybe I liked the loofah, maybe I liked talking with her, or maybe both- I was a kid. But about a year or so ago, when this same grandmother broke her ankle, I found myself helping her into the bath once again. She found it funny, and commented that the situation was a glimpse of what is to come when she gets even older. We never really spoke about her old age and whether I would help with bathing her if it came down to it (it’s not typically found in everyday conversation), but this made me silently recognize my willingness to do so. It is something you never actively think about, but somehow know. The truth is, the idea of bathing or being with someone when they are bathing is very foreign, strange, and uncomfortable if there is not a particular degree of intimacy, of love (it is a pretty personal act).
I don’t know if Courtney or Chaz would necessarily understand why I liked this particular moment so much, or why that sentence meant something to me, but I know they would find the other details of the chapter to be funny. It would elicit laughter, and for now, at 11, that is enough.