Just A Joke, or An Act of Revolution?

By Emma Fryer

 Myriam Gurba’s use of dark humor throughout her book, Mean, gives us clues as to what her personality was like as a child. The sarcastic tones and shocking language within her anecdotes imply that she was disobedient, precocious, and hilarious in the face of trauma and adversity, taking typically detrimental events and handling them in a unique way. The author also narrates her stories with the wisdom of an aged woman… despite having been quite young at the time of each of them. This emphasizes the way in which her current perspectives in life have changed the way she views her past, and makes otherwise basic tales much more interesting. These ideas are demonstrated in multiple instances throughout the book. Both factors work together to form an image of herself growing up as a young Chicana in a prejudiced world.

  One example of Gurba’s use of dark, intelligent humor is in the beginning of the book when she recalls her introduction to education. Her nursery school teachers assume that she can’t speak English because she is able to speak Spanish to them, the author having assumed that they understood both languages the way she had learned to. This results in the teachers attempting to teach her English despite her pre-existing ability to do so. However, instead of telling her teachers that she is fluent in both languages, she plays along out of pure amusement. This is revealed when she mocks her teachers efforts in front of her father at home. Gurba writes, “I pointed. In a didactic tone, I narrated, ‘This is a plate. This is a cup. This is a spoon. This is a fork.’” Once her father had understood the situation, he responded by saying to Gurba’s mother, “The nursery school ladies think Myriam can’t speak English so they’re trying to teach her! They’ve turned her into a parrot!” (5). This is one of the readers’ first opportunities to gain insight on Gurba’s childhood persona. We learn right away that she was a smart-ass kid who enjoyed mischief based upon her ability to out-smart and poke fun at her caucasian instructors. 

This scene also allows the author to stress the fact that such prejudice assumptions shouldn’t be made based upon surface qualities through her humor. Telling her story through the eyes of a witty child exposes how ridiculous prejudice is as a whole, revealing that even a little girl can recognize the problem. This is emphasized when Gurba says, “I didn’t know Mexicans were Mexicans” (5). The explanation behind her thought process during this situation is what helps us as readers understand her point. Pairing her hilarious reaction as a kid with a more mature viewpoint is a strategy that allows Gurba to emphasize how important it is to not let differences hold you back. 

Gurba’s comedic response to adversity takes stories that would otherwise be boring or sad and makes them hilarious. For instance, when she is invited over for dinner at her caucasian friend Emily’s home. The mother says, “Since you’re visiting, Mexican” in response to Gurba’s question as to what they would be eating (9). Instead of correcting the family or pretending to enjoy it when a terrible “Mexican casserole” and other unauthentic dishes are brought to the table, the author reacts in the most dramatic way possible. She says things like, “The brussel sprouts were a different story. I scooped one into my mouth and realized its flavor: eternal damnation,” and lets the food fall out of her mouth (10). Once again, Gurba chooses humor over anger or hurt in a situation that is wrong. This, much like the other example, says a lot about her as a young girl. Gurba didn’t care what people thought of her, something that she still believes. Her attitude pokes fun a prejudice once more, and solidifies the idea that you can turn any situation around to your own advantage if you learn to laugh sometimes.


  1. If you were Gurba, how do you think you would respond to your teachers trying to teach you a language that you already knew?
  2. Do you believe that Gurba’s comedic approach is effective in getting her points across? Why or why not?

Works Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

11 Replies to “Just A Joke, or An Act of Revolution?”

  1. Hi Emma! I really enjoyed reading your blog post! It focused on something that interested me throughout this book, Gurba’s dark humor. This made the book unlike any other that I have read in classes before. While there are many instances where Gurba utilizes this type of humor, one that I like is when she says “I graduated cum laude with a history degree. I think I minored in women’s studies. History is the place where I got molested. History made me cum laude” (156). This line would be unexpected from any other author, but since it is written by Gurba in the context of this novel, it is funny and showcases her personality. Her humor proves her maturity, and her willingness to put her story in a book and publish it for the world to see shows that. Her humor can be seen as a way to cope with and understand her trauma, and I think that this technique is useful for her.

  2. Hi Emma! I decided to comment on your blog post because of how you incorporated Gurba’s dark humor into your main focus, which I believe is very important in this book. To answer your second question, I do not believe her comedic approach is effective in getting her point across because it comes off as a form of self-defense. Personally, it seems that she hides behind this dark humor instead of facing these serious situations full on. For example, when she describes her food she says “The brussel sprouts were a different story. I scooped one into my mouth and realized its flavor: eternal damnation,” and lets the food fall out of her mouth (10). She uses humor to hide her true emotion, and by making something funny she is distracting her readers to laugh instead of feeling the hurtful emotion she felt. Great job on your blog post!!

  3. Hey Emma! I really enjoyed your post, and I decided to comment because I really loved your title. In response to your second question, I do believe that Gurba’s comedic approach to her writing helps to get her points across to the reader. Personally, I don’t think it’s interesting when authors just spit out a bunch of different information at you. It’s not enjoyable to read and I most likely will not understand a word they are saying. As a writer you want to be able to engage your reader so this way they will have a better grasp and understanding on what you are trying to say. One quote that you stated that I thought was extremely funny was “The brussel sprouts were a different story. I scooped one into my mouth and realized its flavor: eternal damnation” is such a dramatic and comical way to describe eating a vegetable. It’s the smaller details that make her writing so much more pleasant as well as easier to read. Once again, loved your blog post!

  4. Hey, Emma. I was really fascinated by your blog post! I love how you deeply analyzed Gurba’s dark humor throughout the course of the book. To answer your second question, I feel like Gurba’s comedic approach is not effective because it comes of as self-defense. In my eyes, It feels as if Gurba hides behind this dark humor instead of facing these tough situations which is a concern. For example, when she says “The brussel sprouts were a different story. I scooped one into my mouth and realized its flavor: eternal damnation,” and lets the food fall out of her mouth (10). To extrapolate, Gurba uses her gloomy humor to suppress her true emotion. Due to This, she makes a social commentary that is essential to laugh instead of feeling the hurtful emotion she felt.

  5. Hey, Emma! I really enjoyed reading your post. I liked that you talked about how Gurba’s humor affects the way we read her story because it is a main part of this literary piece. You made an excellent point when you said, “Telling her story through the eyes of a witty child exposes how ridiculous prejudice is as a whole, revealing that even a little girl can recognize the problem”. I had never thought of it that way— how telling the story as a child calls out the prejudice behaviors in a different light. In answer to your question, “Do you believe that Gurba’s comedic approach is effective in getting her points across? Why or why not?”, I do believe it is effective. I feel that her sense of humor makes it stand out even more. We are used to reading these types of stories where every single thing is somber, but by using humor, I think it makes the point stick in the mind of the reader. It is easier to recall her story of making the boys jump from fence when they wanted to join her club through her humor because it stands out in such a different way than just retelling boring events. When she states, “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy tests given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed.” (Gurba 31) she is not only bringing humor in, but using this childhood story to talk about serious events like sexism and racism. To me, I would remember that powerful statement more the way she told it rather than from events in a history textbook.

  6. Hi Emma! I loved your post. I think that Gurba’s dark humor is unique and real. There is no other author that is brave enough to write in the way that she does. I think that Gurba is effective in getting her point across since she is direct with what she says. For example, when she was angry with the boy that wanted to be in her club she said: “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club” (15). This was extremely direct when she wanted to display her emotions and display the darkness of her writing as well. There are not a lot of authors that do this.

  7. Hello Emma! I liked that you chose to analyze the ways in which Gurba uses dark humor as a device in her memoir, as it very revealing of the way Gurba views trauma. I think Gurba taking a comedic approach, especially one that is dark helps her to communicate the idea that comedy is a perfectly valid coping mechanism for trauma. Gurba can make light of very serious things through the use of humor as a coping skill, however, that does not take away from the seriousness of the things she is discussing “The fact that I am not totally positive about the minor reminds me that both my grandmother’s died of Alzheimer’s” (Gurba 70). Gurba makes a joke that her forgetfulness is similar to her grandma’s having a serious disease. While the reader can find this funny, they can also realize that losing both your grandma’s to such a horrid disease would be very hard for Gurba. This is a special talent that Gurba has as a writer, as the reader can have a laugh, yet still understand the severity of the situation they are reading about.

  8. Hey Emma, great blog post! I would like to answer you second question regarding whether or not I believe that Myriam Gurba’s comedic approach is effective. When I think of your question, the term comedic relief comes to mind. When someone is talking about a subject that is known to be uncomfortable, dark, or serious, speakers will use comedic relief to lighten the mood depending on what the purpose of their speech is. It allows the speaker to talk about serious subjects without dampening the mood of the audience so that the reader or listener doesn’t become uncomfortable and tune out, or dwell on it too much. Gurba uses it consistently throughout her book so it is easier for the reader to comprehend, and so that she can retain the reader’s attention. When Gurba is recounting her experience living in a dorm room, she states “My cramps martyred me. I deserved canonization” (86). She is using humor to make the reader less uncomfortable when talking about menstrual cycles, since it is usually a particularly squeamish subject. She uses humor throughout the book to shed light on particular aspects of what she is writing about as well as t make the subject easier for the reader to think deeply about.

  9. Hey Emma! I loved reading your blog post. The use of comedy that Gurba uses is one of my favorite parts of the book, so I loved that you focused on it. To answer your second question, I do feel that Gurba’s use of comedic relief gets her points across. At one point Gurba was talking about when her parents had to go to the hospital to have her siblings and she felt like an orphan. Gurba stated “My parents were leaving me. This would be new and fun. Kind of like being an orphan.” (8). Gurba related herself to an orphan because she was being left alone, but I am sure that it was not as fun as she described when they actually left her. Later in her life while writing this book she added the orphan part to add comedic relief to this section of the book. I thought it was funny that she would say she felt like an orphan and it was fun because no one would think that, except her. Her use of comedy gets her point across well because even though she was not technically an orphan, she fwlt like one for at least a little while. She thought of it as an adventure and fun when no other kid would do that. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your blog post and I am looking forward to what you have to say in class.

  10. Hi Emma! Your blog post was insightful and I liked how you analyzed Gurba’s humor throughout her stories. To answer your first question, if my teachers were trying to teach me a language I already knew I would probably do what Gurba did. Gurba’s response to her teachers was a direct correlation to her personality. That’s what makes this book great: Gurba’s personality. This story wouldn’t have the same effect if it were written in any other form because the humor brought to the table changes the perspective. The subjects Gurba touches upon in her book are sensitive. However, the way she handles it with humor allowing the audience to laugh gives a whole new approach to the assessment of the situations. Gurba quotes in the beginning of the book, “Lo mejor que te puedo desear es que te vaya mal,” by Jenni Rivera, meaning “all that I wish for you is that everything goes wrong”. This was the perfect precursor to the rest of the story. This is the first bit of dark humor and sarcasm the audience is exposed to, as well as welcoming a Mexican viewpoint due to this quote being in Spanish. Her jokes act as an act of revolution, exposing all the hardships she has encountered in her life.

  11. Hi Emma! Loved reading your blog post! I do believe using humor is getting her point across because it is making people read her book. I feel as though if it were written with no humor, readers would not enjoy reading it as much has they are now.

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