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Thursday, January 08, 2004

GOOBER, GOMER . . . GANDHI? 

I've read this through a couple of times and I'm still scratching my head:
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (AP) -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized for joking that Mahatma Gandhi used to run a gas station in St. Louis, saying it was "a lame attempt at humor."

The New York Democrat made the remark at a fund-raiser Saturday. During an event here for Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, Clinton introduced a quote from Gandhi by saying, "He ran a gas station down in St. Louis."

After laughter from many in the crowd of at least 200 subsided, the former first lady continued, "No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century." In a nod to Farmer's underdog status against Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Clinton quoted the Indian independence leader as saying: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

* * *

After being approached by The Associated Press to clarify the remarks, Clinton suggested in a statement sent late Monday that she never meant to fuel any stereotype -- often used as a comedic punch line -- that certain ethnic groups were synonymous with operating America's gas stations.
I don't get it. Any of it. To begin with, I don't get the joke. What exactly is funny about saying that Gandhi ran a gas station in St. Louis? Mind you, I'm the kind of guy who thinks that essentially no topic is off limits for humor, so I'm asking an entirely non-normative question here. I don't mean that it shouldn't be funny; I mean that it isn't funny. Notwithstanding that 200 Democrats laughed at it (now that's funny).

Plus, I didn't even know there was a stereotype that certain ethnic groups operate gas stations, let alone that it's "often used as a comedic punch line." There's Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and his Kwik-E-Mart, of course, but that's a convenience store, not a gas station, and anyway, everybody loves Apu.

So where's this rich vein of ethno-petroleum humor that I've been missing all these years?

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