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My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us
The authors note that Jesus jokes have become popular just since the 1970s.
November 10th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

Editor’s note: Edward J. Blum is a historian of race and religion at San Diego State University. Paul Harvey is a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and runs the blog Religion in AmericanHistory. They co-authored “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, Special to CNN

Did you ever hear the one about Jesus being Mexican? Well, he was bilingual; he was constantly harassed by the government; and his first name was Jesus.

Or, perhaps Jesus was Irish? He loved a good story; he never kept a steady job; and his last request was for a drink.

Or maybe it’s possible that Jesus was Californian? He never cut his hair; he was always walking around barefoot; and he started a new religion.

You may not have heard these Jesus jokes, but you’ve heard others. They represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. Laughing with (and at) the Lord is now fodder for major motion pictures, barroom comedy tours, graphic novels, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes? And why is it acceptable to poke fun at Jesus when other sacred figures are deemed off limits or there is hell to pay for mocking them?

The explanations are as numerous as the laughs.

Immigration shifts from the 1960s changed the ethnic and religious faces of the country so no tradition dominates today. The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked. The emergence of “spiritual, but not religious” sensibilities left many Americans willing to denounce or laugh about traditional faith. The public rise of agnosticism, atheism, and secularism led to aggressive mockery as a form of persuasion.

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If we pause to consider why we’re laughing, we find that the comic bits delve into some of our thorniest and unresolved problems. The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus. They speak to how our society has changed, how it hasn’t, and what we’re obsessed with.

The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority. As the economic recession and problems of urban decay collided with civil rights exhaustion and new immigration, however, some Jesus jokes emerged.

Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was the white racist and misogynist you loved to hate and hated to love. On one occasion, his son-in-law challenged Bunker’s rampant anti-Semitism with the claim, "Jesus was Jewish." Archie shot back immediately: "Only on his mother's side."

The “All in the Family” spin off “Good Times” featured a black family that lives in an inner-city housing project, probably Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. On the show's second episode, the oldest son J. J. astounded everyone by painting Jesus as black. The younger son loves it, and says he learned all about Christ’s blackness from the local Nation of Islam.

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As the family debates whether this black Jesus should be hung on the wall in place of their white Jesus, they “miraculously” receive $140 from the Internal Revenue Service. Feeling blessed, the family placed the painting on its living room wall, and the elated J. J. shouted his tagline, "Dyno-mite!”

From the 1980s to the present, the number of prominent Jesus jokes has multiplied like loaves and fishes:

• In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby and his family debated which Jesus to pray to (“baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers,” “grown-up Jesus,” “ninja Jesus”). Their overall hope is that Jesus will help them continue their extravagant lifestyle.

• “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

• “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

• “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

• “Saturday Night Live” let Jesus chastise Tim Tebow for using the Lord’s name in vain and ended the bit by declaring that the Mormons have it right.

One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke.

Before Jonah Hill’s character returns to high school as an undercover cop, he prays to a small, crucified “Korean Jesus.” Down on his knees, he says: “Hey Korean Jesus, I don’t know if you only cater to Korean Christians or if you even exist, no offense. I’m just really freaked out about going back to high school. It was just so f***ing hard the first time. … I just really don’t want to f*** this up. Sorry for swearing so much. The end? I don’t really know how to end the prayer.”

The hilarity of the moment only makes sense in our time. Hill's character is unchurched and agnostic, but wants spiritual power to guide him. We can laugh at how agnosticism and being “spiritual, but not religious,” leave him uncertain of what to say, how to say it, and even how to end.

We can also laugh at how ethnic factors color his approach. By wondering if Korean Jesus cares only about Korean problems, Hill pokes fun at the issue which was made a media spectacle in 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could be heard preaching that “Jesus was a poor black man” as part of his support for Barack Obama. What good is a God who only cares for those who look like him?

The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become, but also how many outlets there are for the jokes. In these tense times, when presidential hopefuls point fingers at one another and families unfriend one another over political and cultural differences, laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Entertainment • Jesus • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. Doc Vestibule

    Jesus and Moses are on a fishing trip in Heaven, thinking back on the Old Days.
    "Hey Moe" says Jesus, "remember that time you parted the Red Sea? Think you can still do that?"
    "I dunno, JC. It's been a long time since I tried anything like that – but I"ll give it a shot"
    So Moses carefully stands up in the canoe, raises his fishing rod in the air and spreads his arms wide and a dry path appears directly in front of the boat.
    "Hey Jesus – since we're talking about the old tricks of the trade, do you think you can still walk on water?"
    "I dunno, Moe. It's been a long time for me too – but I'll try!"
    So Jesus stands up in the canoe puts one foot on top of the water and then the other – but sinks right to the bottom of the lake.
    Confused, He climbs back in the boat and tries it again, with the same result.
    "I ... I don't get it! I know I'm out of practice, but I'm still the Son of God!"
    So the two old friends crack a beer and sit to ponder what could have changed.
    Suddenly, Moses snaps his fingers and proclaims: "I've got it!"
    "The last time you tried that trick, you didn't have those holes in your feet!"

    November 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Mark Frommelt

      One of my favorites!!!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  2. OW

    Not to be anal retentive, but "Good Times" was a spin-off of "Maude", not "All in the Family". Maude, however, WAS a spin-off of AITF.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  3. Bet

    That little boy who died of cancer died because his mother didn't realize that her prayers were already answered– in the form of medicine.

    That is a really cruel, arrogant thing to say. What kind of sick person tells a grieving mother "It's okay that your child just died a horrible, painful death. I know you prayed that god would heal your little baby, but god decided it was better for him/her to endure constant terror, grinding pain, chemotherapy and radiation, endless needles and tubes, invasive procedures, surgery and finally death. But it's great, so much better this way, you just don't understand why. God loves you!"

    I survive on the understanding that there is someone who loved me SO much that he sent his only son to earth to live and die for us.

    That's fine. Life is hard sometimes and if belief in a deity helps you, I'm not going to tell you not to believe in one. I do just fine without believing in a deity, though, and I'd appreciate the same consideration, especially when it comes to the government.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Bet

      This was supposed to go under the post from "Rose" at the bottom of the page.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  4. Myto Senseworth

    Jesus showed up one day and was touching and healing people as he walked down the street. He came across a Democrat with a limp. Jesus said I can make you better. The Democrat said "Don't touch me! I'm on disability! ...and I have Obama-care."

    November 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      he's on obamacare? sweet - lot more chance of actually getting healed than relying on religion.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Myto Senseworthless

      Just like me!!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  5. tuscany590

    That sadly, in this country, Allah has more respect than Jesus.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • cw

      Interesting, given that Allah = God, the Father of Jesus.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Mase

      No he doesn't, just more fear of his followers. There is a difference

      November 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Lou

      And why should Allah automatically rank lower than Jesus? I guess you have no respect for other religions then?

      November 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  6. TheSchmaltz

    It's important to ridicule religion at every opportunity, lest it gain the illusion of credibility.

    The whole idea is just ridiculous. All of them. I typically reserve my scorn for Christianity because it's the one that confronts me and tries to run my life. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists don't place me in a position to have to defend myself against them, so I leave them alone.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • andrew.peter

      That's the correct reason Christianity is ridiculed in our culture.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Sigideba

      This is exactly what I was talking about in my previous comment. The new mainstream atheists just regurgitate Dawkins instead of having original thoughts. They attack religion relentlessly because they think it's the only way to eliminate it. As an atheist of 20 years,, it makes me sick. Live and let live. Keep religion out of politics but if someone wants to believe in magic, let them.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Sigidiba,

      No one is stopping them from believing in magic, calling them out on their absurd nature of their beliefs does not stop them from believing or infringe on their rights in any way. Sitting on the fence does not push the conversation forward, if you don't want to be part of the dicussion and think people should just "shut up" than take your own advice.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • OTOH

      Sigideba,

      I agree and in general I will not even bring up religion or mystical beliefs out in the real world ... or on venues which are for other purposes, i.e., an article on gardening or home repair or General Petraeus, etc., etc. (although religious folks often get their zingers in on those too). This is the Belief Blog, however, and that's what we discuss here.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Sigideba

      The last thing I'm doing is sitting on a fence. I've been atheist for 20 years. I just find it offensive and tasteless to insult people for their faith. Clearly, you guys feel differently and it makes me sick. If you can voice your hate I can do the same.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • OTOH

      Sigideba,

      Your non-insulting reasons for being an atheist are very welcome here.

      I hear ya' on the ridicule part, but even Thomas Jefferson said:

      “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

      November 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Sigideba,

      My response to you is the same as any christian who calims "hate". Disagreement and jokes are not hate. Quit being a drama queen. Beliefs stand or fall on their own merits and expecting people to respect supersti.tion is absolutely ridiculous.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @ Sigideba, I agree with your approach. I'm agnostic and subscribe to the fact that I know nothing about anything on a God-like-level. And I respect others for their beliefs, although I do not agree with it. Another reason I'd rather respect those with faith, than to ridicule them, is because if I ever want to reach them with my ideals, it won't be because I made a fool of them. And my family is composed of mostly faithful people. I love them, and do not want to disrepsect them, because their beliefs helped shape some morals I still carry around today.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  7. alrt

    It's easy to make fun of something that doesn't retaliate. If there are negative repercussions from our actions we shy away from it. It's nature, if it's hot we stop touching it.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • hiyaall

      Isn’t this considered hate speech and doesn’t this blog now fall under a hate site guide lines?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Bet

      So you'd like us to go back to the Dark Ages then, when it was routine to kill entire populations who weren't christian?

      November 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      hiyall,

      Disagreeing or opposing ideas is not hate. Christianity is an idea...nothing more.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • alrt

      I for one wouldn't want us to go back to the dark ages. Just pointing out that if a Joke is made no one is going to condem you for being anti-christian, you won't be blacklisted and you won't receive death threats or cause uproars in different parts of the world. It subconsciously encorces the idea that that action is not wrong where as if there was a negetive affect, it would be the opposite. How many people will want to go through making a movie about Mohammad after what happened to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who was forced into hiding and is currently serving jail time for "parole violations" but more likely just because of the foolishness it started?

      November 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Bet

      If you think that christians today never blacklist (not sure what you mean by it, I'll take it to mean shunning of some type), label anyone who disagrees with them as anti-christian, and don't make death threats, then you are either lying or seriously deluded. Look up and down these boards, christians are threatening all non-christians with eternal death every other post.

      November 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  8. Bible Clown©

    Aw, it's the same as why people poke their fingers at caged tigers. We enjoy having religion locked away from us so it can't hurt us, but we shiver at the thought of what could happen if some careless conservative unleashed it and let it become our master again.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  9. DJ

    I think part of the confusion is that non-religious people and religious people have different definitions of many words, including "spiritual". Personally, I think religion is a universal fairy tale people tell themselves to find some sanity in the randomness of life. It's way easier to look at the doctor who just told you you have six months to live and say "It's God's will" than it is to sit there and think of the randomness and unfairness of it all. Most humans need some sort of "faith" for things like that. Some non-religious people put their faith in the feeling that, one way or another, things work out. Maybe not the way you want - and you'd better do everything in your power to swing it your way - but eventually everything is what it is and we move on. We just don't attach religious imagery to it. I would like to say one thing to my fellow atheists out there, though. They need to stop trying to bury religion and leave it to the people who choose it. Move on. Yes, we need to stand firm against the religious right when they try to force us to worship as they do, but we don't need to shout them down everywhere we find them. Seriously. You can't say "mind your own business" to them while saying "and you're i d i o t s".

    November 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • ME II

      I like the last bit. I wish telling them to mind there own business would work.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • snowboarder

      it is difficult to "leave them to it" when the religious are constantly attempting to codify their beliefs into civil law.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • DJ

      I agree, Snowboarder, and I don't stand for it. None of us should or we'll be forced to pretend we believe as they do. There's always been trouble for people who don't believe what the majority believes, especially when it comes to religion, and we need to fight that here. I'm just saying our overriding philosophy has to be "live and let live" or we're just as bad as they are.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • snowboarder

      DJ – there is no live and let live with the religious. their position is divinely inspired.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  10. MagicPanties

    my invisible pink unicorn loves Jesus jokes, but prefers Zeus jokes

    November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      did you know there are unicorns in the bible? dunno if they're pink tho.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Shecky

      An invisible pink unicorn walks into a bar...
      The bartender says, 'Let's see some ID.."

      November 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  11. PRISM 1234

    "What all those Jesus jokes tell us?"
    They tell us in what kind of shape our society and it's culture is....They tell us that people's understanding of life, it's meaning, it's purpose and our human destination is pf the depth equal to the depth of a mud puddle. They tell us that satan they have swallowed bite of the enemy of their souls, whose pleasure is to belittle the name above all names which is of Christ Jesus , the Lord of all creation. Yeah, satan has no pleasure in mocking other religions gods, since that way he'd mock himself, for he is the originator of them anyway. But he KNOWS who Christ Jesus is! He knows and he trembles. He knows what is to come....But for a season, he still has the kingdom of this world. And people like dumb a$$es follow him into damnation. How smart is that , you who are so logical and sensible. Look into your own hearts, let them teach you, unless you've numbed them to the point that they are dead. Only Christ can give you life, only CHrist Jesus alone!

    November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Yep, this "all-loving" Jesus will torture me for all eternity after I die, simply because I don't love him back.

      Wow, what's not to like?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There is not a shred of evidence of your god? You should read the const/itution and get educated, read the science book about the theory of evolution, the dianetics of science is available at richarddawkins.com. If you do not wish to live on welfare that is your problem not ours. Go away moron.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      If your god damns anyone based on belief he is an asshat.

      And please explain why non-believers should take your supersti.tous nonsense seriously?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • TheSchmaltz

      Every generation from before the time of Jesus has contained people positive that they lived in the end-times, and that they would see the impure around them smitten from on high. They've all been wrong. It's never happened and it never will.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • 12345

      @MagicPanties:

      Exactly.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      " How smart is that , you who are so logical and sensible." Now we get to the point – he imagines that he will saved while we are tortured. Sorry, but you are more likely to burn than I am. Go lecture somebody who cares, Rev.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      Hmm believes in a Satan roaming the earth. Do you believe in Santa and dragon as well? Get mental help...SERIOUSLY

      November 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  12. mk

    How does anyone expect my 15-year-old atheist son to learn about religion if he doesn't watch Southpark and Family Guy??

    November 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  13. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    This article really is pretty lame. This phenomenon is not about Jesus. It is about the comedic notion that *nothing* is sacred. Everything is fair game.

    None of these illustrations are evidence of singling out Jesus as the butt of jokes. They are all equal-opportunity mockers of religion.

    • “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

    "South Park" has mocked every major religious figure: Jesus, God, Satan, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha and even Joseph Smith. Ever see the Joseph Smith episode? (Dum dum dum dum dum!) Ever see Satan and Saddam Hussein as gay lovers? Ever see the "super best friends?" In my recollection the original super best friends had an image of Mohammed (this was before the Danish cartoon incident) and no-one complained.

    • “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

    Like "South Park", "Family Guy" has also mocked every major religious figure – their Mohammed episode in particular was controversial.

    • “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

    "The Colbert Report" uses a stock image of Jesus almost every week – usually mocking the religious right. The 'Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude' bits (mocking the 'War on Christmas') use the same issue. Before the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert had a regular segment called "This week in God" on the Daily Show where he mocked religiosity.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Here's Seth McFarlane making fun of atheists. Seth (and by extension Brian) is an atheist:

      November 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      South Park: Super best friends:

      November 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Lou

      Reminds me of actual Christians too.

      November 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  14. sam

    Well, God does love Hitler too.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Ting

      Why wouldn't he? He's a chip off the old block.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bet

      @Ting

      bwahaha!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  15. GRZ

    What's the difference between jesus and a picture of jesus?......It only takes one nail to hang a picture of jese.......

    November 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  16. Reality

    From p. 51

    Now, now, now, let us be fair as we bring equal time to Mohammed at the risk of having CNN's headquarters blown up:

    "Yo Mohammed so stupid, I told him to makeup his mind and he put lipstick on his forehead.

    Yo Mohammed so cross-eyed he threw a bolt of lightning at the Earth and missed.

    Yo Mohammed so poor he eats cereal with a fork to save milk.

    Yo Mohammed so ugly cartoonists are afraid to draw him."

    November 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  17. LightningStruck

    Jesus on cross: "John..."
    Jesus on cross: "John...."
    Jesus on cross: "John!"

    John: "Yes my lord."

    Jesus on cross: "I can see your house."

    November 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  18. Bootyfunk

    jesus, like hercules, never existed. get over it.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Cal

      Hey, Josephus thought that Jesus and Hercules actually existed, and he's word is undeniable. Of course, that means that there was more than one half-god running around the Roman world back then.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Deafening reasonings cares little weights upon the insurmountable conditionings' renditions of gloomy Godliness ideals.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      no, he didn't.. the ONLY bit of "proof" you are referring to is very much up for debate. looks more like an unknown author penned some work under josephus' name. not very good proof.

      http://www.truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm#.UKEzlmea2Is

      November 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • The Truth

      I think Cal's point was that even though there are soem references from Josephous regarding Jesus as a real person, there are also accounts of him referring to Hercules as real whiich most Christians fail to point out when they use his writings to defend their Christ. It is also of note that Josephous actually claimed to be Christ after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD when he writes of it in 75 AD.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      oops. too early in the morning for me... hehe.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Cal

      Bootyfunk
      No problem!

      November 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  19. God's Oldest Dreamer

    The absoluteness of the Holy Sea of Godly Nothingness cannot be denied by profuse regularisms hellbent upon wantings of denying the beneficiaries their reasoned convictions to join this Sea of Nothingness, the Holy Spirit of God. Those who yet wish to find wisdom upon material needs related to wanton materialistic ventures will so have their wishes granted. Either ways, God will be the controller of all things material and materially-found-out gainings. For God so loved this world He saw fit to send His first born of the 'elementals',(Being God's Sons) to give hope where little hopefulness was found.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you are in a cult. christianity is a cult. cults are not healthy. leave the cult and think for yourself.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • mk

      "absoluteness of the Holy Sea of Godly Nothingness"

      There's like, 20 contradictory and meaningless things in this one sentence.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Cult is a slang word coming from the word 'culture' which did also bring about the word 'cultivation'. Why do many klutz-faces bring to bareness their cultured lopsidedness in unreaosnable gestations meant only to be used as a cat's scratching post?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      mk, "There's like, 20 contradictory and meaningless things in this one sentence."

      I guess then is it that your contriteness lays within your own found contradictions?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  20. JesusIsMyGardener

    Really, who cares? Anyone who still clings to religious dogma deserves to be made fun of and ridiculed. Wake up to science! It's everywhere...

    November 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Having the last laught at those right wing idiots while we enjoy the benefits of unemployment for another four years assured by the const/itution. Keep these jokes coming in CNN, we enjoy 'em ,that is why you are still the number one news worthy network in the world.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
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