Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

The best insult I’ve heard in ages


MuppetBabies-BabyAnimalIn his 2012 standup special “Dangerously Delicious,” Aziz Ansari of PARKS AND REC, tells a story about an exchange he had with a mean border control agent he came across in Toronto, Canada. Not nice things were said by both parties, but things really escalated when Ansari said* the greatest thing I’ve heard in a long time:

“Your English is slightly better than Animal from The Muppet Babies.”

As with many things, it’s the specificity that takes this from a schoolyard insult to a serious burn. According to the Muppet Wiki, Animal from THE MUPPET SHOW “speaks in a guttural shout, often repeating a few simple phrases¹,” which would be enough to belittle most people. But this poor woman was less articulate than that. Compare classic Animal with some of his younger work and see if you agree.

On a personal note, I hope you all appreciate this joke because after researching this post, my childhood was rocked by the information that Baby Animal, as he’s officially known, was initially voiced by Howie Mandel (who did Gizmo in GREMLINS) and then Dave Coulier (the annoying uncle on FULL HOUSE). I have seen behind the Muppet Babies curtain and can never go back.

I was laughing, now I'm not.

I was laughing, now I’m not.

*He surely didn’t say this and the comment was most likely an esprit de l’escalier thing but it’s still funny as hell. I am going to picture this the next time I deal with people whose speech I don’t understand.

Animal Muppet Babies

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

6 thoughts on “The best insult I’ve heard in ages

  1. That is kind of funny, but…even a polyglot is still going to be inarticulate in 99.99% of the world’s languages. I don’t see how inability to speak or understand a particular language is a mark of inferiority.

    • Since it’s hard to tell how serious your comment is, I’ll start by saying that this was clearly a joke, originally presented in a comedic context and cited as such.

      Additionally, at no point in my post nor in Ansari’s special, did anyone disparage non-native speakers. He and I are both first-gen Americans, so we know from immigrant speaking patterns.

      Finally, Ansari isn’t a perfect English speaker either (he engages in some non-standard constructions like “I shoulda went”) and I frequently write about how I can’t remember basic words in any of the languages I speak because I can be really dumb sometimes.

      Hopefully, *you* were joking and I look the fool for going through such pains to ensure you don’t think anyone was being insulted. (I don’t mind — I look dumb all the time for lesser reasons.) I still think the line is funny and it’s much more evocative than just saying someone speaks poorly.

      • Sorry: I wasn’t trying to attack you, nor beat you over the head with the stick of political correctness. And the line is funny — I’ve never seen the baby muppets, but I have fond memories of the original 1970s muppet show, and Animal’s combination of verbal inarticulateness with frenetic physical activity was pretty hilarious. (Dr. Teeth was cool too!).

        I haven’t seen the comedy routine you’re referencing, but it sounds like in an argument between 2 people, the fact that one party can’t speak English is used by the other party as an insult. (Did the dispute originate from a miscommunication due to poor English?)

        I’m just pointing out that, in my opinion, the insult is not really valid because there’s nothing wrong with not being able to speak any particular language. I expect my plumber to be able to fix my stopped-up toilet and my pharmacist to be able to fill my prescription, because those are skills that they claim to have. I do not expect any particular person on the face of the earth to speak English, or any other particular language.

        I currently live in a part of Asia where English is pretty much the lingua franca, and it’s not uncommon to hear 2 non-native speakers communicating with each other via a heavily-accented and often awkward-sounding English which, to be frank about it, sounds “dissonant” and kind of grates on my nerves. But I don’t think I’ve ever made fun of someone’s English speaking abilities given that, other than English, I have limited capabilities in only a couple other languages — and who knows what I really sound like to native speakers of those languages when I open my mouth. And of course, for all the rest of the world’s languages, I know nothing and am in effect deaf and dumb to them.

        Or maybe I could have just asked if Ansari at all spoke whatever the border control agent’s language is.

        Also, I guess it’s possible that the border control agent should have been more fluent in English, that this was a requirement of the job. In which case the insult actually would have been apropos, though still somewhat mean-spirited and perhaps unhelpful.

      • Again, you make some valid points, but I wish we were engaged in discussing something I take a little more seriously. Much comedy drives from the perceived shortcomings of others, as I think is the case with Ansari’s line here. He felt he was being unreasonably treated by someone and he shot back. (Again, I don’t think he actually said this in the moment.) I can’t postulate on the situation beyond that since I wasn’t there. The woman in question most likely spoke more languages than Ansari himself does (an assumption based on the info he provides in the bit), but to me, that’s neither here nor there. He’s a comedian, he made a joke, I thought it was funny. You’re not required to think it’s funny too.

        Senses of humor are interesting things to consider, especially since comedy doesn’t generally travel well and there are different comedic tastes in different countries (speaking generally). For instance, despite being American, I don’t find anything Judd Apatow’s ever been associated with to be even the slightest bit amusing. After having come to an informed decision, I just avoid him and his work. No problem.

        Comedy comes from somewhere though and I think it’s better to make fun of someone for something they *can* change (a skill, etc.) than something they can’t (ethnicity, physical characteristics, etc.). Other people think the opposite. That’s fine too.

        To your point about non-native speakers conversing in English, I’m sure you’re aware that there are all kinds of English. There’s the umbrella term Global English that’s a much simpler (grammatically speaking) language frequently used by foreigners. In Spain and France, there’s a thing I’ve taken to call Romance English since it follows the syntax of the local languages. It isn’t “correct” but all parties understand each other, so I don’t see a problem with that either. The trouble comes when they speak in this manner to a native-English person; the lack of correct grammar and vocabulary will hinder their understanding almost completely.

        Final thoughts: watch some Muppet Babies (I link to some eps in my post or just Google). You may like it if you liked the original show. It’s really weird (a cartoon of puppets?) and has many Henson moments. Don’t watch the Ansari comedy special. With the exception of that one line, I didn’t find it funny. He’s not for me either, but it took watching the special to find out.

  2. I have lived outside the USA all my adult life and am pretty old now. About 10 years ago, a US border agent asked me (aggressively) “Why did you leave America in the first place?” I always give more detail than is necessary, so I began by saying “I was born in Nebraska” at which point he interrupted and said “That explains it”.

    (Love that insult! Must remember it.)

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