I don't get it
April 30, 2014 6:24 AM   Subscribe

I was watching part of an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter in which Kotter recruits a tutor to help a reluctant Vinnie. After listening to the tutor and Vinnie trade a few insults, Kotter knocks them each down with one. To the tutor he says: "I heard there's three kids in your family." She says yeah. He says, "Yeah, one of each!" I don't get it!
posted by payoto to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If someone says "Two kids, one of each," that means a boy and a girl. So I figure Kotter means that the tutor's parents had a boy, a girl, and -- remember, this is the '70s -- a horrible transgender mistake of nature, with the implication that the tutor is the third.
posted by Etrigan at 6:28 AM on April 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's non-sequitur humor.

If they were serious about one of the kids having some sort of abnormality, they would have given it the 70's Very Special Episode treatment.
posted by unixrat at 6:36 AM on April 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

What Etrigan said. A boy, a girl, and some sort of "freak", as they would have been known in the 1970s.

It was a pretty awful time when we look back on it now, but back then that type of thing was standard. Watch Soap some time, for a portrayal of a pretty normally functioning gay man, played by Billy Crystal, who routinely gets called a freak and a fruit by everyone around him.
posted by bondcliff at 6:40 AM on April 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd have to see the episode and the tutor character but do you suppose it was something more innocent, like showing how Vinnie is dumb? Three kids=one of each (two genders). Like Vinnie is saying 3=2. The dumb punk trying to insult the smart kid and failing? Was it implied that the tutor was gay?

I suppose Vinnie could be trying to say smart=freak (but not necessarily gay).

I'm curious now. What episode was it, do you remember?
posted by Beti at 8:38 AM on April 30, 2014

As a now 45 yo man who grew up I NYC & watched WBK on TV, I'm going with "gay reference".

They boy, the girl, & the queer one.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:43 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume the joke was made to be intentionally ambiguous to avoid outrage from any one group.
posted by any major dude at 8:51 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Beti, I think the "he" is Kotter, not Vinnie, in he says: "I heard there's three kids in your family." She says yeah. He says, "Yeah, one of each!"
posted by Etrigan at 8:53 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding any major dude.

I remember this joke in the 70s, if not from Kotter than from somewhere else. Transgender/homosexual never crossed my mind as a school-aged kid. It wasn't even on our radar. The joke just registered as a silly non-sequitur.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:58 AM on April 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

Nthing JoeZydeco. In this time period, homosexuality was totally not on the radar of 95% of network television and movies (see: Too Close for Comfort).

In 1985, my high school male teacher wore a dress on Halloween and it didn't occur to us at all that he was gay (which he was), we just thought it was funny that a man would wear a dress.
posted by Melismata at 9:05 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

The scene in question. [YouTube, 3:52]

The back-and-forth starts at 1:40. Kotter's joke comes at 3:00.
posted by cashman at 9:31 AM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is almost the exact same joke in Woody Allen's Love and Death, when he and Diane Keaton are fantasizing about their future together. In that context, I have never taken it to be anything other than non-sequitur wackiness:
Sonja: Oh, Boris. I've never been so happy in my entire life. I love you, Boris, in a deeper way than I ever thought was possible.

Boris: Really?

Sonja: I want to have children with you.

Boris: What kind?

Sonja: Little children.

Boris: Of course. The big ones are mentally slower.

Sonja: I want to have three children.

Boris: One of each.

Sonja: Oh, Boris. I'm actually happy.

Boris: Well, I hate to say I told you so, but some men have it and some men don't. Fortunately, I have so much of it.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

In that context, I have never taken it to be anything other than non-sequitur wackiness

It's absolutely non-sequitur wackiness there, but Kotter is explicitly insulting the tutor. I'm willing to accept that maybe he didn't specifically mean "transgender" or even "homosexual," but he definitely meant "freak," because it was an insult.
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm going with non-sequitur insult, yeah. It's like this joke I got from an insult book in the eighties - "Your parents must have been surprised - they were expecting a boy or a girl!" There's no particular implication of being specifically transgendered, but instead being some sort of sideshow freak which would be impossible to clarify, like how a layman wouldn't be able to guess the sex of an octopus by looking at it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:26 AM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

but he definitely meant "freak," because it was an insult

The entire show was pretty much written around characters hurling insults at each other. That's what made it a hit, I guess, until the show jumped the shark. I weep at the generations that have no idea what to do with a nose and a rubber hose.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:35 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would go with "freak". But with reservations, see below.

The one time I encountered this gag, so to speak, in the wild was at an *ahem* kissing game, at summer camp. One of the girls was overweight (I would say not really more than Helaine Lembeck, the actress, in the Kotter scene -- but this was before being overweight got so much more common), and one of the guys cruelly rejected the game saying "How could it work? We got three guys, two girls, and an other."

In context it was less about the person's own sexual interests and all about nobody desiring them. As such, I don't believe Kotter's joke-by-proxy (as in how-would-you-like-it-if) was identifying her as having an alternative, queer sexuality in the days when you couldn't say stuff like that on TV much less have well-rounded characters, but more about stinging her with a nobody would want you jab. In that sense, it's much more like what feminist critique today identifies as tone policing: i.e. be nicer, so you can attract a guy. It's an aggressively sexist joke, then, but I don't think it's anti-queer in the same way that it's been interpreted above.
posted by dhartung at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the correction, Etrigan. I see that now. I'll revise my answer to Kotter meant a generalized "freak" insult, i.e., the unacceptable-for-the-time mean girl/fat girl/smart girl. I think if they wanted to imply the tutor was a lesbian, they'd have gone with the tomboy stereotype and not put her in a dress.
posted by Beti at 2:17 PM on April 30, 2014

No way is this joke about transgender.

WBK was about class and ethnicity. The foil was a conservative old white man. Mr. Woodman.

The characters were:
Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino - an Italian - pretty much the same character John Travolta played on Saturday Night Fever
Arnold Horshack - nominally a Jewish guy
Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington - the black guy
Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein - A Puerto Rican Jew

The female character in the clip is Rosalie "Hotsie" Totsie.

The "joke" is that she has children by three different fathers.

The 70's were weird.
posted by vapidave at 5:45 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

J.M Barrie in 1911: “and the mauve ones are boys and the white ones are girls, and the blue ones are just little sillies who are not sure what they are.” So this kind of thing is not really specific to the seventies. Barrie was writing for children, so he’s not referring a horrible "freak of nature,” but something that is mixed up in a charming way. From our perspective, it shows the same kind of insensitivity as the casual racism of the time; we’re not wrong, but we shouldn’t ascribe too much malice to the writer.

I think that the WBC insult has a bit more edge than the Barrie, but it’s riffing on the same old joke that is meant to be essentially harmless. So yes, I vote for the boy/girl/? interpretation.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:16 PM on April 30, 2014

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