Informant: The informant in question is a half-Jewish, half-Italian boy from Rockville Centre, New York. He currently is twenty years old and studying screenwriting at USC.
My dad used to say this thing all the time. A mantra really. I’ll never forget what my dad used to say whenever I got him on a good joke he’d say “Son, you’re really funny, but looks aren’t everything”. (laughter) And I think the deeper message was “don’t get cocky”. Which I thing was a big message from my father all along
Why did that stand out to you?
Because it makes me laugh. It was also his way of letting me know I won.
Where do you think he got that?
I think it’s an old Catskills joke. Umm. But my dad always made sure that you were quick-witted – my grandpa was the same way – because otherwise you were going to get lost. He also said “if you want to dish it, you’ve got to be able to take it”. We were always from a young age kinda shooting the shit back and forth. I have a big Italian family and we have these big family dinners. And often, when I watch the Sopranos, I got nostalgic. Because other than the mob part that’s what the family is like. A bunch of people who clearly love each other, but can’t say “I love you” so they just shoot shit. They bust balls. My uncle used to call me the biggest ball-buster from the point where we were allowed to hear the word “ball”. That’s just how we treated each other. And that’s what love is. You love each other so much, and you loved it when you got the nice rib in. I remember my mom, my grandpa used to try to coax it out of us when we were younger and my mom got nervous, like “you can’t say that to your grandfather” and my grandpa used to sit in the corner and snicker and he had these golden teeth. Back when they used to cap it with gold instead of trying make it look like real teeth. And when he smiled it looked like those gold rush cartoons. But when you got it, it was so worth it.
Analysis: This proverb, one primarily passed through families, reflects in particular the familial dynamics that most accompanied its usage. Rather than the more overt displays of affection practiced by some families, the family in question here communicates their strong connections with one another through humor. This adds a layer of competitiveness to the the familial interactions, a sort of game for the family members to all play along in.
The proverb also encourages a degree of modesty, serving thus also a practical concern from a parenting perspective. The saying, in addition to being humorous, encourages valuable life lessons to the child. The usage of humor serves as a spoonful of sugar, helping the medicine of the practical advice go down. This way, a child learns how to behave in a more tactful, humble way while also learning to take part in this sort of “ball-busting” humor.