October 7, 2012
When was the last time you heard someone tell a joke? Think before you answer.
I'm not talking about someone forwarding you something funny on email, or posting a gag or pithy meme on FB, or about re-telling something they saw on YouTube or The Daily Show. I mean, when was the last time someone at a party or in the break room or at dinner actually told a joke that required a set up and that ended in a punchline?
A little over a month ago, I ask myself this question and started listening for the answer. I'm pretty sure I haven't heard a single one in all that time. How about you?
I know that not everyone likes to tell tell jokes, or frankly, are even capable of it. I can't do regional (except the one I was born into, which qualifies me to tell Honey Boo Boo Child jokes, but not much else) or ethnic accents, so a whole range of potential jokes are pretty much off limits to me. There is really nothing worse than setting up a joke that depends on you re-creating a French accent and when you tell it you sound Russian.
Some people don't tell jokes because they can't remember them. Walter falls in that category. He appreciates a good joke, but has not set aside any brain space to store and later access joke. Once upon a time he had two jokes he could remember and tell: one was about economists and the other was about politics (aren't academics fun?). He doesn't tell them any more.
I can remember first thinking about humor. As an early reader, first grade maybe, I would follow my mom around the house reading from my Bennett Cerf riddle book. It had the added value of being a pop up book, so I had to lift a flap or turn a wheel, or otherwise manipulate the page to reveal the answer. I think I was in heaven. Anyway, you can't tell me she didn't get positively sick and tired of hearing little Vickie read: "What happens when a duck flies backwards? He probably has a nasty quack up." and "What do you give an 800 pound gorilla? Anything he wants."
[NOTE BENE: I later paid handsomely for torturing my mother by giving birth to a child who delighted in the same habit. Unfortunately for me, Erin had a riddle God-father who bought every one of Bennett Cerf's riddle books plus several others, so for those early elementary years, she was NEVER at a loss for a good riddle or pun.]
I still remember some jokes I learned in junior high, including a couple that I didn't understand on first (or later) hearing, which did not keep me from telling them over and over again. Other people obviously understood the (probably) raunchy punchlines better than me as evidenced by their loud and long laugh.
In high school, I happened on Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor, which had the multiple bonuses of having 640 jokes, instructions on how to tell them, plus a fairly lengthy exposition on the theory of humor. Wow, did that ever feed my habit!
We've made it pretty deep into the 21st century. We have a whole network on television devoted to comedy, several satellite radio stations with joke telling twenty-four hours a day, and stand up comedians of every stripe. More jokes come across my facebook feed in a day than I used to hear in a month (year?). I laugh at something I read or hear or watch every day. I heard Pete Dominic interviewing a professor on the radio yesterday. She was Dr. Alison Dagnes, and she was talking about her new book A Conservative Walks into a Bar which goes Asimov one better, exploring the history of satire, the comedy profession, and the
nature of satire itself to examine why there is an ideological imbalance
in political humor and it explores the consequences of this disparity.
Despite the proliferation of comedy, humor, and joke opportunities, I'm starting to feel sad. Jokes have become something best left to the professional. It's almost like "Here's a good one, but Don't try this at home!"
I miss the amateur jokesters. Will someone tell me a joke?