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Monday, September 13, 2010

Surely, You Jest

There are two types of people in this world: those who hear jokes, take care to remember the jokes they're told, and take pleasure in relating them to others, and those who do not.

I do not.

Not to sound like a prig, but I have frequently been referred to as funny, but as any funny person will tell you, there are lots of different ways in which one may be funny. Sometimes, it's as easy as a well-timed eyebrow lift. Careening down a flight of stairs without getting a head injury and/or a Greenstick fracture is funny. Peter Sellers proved that in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again." If we take him and that further, getting randomly attacked in your own apartment by an Asian manservant whilst destroying every piece of furniture you own is also, well, comic.

Time has proven that referring to said manservant as your "little yellow friend," while perhaps at one time may have been funny, today, is not. Oh, Burt Kwouk. You can jump out of my kitchen pantry screaming at the top of your lungs as you karate chop me between the shoulder blades any day...

Anyway, there are lots of ways one can be funny. Of all the ways to be funny, I think joke telling might be one of the oldest forms of humor, though I'm not sure it's especially holding its own. People who tell jokes are also people who remember jokes. Lots of us get told jokes, I suspect, but those of us who have no intention of ever using the joke again let said jest gently waft through our short-term memory and then get flushed as easily as yesterday's Special-K.

The joke-teller is a special breed of humanoid. I had always thought that old people told jokes, but that's not always true. When I was a boy of nine or ten, my uncle would often call the house to speak to my mother. When I would answer the phone, he would tell me a joke, usually a racist joke involving the rather unkind Yiddish word for black person, "schvartze." I would pretend to enjoy the joke, and then I would hand the phone over to my mother. I guess my uncle was in his late thirties at that time, maybe a little older.

He's an asshole, and I'm pretty sure I knew that back then.

There are people I know who tell only certain kinds of jokes. My uncle only told racist jokes, because he is an asshole who wears Docksiders with no socks and sunglasses indoors and polo shirts with the collars turned up, and he works with a bunch of assholes who did likewise. Another older guy I know only tells sexual jokes, usually involving older men, who just happen to be impotent. Go figure, right?

I don't know what it is about people who tell jokes. Maybe they do it because they're not especially good at interpersonal communication, and this is their way of connecting with each other, with you-- with me. Maybe that's what it is, because, generally speaking, joke-telling never really results in gut-busting hysterics. It's a way of connecting, of identifying, of cliquiness, of aiming outward-- at another group, person, class. It's communication, or the supplanting of communication. I don't really know what it is, because I don't do it. I'm just on the receiving end. I'll listen to any horseshit you've got to spill on my bib-- I don't care.

I just... don't get it. Why do joke-tellers do it? Why don't they stop? Maybe because people like me laugh through our warped little false smiles. If I'm the one to blame, I'm sorry.

Last night at rehearsal, I was in the hallway going over my music when another performer, a man in his early sixties whom I like very much, came up to me and gently touched my shoulder.

"Did you ever hear the one about the little girl in the barbershop?" Not waiting for me to say yay or nay, he continued immediately. "Well, her father was getting his hair cut and the barber said, 'Oh, you sweet little girl, here's a cupcake for you.' And so the little girl was eating the cupcake and, you know, she's watching her daddy get his hair cut and she's standing, like, right under the chair, you know, and the barber's cutting away and he notices the little girl standing right under the chair and the barber says, 'You know, sweetheart, you're going to get hair on your cupcake.' And the little girl says, 'I know! And one day my breasts are gonna get real big, too!'"

Goodnight, everyone. I'll be here all week.

1 comment:

  1. I have to confess: I tell jokes. I don't necessarily walk up to people and say "Did you hear the one about..." and proceed to tell them something wholly inappropriate or disturbing (like that last example), but sometimes I'll pretend I'm telling a story. I also try to work in humour to my open mike poetry -- some pieces I read are funny in themselves, while other times I'll just share a thought that amuses me. Why do I do it? I guess I figure if people are going to think I'm "a bit funny" then I'd like it to be on my own terms.


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