December 22, 2012 § 6 Comments
Since I’ve always been an introvert and a slow thinker, starting The Oldest Jokes in the World back in April and keeping it updated all year has been an exercise in getting out of my comfort zone. It feels unnatural for me to share my thoughts and writing without months of consideration and polish—and even worse to shoot of a quick comment on the work of a complete strangers. I have trouble making friends with people who haven’t been introduced to me by a mutual friend, so building relationships with people I’ve never met seems impossible, but I’ve forced myself to try to take part in the awesome community of writers and thinkers out here in the internet.
There are several aspects of the blogging world, though, that I’ve often felt I would never get used to or participate in, and blog awards were chief among them. Whenever I saw a blog post about receiving an award and passing it along, I muttered grumpily to myself about how they weren’t awards for great thoughts at all, but chain-letters for the bored and lonely. Bah humbug!
That is, of course, until I received one. Earlier this week, I felt my heart grow two sizes when Eve Proofreads gave me a Reader Appreciation Award; these aren’t really awards so much as presents, not meant to sit on your mantle, but to be passed along, building and strengthening the bonds of community.
So, like Ebenezer Scrooge singing through the streets on Christmas Morning, I’d like to celebrate my miraculous conversion and name a few blogs that have made this year-long adventure more comfortable and pleasant for me, passing on this reader appreciation award.
1) First and foremost, Eve Proofreads, who gave me this awesome award. On the blog for her website, Eve reviews books and offers grammar advice with such perception and concision that I’m sure she’s an incredible editor. I’ll be in need of one before I self-publish the manuscript I’m currently working on, so I’m thankful to have found her in my blogging.
2) Sarah of Sarah in Small Doses is a friend of mine from grad school, and watching her start a humor blog on WP was one of my inspirations for finally getting over my anxiety and doing it too. She writes hilariously about her personal life and daily observations, and with a background as an incredible essayist, her jokes often have that touch of human tenderness I like best with my humor.
3) Charlie from That Girl Who Reads Books is another friend from grad school. Setting out to read all the books she’s hoarded but never read, she writes great reviews that often wander to diverse subject to make surprising connections. She has a great post about Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which is the book that makes me think these awards are more like a gift economy.
4) Thomas, another friend from grad school, uses Walking to Bars to keep people updated on his writing and review movies. As I said above, it takes a while for me to make new friends, so blogging has been great for helping me stay in touch with a writing community even though I am out of school. Thomas’ passion is horror; mine isn’t, but I’m trying to write a horror novel at the moment, so I love keeping in touch with his blog for the sort of recommendations and challenging insight we used to share before class.
5) Even better, blogging has helped me stay in touch with people who moved away after graduating, such as C Lee over at 50 Rows Up. Although I know nowhere near as much about sports as her, I always loved workshopping her powerful sports-related fiction in class, so it has been great to keep up with her on her blog even though she isn’t in the cities anymore.
6) Right after I first started blogging and was thinking about quitting, Ross Gale reached out to me and immediately made me feel like I was part of a community, encouraging me to keep up with and participate in his incredible and inspiring Bereshit Bara Creativity Series. He seems to have taken a break from blogging after a move, but hopefully he’ll be back to it soon because I’ve never felt someone’s welcoming friendliness translate so well into through the internet.
7) I didn’t know Manoftheword before I found his blog, and I haven’t exchanged more than a few likes and comments since, but I feel like I’ve come to know him in some small way from reading it. His original vignettes are always so uniquely conceived that they inspire fresh insight into my work, so checking his blog has become part of my routine.
8) Besides missing serious craft discussion and encouraging camaraderie between writers, the thing I miss the most about school are the informed and passionate book recommendations, so I’ve been happy to find Books Speak Volumes. The reviews are astute and beautifully written, and I appreciate that Leah has good tastes and seems more excited to find good books to recommend to her readers than finding bad books to disparage.
9) As much as I’ve come to appreciate the blogosphere, there’s still no substitute for a physical community, so I’m nominating The Cracked Walnut Reading Series’ Blog, too. Satish runs the reading series, bringing literary performances to all sorts of untraditional venues such as grocery stores and funeral homes. If you’re a writer in the Twin Cities, there is no one better to know that Satish.
10) Last but not least: Versus Literary Journal. As much as I love reading everyone’s scattered thoughts, I do like blogs such as this that function as journals. Instead of seven posts a week by the same harried person, I like the idea of a blog who’s content is made by 7 people who’ve spent a week contemplating and revising what they’ve written. Plus, they published my story “Frank“.
So there it is, my holiday extravaganza of mushy thanking joyfulness. I’ll be busy celebrating at home taking down candy cane displays at work for the next few weeks but will be back in 2013 for an exciting new year of The Oldest Jokes in the World. On Friday the 4th, we’ll have another jokealong and then launch back into our discussion of the dichotomy between wit and jokes the next week.
PS: I guess there are some rules for this award, so I’ve included them down here at the bottom, like a legal disclaimer.
1. Provide a link and thank the blogger who nominated you for this award.
2. Answer 10 questions.
3. Choose 10-12 blogs that you find a joy to read.
4. Provide links to these blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been chosen.
5. Include the award logo within your blog post.
Your favourite colour? Green.
Your favourite animal? At a dive bar that tread the line between sketchy and scary, I met a man named “The Animal” once, who looked like Rod Stewart after a decade long bar fight. . When we asked the creepy guy who introduced us to him why they called him The Animal, he said, “Because he’s always bleeding from his face.”
He’s my favorite animal, though, because later in the night, he leaned over his booth into ours and stared at the back of one of my friends’ heads until we asked him what he was doing. “You’re energy,” he said, “I’m feeing off of it.”
Your favourite non-alcoholic drink? Alkaseltzer in water.
Facebook® or Twitter®? If the last answer didn’t make it clear, I’m a bit of a curmudgeonly worry wort and am getting sort of old. Can I choose a book instead?
Your favourite pattern? Nas’s rhyme scheme on “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”
Getting or giving presents? Can’t have one without the other or it isn’t a present—which is one of the reasons these traveling “awards” feel more like gifts than accolades.
Your favourite number? The nice long fat kind.
Your favourite day of the week? Wednesday. I have it off work, but most other people don’t, so the library is empty.
Your favourite flower? Whole wheat.
What is your passion? Blogging?
December 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
I was crammed into the bitch seat of a Ford Festiva, the closest I ever got to perfection.
It was the winter of my senior year of high school, and I was pretty sure I had it all figured out: I’d read a bunch of Kerouac the previous summer.
Kerouac made me want to be a writer. He made me want to be an intellectual rebel. He made me want to be a spiritual searcher. He made me want to be a Buddhist. He made me want to be a weeping angel of hangdog grace.
And since I was still in high school, I could be all those things just by saying so.
So what if you’re on the football team? I’m a writer. No, I don’t have a book published—I’m only 18—but I’ll show you my moleskine if you promise not to read it.
And I’ve got to say, I find your suburban Lutheranism dogmatic. I prefer the spiritual freedom of Buddhism. No, I guess I don’t pray, or meditate, or go to temple, or whatever—but I assure you, I am a Buddhist: notice, please, the Alan Watts paperback that has accidentally slipped out of my backpack beside your foot.
I hope it is clear that I’m poking fun at myself here—not those beliefs. While I consider myself a Christian now, I still feel there is a wealth of beauty and wisdom to be found studying Buddhism, and I truly have no idea who I would be if I hadn’t read On the Road and Dharma Bums when I was 17. But in a comfortable suburban life without too many opportunities to test and prove my beliefs to others or even myself, I spent a lot of time on symbolic gestures I hoped wouldn’t just communicate, but also cement and validate, the changes I felt going on inside me.
And for some reason, there was a week during that February when I thought tying a karaoke microphone to my belt-loop and wearing it like a fashion accessory was the perfect representation of everything I wanted to believe about myself.
I had a tight group of friends growing up, 5 or 6 guys who all hung together every weekend of high school, playing videogames and listening to music we were sure everyone else at our school was too stupid to like. We certainly weren’t cool—there were no girls anywhere near us—but we weren’t such big losers that we couldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we were actually cooler than everyone: that the pop squad in our school didn’t actually know what cool was, that once we got to college, we’d already have all the right indie rock and avant garde electronica CD’s and it would be clear who was actually cool all along.
R was one of the first of us to get a car, and we’d all cram into that tiny, wheezing Ford Festiva like pubescent clowns: blotchy faces, awkward physiques, and big smiles all around. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as simply happy as I did in the back of that car as we all traded off making fun of each other and the dolts we went to school with, always rehashing and adding to our history of inside jokes. As integral as the seemed to my life at the time, I’ve forgotten most of these little witties—and like most wit, they aren’t as funny when removed from the elements that inspired them—but here’s one example to give you an idea of where our heads were at at the time: one of the most famous and re-referenced of our jokes had to do with the time B made a point of vowing to all of us that he would lose his virginity on his upcoming trip to Steamboat Springs; it only took K a few seconds to come up with the term Fornication Proclamation, which took years and years for B to live down.
It was with this feeling in mind that I picked a karaoke microphone out of the back of R’s closet and wore it out to Cheapo Records, Blockbuster Video, and Granny’s Donuts that night. I mostly kept it tucked into my pocket, but would pull it out at moments when I felt seized by wit, raising it to highlight how important the pun or that’s what she said waiting on my lips was, then turning it on my friend for his reaction.
At times, I’d wondered if it wasn’t wrong to be mean to each other all the time, but I’d extrapolated a nearly religious reverence for wit from what I understood of Kerouac’s spontaneous writing process: if some force beyond my control and consciousness plopped a funny into my head, it was my duty to say it out loud; wit was worth so much more than the sort of contrived statements most people made when they thought before speaking. Taking the microphone around with me was my way of showing the world this deeply held belief: this shared experience between my friends was something of holy import. Like Jack and his crew of Desolation Angels, our lives were a matter of precious record.
I wanted to start my posts on the dichotomy between wit and prepared humor with this anecdote, firstly, to remind myself that there is no bigger fool that someone trying to take humor too seriously. I think the me back then would be happy to be called a fool, and I must not mind much either, because I keep groping around for something profound to say on this blog despite never getting hold of anything better to show than my own ass. Being a fool is unavoidable, but I hope that by grounding the discussion in proof of my follies, I won’t be tempted to many quick, sweeping judgements.
As I mentioned last week, my original impetus for these posts was a quick, sweeping judgement; within moments of pondering the question, I wanted to prove that wit was always the superior form of humor. My main reason for beginning with the above real world example of humor in use, then, was to use it’s details to complicate that simple thesis while enriching our understanding of the issue.
As you can see in the example, wit can’t exist without relatively tight connections between the speaker and the listener. We were like a gang back then, with little life to speak of but the life we shared at school and on the weekends; I couldn’t see it at the time, but the other kids didn’t laugh at the same jokes we did, not because they were stupid or because we were the chosen witty few, but simply because they didn’t spend as much time in R’s basement laying the groundwork for all those connections as we did.
Further, it requires a relatively strong sense of comfort to be receptive to a witty idea—they come to us less often in unfamiliar or threatening situations—and an even stronger sense of confidence to share it. It was these benefits the group afforded us, I see now, and not any holy calling, that made us such exceptional jokesters.
I had good intentions, I think, in espousing a philosophy that was open to anyone, but in practice, I was just drawing thicker lines around our group: we needed the microphone because it set us apart in a way that proved we were more important than the jocks or the freaks or the band nerds or the pop squad. One of the few specific instances I can remember using the microphone was to mock A for hanging out with the popular kids in pursuit of a girl who hung around with them; as with the Fornication Proclamation, I think we were really just trying to keep anyone from leaving the gang, trying to protect that sense of comfortable confidence we’d built together.
We couldn’t all stay in that Festiva for ever, though, and it was probably my anxiety about high school ending and us all moving on to different colleges that had me trying to hold on to what we had with a fundamentalist fervor. Thankfully, I only wore the microphone to school once or twice the next week and then half-heartedly again the next weekend before letting go of the phase. It wasn’t going to keep A from falling in love and it wasn’t going to keep time from passing. Nothing could keep our group together forever, especially since none of them seemed to want to chase after the wild literary life with me in college: as close as we were, I couldn’t get any of them to want to be the Ginsburg to my Kerouac. I couldn’t even get them to read Kerouac.
I’m happy to say I’m still close friends with almost all of the guys, but I don’t think we’ve ever been as close as we were when crammed into that Festiva. How could we be while trying to grow and explore the larger world, building adult lives for ourselves? As we all moved into the larger world, we had to turn our backs on our inside jokes, and I learned the value of a good prepped joke in an unfamiliar, high-pressure situation—which we’ll discuss in the next post in this series.
December 14, 2012 § 6 Comments
Since people are continually stumbling onto The Oldest Jokes in the World in search of actual jokes, not just abstract theories about them, every Friday we have a joke-along post. I’ll search through the site’s stats for a specific joke people have been searching for, comb the internet for the best existing examples, and try come up with one of my own. And then you all can add your own in the comments, so the next time someone comes searching, they won’t leave disappointed.
I wish I hadn’t.
I guess I figured that since I BS about food for a living, food jokes would come easy… but this one was a tough nut to crack. Sorry, but I’m stooping that low to prove what a desperate time I’ve had coming up with walnut-related humor.
The first one that came to my mind is the Rudy Ray Moore chestnut/walnut/chin-nut joke that is sampled at the start of “Deez Nutz” from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic—but it is a little blue for our purposes here, and since the walnut is just the relatively unimportant second example in the set up, I don’t know if we can technically call it a walnut joke.
As a result, I turned to the internet, hoping to find something a little more tame and on topic, but quickly came to see why people always end up at my post about a Cracked Walnut Reading: there just really aren’t too many walnut jokes out there. The most common search result has to do with the way a walnut looks a bit like a brain, but as with the aforementioned RRM skit, it is mostly just a dirty joke that uses a walnut in the setup (but I’ll link it anyway, in case you’re curious).
As for jokes about actual walnuts, it’s a slim selection:
How do you make a walnut laugh? Crack it up.
Walnut too strong, don’t lean on it.
As a result, I’m crowning the following story joke as the winner, because while walnuts are just part of the set-up again, it did manage to give me a pleasant surprise with the punchline, unlike the previous groaners:
Old Dock Warren was a regular at Bob’s Tavern. For the last 30 years he’d ordered the same drink – a walnut daiquiri. One day, Bob ran out of walnuts. He poked around and found an old package of hickory nuts. They would have to do.
Doc arrived as the clock struck six, sat down at his regular spot and ordered his usual. When Bob put the cocktail up on the bar, Doc took one sip and made a face.
“What in tarnation –“, Doc sputtered. “This isn’t a walnut daiquiri!”
“I’m sorry,” Bob said, shamefaced. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.”
Even with these less-than-intimidating examples, though, I had a hard time coming up with something to match. What is there about walnuts? They look a bit like brains, they have hard shells. Not too big a pool of qualities to play with, so I started researching them further. But the more specialized the information, the less it would work for a general joke: how many people would pick up on a good aflatoxin pun? I thought of trying to play on the differences between english and black walnut varieties, but then thought it would be safer to try to go blue after all. It was while wondering if I was the only person that thought walnuts looked a bit like scrotums that I settled on the following knock-knock joke, figuring it would be best for everyone involved:
Mmmmm walnuts who?
Oh, no, sorry. I was just using your knocker to get these open.
Maybe choosing walnuts for the inaugural joke-along was for the best, then, because I know that none of you should feel intimidated by any of the preceding jokes. You’ve got nothing to lose by adding your best walnut joke to the conversation below. Join the bad walnut joke party; I know you’ve got a good one.
December 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve had difficulties this past week figuring out how to best begin this series of posts I have planned on the dichotomy between composed jokes and spontaneous wit; my original impetus was a desire to definitively prove wit the superior form of humor, but after some careful reflection, I’m not even going to bother trying.
I’ve recently found myself increasingly distrustful of easy answers, even skeptical of answers in general. I’ve mostly noticed it as a feeling—sometimes a wise sense of patience, at other times a lazy despair—that causes me to always suspect there’s more to the truth than whatever thesis I’m reading can contain. It’s nowhere more concrete, though, than in my writing for the blog.
Whenever I’ve tried to write the sort of startling and declarative statement that will grab the blogosphere’s attentions, inspire passionate debate, and rack up the page views, I unfortunately keep writing after I’ve made my point. Following the writing to fuller description and acknowledgement of exceptions, I complicate the simple thesis I started with until I end up with a subtler, less conclusive truth (see Punning in Circles). Maybe it is all this humor studying, but it increasingly seems to me that every answer is a punchline when compared with the rich complications of the actual truth.
As a result, I want to start this discussion with a punchline of sorts for us to work our way backwards from: an image of me in the year 2000, when I was eighteen years old and as close as I’ve ever been to feeling like I had all the answers: I was so sure I had life figured out that I started wearing a karaoke microphone tied to my belt loop as a fashion accessory.
To find out why and what it all has to do with Jack Kerouac, check back next week!
December 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of people come to The Oldest Jokes in the World just looking for a simple joke, and I can only assume they leave disappointed by my convoluted intellectual wanderings. So in a facetious attempt to give the people what they want, I’m going to add an extra little post every Friday that is just a couple of jokes. I’ll check the recent stats for the blog and choose a joke topic people have been looking for, and I’ll comb the internet for the best existing joke on that topic and try to write my own as well. Then if you guys can come up with a better joke, you can shout it out in the comments.
Have you ever tried to write a stand-alone joke? Whenever I catch myself thinking all such jokes are facile, stupid, and easy, I just have to remember the day I spent trying to come up with a punchline to “Have you heard about the restaurant on the moon?” Someone at work had overheard the set-up, but the customer left before delivering the punchline, and a few of us spent the whole work day trying to come up with the funniest finish. The work was incredibly hard—I think the best we came up with was “I’m worried it is going to go out of business; in the past month, there has only been one night when it’s been full”—and gave me a newfound respect for stand-alone jokes.
It was actually more fun to try to write a bad joke than to hear one, so I’m inviting you all to play along in the coming months. On Monday, I’m going to launch a new series of theoretical musings on the difference between written jokes and spontaneous wit, but we’ll be back to the satisfying Q&A of set-up and punchline next Friday. In the meantime, please tell me in the comments: “Have you heard about the restaurant on the moon?”
December 3, 2012 § 5 Comments
Hi all! I got lots done in my little holiday from blogging—finished the latest draft of a novel I’ve been working on, survived another Whole Foods Thanksgiving, read a few books, and even spent a couple of days doing absolutely nothing for the first time in a long while—but I also started to feel disconnected, so it is good to be back here, reading through all the great posts I’ve missed and organizing all the thoughts I’ve been having for some posts of my own.
Checking up on the blog today, though, I realized that, in a way, I never really left: even with no new activity, my posts stay up online, and people continue to find their way to my words. It isn’t anywhere close to the traffic I get from you kind followers when I’m posting regularly, but there are at least a few new readers trickling in every day.
Which isn’t to say that I’m steadily amassing an enormous audience of people interested in the intersections of literature and humor; a few views come in from links to my story at Versus or searches for my name, but the majority come from searches that have little or nothing to do with my blog—and they probably leave soon after they realize this isn’t what they are looking for. For example, one of my latest readers found my post “Being Married, Being Hanged” after googling “course jesting fart.” Whether or not they meant to search for a coarse jest about flatulence, they certainly weren’t looking for my ruminations on G.K. Chesterton.
Because of the blog’s title, most of the random views I get seem to come from people trying to find jokes. Some searchers on the lookout for general humor were brought to The Oldest Jokes in the World by queries for:
short ice breaker jokes, ice breaker jokes, ice breaking jokes on a blog, work jokes short & ice breaker, icebreaker jokes for strangers, literary icebreakers, joke ice breakers, great ice breakers jokes
Others were searching for the genesis of humor in general or their favorite tropes in particular:
oldest joke in the world, jokes literary, oldest jokes, the oldest satire, oldest dunce joke, the oldest ole and lena jokes
Since I try my best to include examples in the discussions, the most satisfied of these joke-shoppers were probably those looking for jokes from a specific work I’ve written about:
marx brothers jokes, moby dick jokes, funny trailer park boys jokes, gene wilder jokes, richard pryor jokes, chico marx jokes, the marx brothers jokes, moby dick joke, chesterton jokes, marx brother jokes, newsroom jokes, jokes aaron sorkin, aaron sorkin jokes, jokes about aaron sorkin
Most searches, though, are from people looking for jokes on incredibly specific subjects:
jokes using hegemony, jokes on misunderstanding resulting from language barriers, puns about circles, armpit jokes, needlepoint jokes, jokes about community gardens, biology puns, hanged jokes, potluck jokes, pot luck jokes, intimation jokes, solstice jokes, jokes about trailer parks, battle field jokes, trailer park jokes, whale jokes, jokes about show and tell, jokes about humorlessness, hedonistic jokes, but all seriousness jokes, facetious jokes, summer reading jokes, community garden jokes, jokes about my seriousness, red bird jokes, hammock jokes, jokes on the word theme, elements of literature fun joke, jokes about summer reading, pun on the word glow, potluck joke, jokes about plagiarism, hear no evil jokes, “see no evil” joke humor, hilarious hammock puns, what were you doing up so early joke, jokes on subtext, midway jokes, joke hammock, facetious joke, funny special olympics jokes, best walnut joke, walnut joks, walnut jokes
It is sort of fun to try and imagine the situations these googlers must be in, hours away from their keynote adress to the American Walnut Grower’s association without a good pun with which to break the ice.
But I can’t say I feel that bad that nobody finds that perfect joke about plagiarism to steal for their own uses here. I’ve always preferred wit to prepared humor; a feeble pun, as long as it is cracked on the fly, will get a bigger laugh out of me than the best joke recited from the best joke book in the world. As a young man, I always felt joke books, such as the pamphlet to the left (one of the images that comes up in a search for course jesting fart), were cheating: they were for people too dumb to be open to the humor that arose spontaneously around them.
Yet, I’ve come to question this prejudice lately for several reasons. First, literary humor is as a rule composed, yet I often find it funny, especially when it is able to simulate a sense of wit and spontaneity. Second: as I get older and find myself reaching out into more diverse social settings, I realize not everyone enjoys getting cut up in a wit-fight, nor is every such fight fair, and as a result, a bit of stock humor can often serve as a kind social gift. I think my next project (after one more draft of the novel) will be about jokes, and I’m actually looking forward to diving into some good joke books as research.
As a result, my posts of the next couple month will focus on this dichotomy between the written joke and spontaneous wit. And in between these more serious discussions, I plan on mining the search history for joke subjects and will try to write some of my own, posting them here so that those looking for a great joke for their needlepoint circle won’t need to look any further.