Why Did Kerouac Cross the Road?

February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

I just added a new “page” to the blog, collecting the last few months worth of posts I wrote on the dichotomy between spontaneous wit and prepared jokes under the title “Why Did Kerouac Cross the Road?


I didn’t start out planning to include much Kerouac, but after he worked his way into the high school anecdote I started the discussion with, I quickly realized he was almost the pure human embodiment of the spontaneous side of the argument, so I kept referring back to him. Plus, it was fun playing around with the “Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?”/On the Road connections. In any event, writing these posts helped rekindling a long-smoldering love for Jack, so I’ll included his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials” here as our final thoughts on the art of spontaneity.



  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Thanks again for reading. I’m not sure what my next big series of posts will be on, but I do have an extra-special jokealong planned for the next month, so check back for more details next week!

Jokealong: HEAR NO EVIL…

February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Since people are continually stumbling onto The Oldest Jokes in the World in search of actual jokes, not just abstract theories about them, every other week 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.

This week, we’re lifting our hands from our eyes in search of “Hear No Evil” Jokes.


In a post I wrote almost a year ago about our sense of humor as a sense, I included a photo of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor from their classic 1989 comedy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil–and searches for “hear no evil jokes” have been pilling up ever since.

Unfortunately, the jokes themselves weren’t as plentiful, with this proving to be quite a difficult jokealong. It was pleasant enough at first, as I spent an hour poking around youtube clips of the movie, reliving all my favorite gags but failing to find any real reference to the three monkeys besides its jokey title. (Since the bits in the movie are so much funnier than the on-topic jokes I found, I’d be remiss if didn’t break the rules and include at least one.)

Once I got down to business, though, nine out of ten search results were the same list of “witty” one-liners (often tagged as witty one-liners for women or, strangely, work) that has been posted prolifically across the internet. The one line in question is: “Hear no evil, see no evil, date no evil.”

I hoped there was better stuff out there, but half of the result remaining on each page were for these very lame Hear No Evil Anti-Nagging Earplugs for Men.

Part of the trouble with my research was that I’ve never really understood what the heck this strange maxim really meant, and I guess I’m not the only one who’s confused: Wikipedia’s article on The Three Wise Monkeys says that Buddhists use it as reminder not to dwell on negative thoughts while most Westerners use it “to refer to a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, looking the other way or feigning ignorance.” In organized crime, it is often used to invoke a code of silence. Or, consider this sign aimed at participants in the Manhattan Project.


With that in mind, out of the few actual jokes I found, I decided to pick one that seemed to capture everything that is creepy, wrong, and irresponsible about these three self-involved monkeys. It’s from British Comedian Jimmy Carr; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good clip online of him saying it, so if you’re not familiar with his dry delivery, check him out here to get his voice in your head. Anyways, the joke is short and simple: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Rohypnol(TM).

Inspired by the organized crime connections, I wrote this bootlegging vignette as my contribution:

Sam was desperate for a drink, hadn’t had a drop since the cops busted up the last speakeasy in town a month earlier. So when he heard about a new gin joint just down the block, he left work early to see if the rumors were true. Sure enough, the nondescript door on the south side of the alley led into a long, dark room that stank of sweet, sweet booze. There were no other patrons this early in the day, though, just three gangsters behind an empty bar. Despite their tough looks, Sam had trouble not laughing: one had his hands on his ears, the other had his hands over his eyes, and the third had his hands on his mouth.

“WELCOME TO THE “HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, SPEAK EASY,” the one with his hands over his ears yelled. “MY NAME IS HEAR-NO AND I’LL BE YOUR HOST.”

“Hi,” Sam started, “The na—”


“Sounds great, fellas,” Sam answered, looking around the empty shelves behind them. “Just one question first: where do you keep all the booze?”

Hear-No grimaced and pointed at his ear before covering it again.

“Sorry. Of course.” Sam tapped his nose. “Say, See-No… Where do you guys keep all the booze.”

See-No kept his eyes covered with one hand while he felt in his breast pocket with the other. When he felt nothing, he scowled, “How’m I supposed to know where anything is, ya jerk?”

“Sorry. I trust you guys.” Afraid of losing his chance for a drink, Sam tried to smooth things over as he retrieved his billfold. “In fact, I appreciate how cautious you are being, so maybe you can stay open. Looks like you’ve got the perfect racket, anyways: plausible deniability for all three of you since one guy just deals with the patrons, one guy justs deals with the money, and,” he pointed to Speak-No and smiled, “you must take the interrogations whenever the cops show up.”

Speak-No sighed through his fingers and shook his head.

“Of course not. I was just joking,” Sam apologized again, but Speak-No kept shaking his head, holding tight to his mouth as his movements became more emphatic. Sam crammed a hundred dollar bill in See-No’s pocket, but when he looked to Speak-No, the silent giant continued to jerk his neck from shoulder to shoulder. When he looked back to See-No, the money was gone.

“And here I go blabbing your whole plan and I didn’t even mean to mention the cops, I swear. You probably think I’m the G-D’ed D.A.” As Sam babbled nervously, Speak-No took a martini glass from above the bar and held it under his chin.

Gin and vermouth dribbled into the glass as he explained. “Ah, you got the whole scheme wrong anyway. I only deal with mixing the booze; when the cops come, I’m just supposed to swallow.” By way of a punctuation point, he spit an olive into Sam’s glass.

I guess that turned into more of a short story than a joke, but you can’t complain unless you add a pithy little joke of your own!

Where da wenches at?

February 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

Making a quick extra post today to recommend “Practically Human” by Charlie Broderick to all you dear readers.  The story was published last week on Revolver, and is sure to satisfy if you are in need of a heartfelt laugh today.

Revolver - Rowdy Reading

Charlie is a friend of mine and her work is certainly a friend of this blog’s, as she uses humor to draw readers deeper into the trouble of the story instead of to dismiss it.  Among many other deep, searching questions, this piece dares to asks, “Where da wenches at?”

Hate Humor

February 8, 2013 § 4 Comments

As an addendum to our ongoing discussion of the dichotomy between wit and composed jokes, I want to take this week out to discuss racist, homophobic, and sexist humor. Last post, in linking wit to liberalism and jokes to conservatism, I used hate humor as evidence, pointing out that our culture’s vast catalogue of such jokes serve to conserve prestige and privilege for the group telling them.

Proofreading right before posting, though, I realized I had missed a possible contradiction to my argument: racist wit. If the divide between wit and jokes is really like a road that humor crosses back and forth over, it makes sense that there would be a sort of wit that would correspond to jokes that rely on hate speech. Does such a wit exist, and if so, would it mean that wit isn’t actual the liberal side of the street?


Irresponsible, I know, but I posted anyway and decided to figure out if what I had written was right or wrong later. And after a week of consideration, I think I was right all along: there is no such thing as hateful wit. I might just be trying to make the world into what I want it to be with this line of reasoning, but I truly believe that wit is by definition open and searching, and as a result, closed-minded comments can never really be witty.

What ultimately convinced me of this was considering examples from life. Most of the hate humor I’ve come across has, thankfully, not been from my friends and family but at work, where we don’t have as much power choosing our conversation partners. For example, for a while I was forced to work closely with a particularly miserable guy we’ll call K; whenever the rest of us at work would get a nice, convivial, and witty conversation going, he’d have to interject his a racist, sexist, or homophobic comment to get in on the fun. But it never came across as witty, just another instance of K trying to force his agenda on our otherwise free-ranging conversation.

(Looking back, I don’t think K’s agenda was propagating a misogynist worldview as much as satiating his need to control the conversation, making everyone feel uncomfortable so he could feel power. I think there was a bit of jealousy in it, as well; unwilling or unable to open himself up to the creativity of wit, he was often left behind in our conversations and probably wanted to ruin what he couldn’t participate in.)

All hate humor has an agenda; even it’s most spontaneous expression is built on preconceived notions for the purpose further propagating those notions—and as such, it is never pure wit. Finding the opportune moment to say what you’ve been wanting to say is a different thing than finding the novel words this fresh moment demands. As such, hate humor is also the enemy of conversation; a moment of such forced “wit” will always end a conversation uncomfortably if the audience doesn’t agree (as with K) or tighten it into something less than a conversation, as all the participants talk only to reinforce their shared opinions instead of exchanging foreign ideas.

But In All Seriousness, Folks…

February 1, 2013 § 3 Comments

Unfortunately, we’re going to skip the jokealong this Friday. I jumped into the third draft of a novel this week and feel I’m too deep into the problems with the old draft to do much other creative work for the next few days. Luckily, I have a guest post up on Ross Gale’s blog this week so you won’t have to miss me. Just click the image below to check it out.

writers-series-evanRoss runs a great blog full of thought provoking and creativity inspiring content for writers. Ross was one of the first people to reach out to me when I was still struggling to start this blog, making me feel like I was part of a community when I was wondering what the point of it all was; he has a great way of fostering dialogue when so much of blogging feels like a bunch of writers who aren’t willing to read. As a result, I was thrilled when he asked me to participate in his Writers Series about how writers with day jobs persevere.

One Day at a Time” is a little more serious (and juicily personal!!!) than what I normally write for The Oldest Jokes in the World, so if you came here for laughs and only feel somberer, you should check out this cool interview of George Saunders from The Colbert Reporthe talks about how short stories are like jokes!

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