Jokealong: HAMMOCKS

January 4, 2013 § 3 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.

This week, we’re hamming it up over hammocks!

hammock-boat-concept-1

Ever since I bragged about reading in a hammock after coming back to the blog from summer vacation, googlers have continually landed at The Oldest Jokes in the World after searching for “hammock jokes,” joke hammocks,” and “hilarious hammock puns.” And once again, after conducting a search of my own, I can see why: there just aren’t too many hammock jokes out there. I’d thought there was a scarcity of walnut jokes, but at least walnuts look weird and are frustrating to eat; hammocks are just too pleasant to be really funny.

The first resource I consulted was, of course, the Hammock Forum, where the world’s leading hammock experts and aficionados gather to discuss all things hammocks, but on their thread for hammock jokes, they’d only managed to amass a few feeble puns. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw this was the best they could come up with:

Q: What are you doing in that hammock?

A: Just hanging out.

Clicking through several pages of results, the closest thing I could find to funny was this story joke—but then hammocks only play a minor role in the backstory, so choosing it felt like cheating. And it wasn’t that funny anyways. But the fact that one of the top ten google results for hammock jokes has a “Bill Clinton is a horndog” punchline should give you an idea of how many great hammock jokes have been written in the past decade.

Besides an actual human being named Joke Hammock, I found nothing else worth mentioning, so I choose this Simpson’s bit from the great Hank Scorpio episode as the greatest hammock joke in existence. I think it works as a comedic dialogue because, as I said above, there isn’t actually anything exciting to say about hammocks.

With that in mind, I decided to go the language pun-fun route with my contribution to the genre:

Q: What did the castaway do with the crate of SPAM that washed up on shore of his deserted island?

A: He built an ad-hoc mock-ham-hock-block hammock.

I hope that helps you out if you’ve arrived here in need of a winning hammock joke. And if you’re just here for fun, please do join the conversation and submit a joke of your own. I made a promise to myself to avoid banana-hammock jokes for this post, but that doesn’t mean you have to!

Jokealong: WALNUTS

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.

walnut06-lFor this inaugural post, I chose walnuts!

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.

Or:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Walnut.

Walnut who?

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:

Knock Knock.

Who’s there.

Mmmmm walnuts.

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.

Have you heard the one about the restaurant on the moon?

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.

trip_to_the_moon_1902Have 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?”

A Gold Medal in the Humor Olympics

October 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

I wanted to share this lovely letter to Ann Coulter by John Franklin Stephens from the Special Olympics Blog mostly because it is one of the best internet happenings in a while.  But assuming you’ve already read it, liked it, and shared it with all your friends, I also wanted to take a few words to commend Mr. Stephens for his use of humor; it is easy to come out of an exchange with a hate-merchant like Coulter with a moral victory, but Mr. Stephens just plain out-funnies her, too.

There has, thankfully and rightfully, been a backlash against Coulter after the tweet, but such exchanges—the offended defender against the self-righteous provocateur—are usually frustratingly counter-productive: when someone is hurt by a bad joke and writes a serious and heartfelt response describing the pain the joker’s carelessness caused, it often only gives the provocateur a second chance to offend, claiming the offended are being too sensitive or serious while getting more attention and support from their cronies (which was their only reason for being callous in the first place).  In her initial response to the backlash, Coulter was happy to twist the knife, “The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.”

There aren’t many ways to win a debate with a joker like that; they aren’t interested in winning the argument as much as making you feel like a loser.  As a humorist, this fact often worries me; when I see bigots like Coulter using humor to tear people down, I wonder if the funny is really all I’ve made it out to be—a source of joy and insight in our lives—or just another way we’ve invented to bully someone while tricking ourselves into feeling powerful.  That’s why it feels like such a joyous, affirming win to see someone best Coulter at her own game like this.

I love the way he plays it straight in the opening paragraphs so his first pithy point lands hard, and I love the way he introduces each new joke as if he really is just trying to reason out what she could have possibly hoped to communicate with such a blunt statement.  But my favorite part is the way—once he smilingly reveals he’s known her cruel intent all along—that he turns the argument into something else entirely, re-establishing what she meant to belittle as a source of strength.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

With this, he raises the conflict above an unwinnable argument about who should be allowed to use the R-word in what context up to a thoughtful discussion about what is actually of value in our society; he doesn’t just see  the mean spirit of her words, but the petty motivation behind them as well, and invites her and us to try to take the same time he does to craft his thoughts with care and consideration.

I’ve written in previous posts that humor’s purpose in our lives is to create bonds and illuminate our mistakes, tearing down those structures which don’t build us up but only bind us.  Mr. Stephens does this perfectly here, illuminating the pain Coulter has caused not by calling her a name or telling her to stop talking, but by inviting her into the sort of dialogue she’d have to abandon her misconceptions to participate in.

To take a joke seriously—

July 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

This week, I present the conclusion to my discussion of humor as a literary technique, with one last example from Ben Lerner’s brain-painingly hilarious Leaving the Atocha Station, hopefully illustrating the points I made over the past month about humor as a form of subtext (in “If you have to explain it…” and “Moby Dick in Needlepoint“):

Adam, the narrator of Leaving the Atocha Station, is hyper-sensitive to subtext, always obsessing over every possibility of what might be implied by what he says, the tone in which he says it, and the practiced expression on his face afterward.  In part, he dwells in subtext because the language barrier and his constant drug use leave him with little control or understanding of the literal meaning—a weakness he often tries to turn to his advantage.  For example, his strategy at seeming profound on a date at a museum:

As we walked  through the Reina Sofia I would offer up unconjugated sentences or sentence fragments in response to paintings that she then expanded and concatenated into penetrating observations about line and color, art and institutions, old world and new […] I would say, Blue is an idea about distance, or Literature ends in that particular blue, or Here are several subjunctive blues; I would say, To write with sculpture—, To think the vertical—, To refute a century of shadow—, etc., and watch her mouth the phrase to herself, investing it with all possible resonances, then reapplying it to canvas.  Of course, we engaged in our share of incidental talk, but our most intense and ostensibly intimate interactions were the effect of her imbuing my silences, the gaps out of which my Spanish was primarily composed, with tremendous intellectual and aesthetic force.

As a great poet and bullshit artists (he often wonders if there’s a difference between the two), Adam is using the powers of literature to his own personal gains.  As I discussed in the above posts, subtext establishes and deepens relationships, as Isabel is drawn closer by the intimation that Adam has something inexpressibly profound to say about art as well as enough respect for her intelligence to trust that she she can figure out what that is without him stating it explicitly.  He establishes a rapport much as a humorist would with a subtle yet powerful joke, or a literary author would with a challenging but concise scene.

The problem is that Adam doesn’t have anything profound to say about the art he is looking at and has very little respect for Isabel (or any of the other women he’s trying to seduce through similar techniques).  As readers, we end up liking Adam, though, because he admits these shortcomings to  us through self-depricating humor.  This is an instance of humor and subtext working as one; the humor marks it as important, not just by begging for our attention but by skirting the issue as something ultimately impossible to approach soberly or express sensibly.  As a result, we fall into a trap similar to the one he’s used to ensnare Spanish girlfriends, guessing at a deep and familiar pain or fear that leads him to build so many walls around himself.  Falling deeper through the subtext of his anecdotes, which begin to feel more and more precious as we realize how hard it is for him to explicitly share any true part of himself with anyone, we begin to realize the theme of the novel has to do with his fear that there is nothing of true meaning at the bottom of any of his subtexts, just a desire to be admired.

In conclusion, Leaving the Atocha Station is about the way meaning can ultimately escape a person if he or she spends too much time considering every possible meaning of the meanings people ascribe to him–and if that sounds too confusing, I hope I’ve finally driven home my point about the usefulness of subtext and theme, and the way literature can say something more concisely in thousands of words than is possible in a dozen.

And besides, the above book-report topic-sentence misses half the point, because after inferring so much from the way Adam composes his actions for optimal inferences, we have to wonder if every sentence in the novel hasn’t been a carefully composed trick to get us to ascribe a loveably feeling soul to a hedonistic sociopath, the ultimate level of Adam’s subtext as seduction.  And if that’s too depressing a thought, I hope you’ll understand why I prefer my literature with spoonful of humor–because reading Leaving the Atocha Station (and rereading it for these posts) was never trying or burdensome, but a constant beauty and joy.

Thanks for reading through this first major thought-arc on the blog over the past few months.  In the coming weeks, I’m going to reorganize the blog a bit to bring this series of posts into one easy-to-follow page, as I envision them as one chapter in a book on literary humor.  Past that, I’ll be posting one-offs as often as I can between a big push to finish the second draft of my latest novel and a trip to a hammock in Canada to catch up on my reading.  Hopefully by the fall, I’ll be back with at least one big idea for a long series of weekly posts–I’ve already got some ideas forming on satire as well as the differences between prepared jokes, wit, and jokes in literature.

Show & Tell

June 4, 2012 § 4 Comments

This week, I’d like to take a look at the literary uses of humor I’ve  discussed so far (humor as a storytelling tool and as a “sense” through which the world of the story be brought to life) through a passage from Ben Lerner’s wonderful Leaving the Atocha Station.

Below, Adam describes one of the hundreds of awkward cross-cultural experiences he has while abroad in Spain:

It was getting cold; I had somehow never thought Madrid would have a winter, but I was sweating, no doubt visibly, as Arturo greeted and introduced me to the shivering smokers milling around the galleries glass doors.  I was too nervous to catch the names of the people with whom I exchanged handshakes, but I was aware that my kissing was particularly awkward, that I had kissed one of the women in the corner of the mouth, more on her lips than on her cheek.  This was a common occurrence; with a handful of clumsy exceptions when I had met particularly cosmopolitan New Yorkers one kiss on the right cheek, and various relatives when I was a child, I had almost never, prior to my project, kissed a woman with whom I was not romantically involved.  I wasn’t exactly sure what would have happened if I’d tried to greet a woman by kissing her in Topeka; certainly her boyfriend would have kicked in my teeth if she had one, or I would be at risk of becoming her boyfriend if she didn’t.  It often occurred to me that my upbringing would have been changed beyond all recognition if kissing had been common; such a dispersion of the erotic into general social circulation would have had unpredictable effects.  In Providence I could have gotten away with it, but not without an air of affectation and effeminacy; regardless, I had never thought to try.  But in Spain, I was guilty of abusing the kissing thing, or of at least investing it with a libidinal charge it wasn’t supposed to contain, and when you were drunk and high and foreign, you could reasonably slip up and catch the corner of a mouth.

This passage is indicative of many in the novel, which laughs in the face of the old MFA adage by telling nearly as often as it shows.  Here, the plot is paused for a long paragraph as Adam tells us about the ironies involved in his habit of over-kissing in Spain.  Removed from all but the most general sense of setting (“In Europe they do this–but in America, they do that”), this observational monologue could fit nearly as easily into a stand-up routine as a novel: Lerner, here, is using humor as a fictional technique.  But like all elements of fiction in a book that works, it works in concert with other elements: while we chuckle, Adam is being characterized and our sense of the setting is being deepened and reinforced.

As “sensory writing”, the humorous details in this passage make the world of the story come alive.  The ironic contrast between the setting of Spain and America is deepened, yet again, until it is undeniable fact, true from every angle.  Even more importantly and effectively, though, we’re getting a sense of Adam’s sense of humor, which is probably the attentive reader’s best means of delving deeper into his character.  This scene is ripe for concrete sensory details, but after a mention of the weather, Adam glosses over the physical aspects of the kiss.  Dwelling on the feel of the kiss–the contrast of textures between her cheek and lips, the smell of her hair, the sexual electric jolt it sends down his spine–might make for titillating reading, but Adam instead jumps to the abstract ironies it implies.

It is important to note that with a tightly constructed scene full of details, we might have been able to imply these ironies; but the fact that Adam comes out and tells us shows that to him, satisfying physical lust isn’t as important as his desire to use culture in a way that allows him to stay outside of it.  The most telling line in the passage might be “at risk of becoming her boyfriend.” Adam is always looking for ways to satisfy his urge to be around people without actually having to let his guard down or commit.

It is the jokes in this paragraph that made me realize Adam digresses so often because he doesn’t have much to show; all he can do is tell us about all the reasons he didn’t do what he probably should have.  Far from being a string of useless jokes, then, this passage uses humor as an element of fiction and a sensory detail to invoke a subtext and explore the theme of the novel.

But the relationship between subtext and humor is my next subject, so I’ll leave you here until next week.

Thanks for reading.

Encyclopaeaeaedia

May 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

For our fun this weekend, I’m providing a link to an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on humor from 1928, written by our very own patron saint, GK Chesterton.  Tracing the history of the word and the phenomenon itself, the article is chock full of insightful details and little witties in the piece.  I’m intrigued by this idea of celebrity authored encyclopedia entires, and while it is cruel to compare anyone’s prose to GK’s, the wikipedia entry’s prose-by-commitee pales in comparison.  I admire the democratic nature of wikipedia, but am saddened they’d have to take down insights like this to keep it up.

Humour, like wit, is related however indirectly, to truth and the eternal virtues; as it is the greatest incongruity of all to be serious about humour, so it is the worst sort of pomposity to be monotonously proud of humour; for it is itself the chief antidote to pride; and has been, ever since the time of the Book of Proverbs, the hammer of fools.

I guess these days we just have to leave this sort of editorializing to the blogs.

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