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Dead Baby Jokes Aren’t Funny

At Isis, I was the wrong man for the job. I decided I wasn’t going to be the wrong woman for the job as well. So it was my wife Deirdre who approached a trio of female students on the campus of San Diego State: Erin, Adriana, and Mamet.

As if to deliberately tie herself in with Robles’s material on pirates and bartenders, Erin steps up with this as her favorite of all time: “A pirate walks into a bar, and he’s got a steering wheel on his dick. Everybody’s looking at him. He walks up to the bar, and the bartender is, like, ‘Dude, I’ve got to ask — what’s going on with that steering wheel?’ The pirate just looks down at it. Then he looks up and says, ‘Yeah, it’s driving me nuts.’ ” Everyone laughs.

The girls are comfortable talking to my wife, but that’s still as blue as it gets in the favorites department. Adriana offers this:

“Knock-knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Madam.”

“Madam who?”

“Madam finger’s stuck in the door!”

Mamet goes for a longer setup. “My husband tells me jokes every day, and I honestly don’t retain anything. Actually, I remember one joke — he told me this one: A woman and her husband are living together, and her mom and dad move in with them. The daughter tells her mom that, sometimes, when her husband comes home from work, she likes to just be naked, waiting for him. The old lady thinks, ‘I should do that, too.’ So she does, and her husband — he’s this old-school guy — comes home. She opens the door and he’s, like, ‘Why don’t you learn to iron your dress?’ Because she’s so wrinkled!”

Deirdre asks if there’s anything that no one should joke about. “Rape jokes,” answers Adriana.

Why not rape jokes?

“Because taking a situation that’s disturbing and trying to make it funny,” says Adriana, “I don’t think it goes together.”

“It might make it seem like it’s okay because it’s funny,” adds Mamet. “It takes away some of the seriousness of the situation. Serious things should not be funny. Jokes about starving Ethiopians and things like that. I don’t get furious, but I wouldn’t joke about that.”

Erin gives an example. “Dead baby jokes — that’s pretty serious. Nobody likes a joke about dead kids. There was one written on the wall of my old house: ‘What’s the difference between a dead baby and a rock? You can’t f@#k a rock.’ That’s massively offensive, and there’s not anybody that thinks those are funny.”

But she barely even pauses before correcting herself. “Well, actually, there is. There’s always somebody that finds them funny — there are Holocaust jokes that people think are hilarious.”

So is there anything that no one should joke about?

“It depends on your crowd,” says Adriana.

“Yeah, it’s all context,” agrees Erin.

For example: Adriana is white, and her friend Mamet is black. Says Adriana, “With her, I can tell a black joke because I’m comfortable with her. But if I were to say a black joke in front of a stranger, it would be bad.”

A black joke — such as?

“Why are black people so tall? Because their knee grows!”

Once again: audience matters. So does joke-teller: “I know a racist joke about Middle-Eastern people,” says Adriana, warming to the topic. “Actually, a Middle-Eastern person told me. Why are there no Walmarts in the Middle East? Because there’s a Target on every corner.”

“Ooooh,” say the girls — looking in the direction of the banner advertising the campus Muslim Students Association. The joke — to borrow an image from the political cartoonist Jeff Danziger — hits more like an ice cube down the back than a feather to the ribs. Still, it’s not as if any of them are offended, and no one is objecting that a great tragedy has been made fodder for a joke. No one is saying that serious things should not be funny. In short, no one is adhering to the principle put forward only minutes earlier. Instead, they’re sticking with their second assessment — it’s all context.

I don’t point this out to make the girls look bad or to make them look unintelligent. Lots of thoughtful, sensitive people will espouse this or that limit on what’s funny while chuckling over the slaughter of someone else’s sacred cow. College girls face the real possibility of rape; suicide-bombing, less so. So it’s a little easier to joke about the latter. We can laugh because the horror is out there, at a safe distance, happening to someone else. Mel Brooks put it this way: “Tragedy is when I get a paper cut. Comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.”

Jewish Humor

Melinda Wynar has been working with Jewish Family Services as the coordinator for the North County Inland Older Adult Center for the past eight years. The group meets three times a week at Temple Adat Shalom on Pomerado Road in Poway to socialize, listen to speakers, watch movies…and have lunch. There are plenty of jokes here, she says, but few of them are about death.

Wynar is a good deal younger than those she serves — her red hair finds plenty of contrast among the white heads gathered in Adat Shalom’s pale, cavernous social hall. But she’s got plenty of empathy for her elders: “Here, they de-emphasize death, and I’m so glad. People come here because it’s about life, not death. At this point, it’s not a joking matter. You get to a certain age, and the reality is that so many friends are dying, or have died, that it doesn’t become so funny. Here, the humor is a kind of coping technique. It helps to lighten the load.” Before she took this job, she worked at Seacrest Village in Encinitas, “which is the Hebrew home for the aged.” It was there she began writing down the jokes she heard. “I had different clients giving me jokes, and sometimes we would have joke sessions. By the time I moved over here, I had an entire collection. I’d put them in the newsletter. It was just a way of lifting everybody’s spirits.”

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Comments

rickeysays July 9, 2009 @ 2:28 p.m.

I'm imagining the flurry of forwarding this article is going to inspire. That dude sitting at the bar will have them in his pocket next week.

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lindacox July 11, 2009 @ 11:35 a.m.

"Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Anita." "Anita Who?" "Anita better punch line."

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Josh Board July 13, 2009 @ 10:30 p.m.

The classic knock knock joke I love is the one that goes:

knock, knock.

Who's there?

The Interrupting Cow.

The interrupting Cow, Who?

(now, during that last line, you're supposed to interrupt with a "moo", before they finish and get to the "who?" part).

People either already know this joke, or they inevitably mess it up.

Sometimes they don't repeat "The interrupting cow, who?" Or...they just say "What? What does that mean? What's an interrupting cow?"

Instead of them just following along the knock/knock rule of repeating, and adding the "who".

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magicsfive July 13, 2009 @ 11:08 p.m.

thank you. i am officially confused! interrupting cow???????

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Josh Board July 13, 2009 @ 11:58 p.m.

I just finished reading the cover story. It was great, although...I can't help but wonder if Matthew had a conversation with his wife that went like:

"No, you don't understand. I'm going there for the jokes. Seriously."

I think the idea of the strip club having a sign that says something about the women with "...the best sense of humor," is a play on the fact that EVERY STUDY that comes out says that a "sense of humor" is the most important thing a person looks for in a partner. And everyone pretty much feels like that's a load of crap. Because if Roseanne Barr was working at a strip club, a lot less guys would be interested than the one that looked like Pamela Anderson.

I used to play on that whole premise of surveys and what people like, if I met a woman and she started asking me what my interests were. It just seemed so much like the type of question you'd ask on a dating service, that I'd respond by saying "I can tell you what I don't like. I hate walks on the beach. Absolutely hate them." The woman would either smile at the sarcasm. Or get a weird look on their face and ask, "What could you hate about a walk on a beautiful beach?" At that point, I realize I'm probably with the wrong person, but depending on my mood, I might say "Well...the sand just gets in my shoes. The seaweed that washes up is disgusting. And if you aren't careful, a seagull craps on your head. And don't even get me started on the amount of sunscreen I need to use" At that point, they realize they're with the wrong person.

Humor is such an interesting thing. For example the pirate joke told in the story, is soooo much funnier if you drio the word "d--k". Which is surprising, because "d**k" is a funny word (much like the word "p-nis" as discussed in the story) So the joke would go: A pirate walks into a bar, with a parrot on his shoulder and a steering wheel hanging out of his pants. The bartender asks what the deal is with the steering wheel. The pirate looks down and says "Rrrrrrr...it's drivin' me nuts."

Now, the parrot isn't necessary. Just adds a little "color" to the visual. But by avoiding the "d--k" and saying "pants", it makes the "nuts" in the punchline that much funnier, as that's the ONLY blue word you're hearing. So you get that added shock value with the humor.

I hate people that say "I can't remember any jokes." Because, you don't have to sit around memoraizing them. Just remember the five really funny ones. And you can always change the joke, it's the punchline that you need to remember. You can build the story around it (which was, sort of, the premise of the documentary The Aristocrats)

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Josh Board July 14, 2009 @ 12:10 a.m.

A few other things I thought of.

What was that strip club in town, I think it was around 15 years ago...they had a sign that said "100 of the hottest women, and two ugly ones." I always thought that was kind of funny, but had to imagine that the least attractive women working there, had to deal with the drunk patrons that said, "Oh...you must be the one they refered to on the sign."

Anyway...I wanted to comment on the joke about the Santa not "believing in himself." I really, seriously doubt a 9-year-old thought of that. Unless Matt himself, had watched his son working on it for weeks, and coming up with that punch line. It's just way to advanced a concept for a kid to write.

He could've very easily seen it somewhere, and just said it. You didn't know the source, and wanted to be the proud papa.

I remember being 4, and hearing a 7-year-old kid tell someone that he wanted to be an "oceanographer" when he grew up. The adults were so impressed by this answer, that I stole it. For the next few years, any adult that would ask me, would hear that answer. They probably still talk about this genius 4-year-old that wanted to be an oceanographer, and they're wondering what seas I'm exploring. If they only knew it actually lead to a life of putting to use that plagirism I learned so early on.

On the subject of jokes and writing...people with a quick wit are always fun to be around. The things that come out of their mouths.

Since Mary Poppins and the "spoonfull of sugar" came up, I had a joke when Julie Andrews checked herself in for an addiction to pain killers. I said, upon hearing the news, "I don't think it was the pain medication she was addicted to, but the spoonfull of sugar."

The people with me laughed. But I spent days trying to make it funnier. I thought about saying the spoonful of sugar made her addicted to sweets and cookies. Nope. That she tried snorting the sugar like it was coke. Nope. Sometimes the first thing out of your mouth, and the spontanious moment, makes it work best.

And to end with one last observation on strip clubs (haven't been to one in many, many years. honest) The DJs always try to be funny, and never are. Especially when they throw a one-liner out, followed with how we should tip the women because they work so hard.

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