Informant: “So, the joke goes… There was this guy who was on a trip to England for fun. The guy was maybe 40 years-old and this was a huge deal for him. He had never left the United States before and only spoke English so he thought that going to London would be the best option for him. Before he left, he needed to make sure his house was going to be taken care of. He also has a cat, and he is a lonely man so this cat has been a part of his life for many years and he loves it very much. So, before he leaves he asks a close work friend to watch over the house and stop by to feed the cat everyday while he is gone. His friend agrees and so the man leaves on his trip to London.
After being in London for 3 or 4 days he gets a phone call from his friend.
He starts by saying, “Oh hey! How is back home? I have had the most fun so far in my entire life here. Met a girl even. Everything going well over there? How’s my house?”
The friend is like, “Oh well… its been good. The house is fine, but I called you because something happened…”
“Oh god. What happened?”
“Well, I came by this morning to your house to feed your cat and I found him dead on the floor of the kitchen…”
“What? How did he die? Why did you tell me he died?”
“I don’t know how he died. He was fine the day before. I swear I didn’t kill him. I know this cat meant a lot to you and I am so sorry it had to happen while you are away.”
So kind of mumbling over the phone while thinking outlaid the man goes, “Ok.. well… he was getting old. I understand. Now I have to book a new flight and head back home tonight so I can handle this whole cat issue… I guess I can call the woman about our date and maybe she’ll understand and keep in touch..”
And the friend jumps in a says, “No, you don’t need to do that! Just tell me what you would like done with your cat and enjoy the rest of your trip.”
“How can I enjoy it knowing I’ll be coming home my a dead cat? In all seriousness, dude, why did you even tell me. Couldn’t it have waited till, like, the day before I was coming home?”
“I know, man. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know if you would want to know immediately or not. In hindsight I probably should have waited. But what could I have even said if you asked about how your cat was doing over the phone? I suck at lying.”
“I don’t know. I mean, you could had said something like, ‘Oh hey, something happened to your cat. He’s stuck on the roof and wont come down’ or whatever.”
“Alright well, I’m sorry. Had I known, I would’ve said that. I got to go, but call me later during your trip and I’ll let you know how everything else is going.”
So the guy is like, “OK, bye,” and per his friend’s advice decides to stay in London and call back home next week to check in.
The guy goes on a date with the woman he met and thinks he has found his match and, like, he is loving London and has even started to think about possibly extending his trip. The only thing is, the guy periodically keeps thinking about his cat and gets very sad knowing that he has died and wasn’t there to be with him. It doesn’t help that his new girlfriend, Catherine, goes by the nickname Cat. Nevertheless, a week goes by and he calls his friend back home.
“Hey, how’s everything going? Anyone miss me back there yet?”
His friend let’s out a small laugh and goes, “No, only me. Wish you were on your way back home…”
“Well, I was actually thinking of extending my trip… so I might stay in London a little bit longer. I love it here.”
And the friend is like, “Oh, don’t make me say it, dude!”
The guy is a little worried so he asks, “Did something else happen?”
After a short pause, the friend responds, “Well, yes. Your mom is stuck on the roof and wont come down.”
Context: The collector is the niece of the informant, and the original hearing of this joke was told at a dinner party. However, the transcription of the joke itself was collected at a later date from the same person. The story, from my memory, was relatively the same with subtle differences in the exact wording. The only wording that remained the exact same was the final quote from the friend.
Informant Analysis: The informant heard this joke from his best friend from college in Boston many years ago and said that he remembered it because he found it so hysterical. He said that his friend is from England originally so maybe that was the reason for the story always originating in England. He also said that he has told this joke probably more than 100 times to random people or friends if the time is right. Particularly, he noted that it is best told when people have been drinking. When asked why he thought the story was funny and what he thought it meant, he said that it was the relatability of being in a situation where you have to relay bad news to someone. He also said that he thought it is interesting to make a joke about something so serious and intimate as the death of one’s mother, and that if it meant anything, it meant that if there is anything that could possibly go wrong in a handful of situations, the death of one’s mother is perhaps the worst.
Collector Analysis: The easiest way to describe why this joke is told is because it is funny. However, the factor that makes a joke a joke is always because of its humor. So to merely analyze this shaggy-dog joke through its humor is not enough. Therefore, I am going to attempt to analyze it through its specific content.
With regard to content, this joke obviously plays upon the dark humor of death. There is something intrinsically funny to make light of dark situations. It is also very common. It has been studied that humor can work as a way to communicate pain more easily and even relate with the pain of others in an objective way. In this particular joke, despite the main character being at the receiving end of pain, there is also pain in the friend having to tell a son about the death of his cat and mother. I would argue that the humor doesn’t come from the protagonists pain, it actually comes from the pain of the friend being the herald of bad news. This joke also pokes at the natural tendency for people to avoid pain by utilizing euphemism or oblivion. The folk phrase, what you don’t know cant hurt you, seems like a common thread in this story. As we see, the cat’s death brings about the preferred euphemism the man would have like to hear. The phrase of “the cat is stuck on the roof and won’t coming down,” is a way to defer the pain much like the function of a euphemism. However, the joke made about this euphemism is that it can only be said when describing a cat— not an old woman. I believe the story also points to a liminal part in ones life where the identity of son is being ripped away, which is a commonality in many jokes. Furthermore, it points to timing and its occasional irony. This man who had never left the United States was suddenly met, at the exact time of his departure, with two deaths that necessitate him being home. There is entertainment in such horrific coincidence since most people can relate to bad timing of certain situations. There is another interpretation which may or may not have credibility: the relationship of the United States with England. England is considered the mother of the United States by many. It is curious that in this story, it is only upon the death of his mother that he must return home. Metaphorically speaking, it is the death of the motherland (England) that causes the man to return home. However, this may be considered too abstract for this particular joke lore.