USC Digital Folklore Archives / Humor
Game
Humor

Pre–Show Improv Game

Main Piece

Before improv shows, the informant and her improv group play a game where the actors all yell “Give me back my son!” at each other, while trying not to laugh. While it is a game and in some sense a competition, the ultimate goal is to prepare to act emotional while maintaining composure.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The informant found the game very bizarre, although she participated and still participates wholeheartedly.

Context

While amateur improv groups play this game, it is also played by professionals. The game is actually based on a scene from the Mel Gibson movie Ransom. The informant didn’t learn the origin of the game until long after she was taught how to play by members of her improv group, and she told me that she was very surprised when she learned where the game was actually from. She was also surprised when she found out that professional comedians play the game.

Notes

It is very interesting that the informant learned the game and the line “Give me back my son” from other improv actors rather than from the film. This interchange is an example of how authored media can become folkloric and have its meaning changed entirely.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

Family Storytelling Tradition

Main Piece

“If you’re in the middle of telling a story and someone drops something, someone sneezes, anything like that, then you say “the truth” because the universe was conspiring to have that thing happen in order to tell you that that thing that was about to be said is the truth.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of her family and fun family gatherings. To them, it is a reminder of the influence of chance on everyday experiences, like telling a story. The informant learned the piece from their family, and only engages in the tradition when around her family.

Context

The piece is only performed during family gatherings. All members of the informant’s family are from Staten Island, New York.

Notes

I have never heard of a family tradition like this before, and I find it to be very interesting. It seems to me that it has potential to create rather comedic situations if the thing being said is intended to be a joke or is sarcastic, such as “You know me, I am the dumb sibling.”

 

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Police Officers and Guns in Minnesota

Main Piece

“So he… he was a…he was a cop. He was going into the bank, and there were always false alarms at the bank. He was running in the bank and he had a rifle in his hand, and the way he would always check if the safety was on was by pulling the trigger. One time, he was running and he went to check if the safety was on and the gun went off and he shot a statue outside in the ass.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s Great Uncle Nick, but the stories were all originally told to the informant by the his Great Uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the stories until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story.

The informant finds the story very funny, as did everyone else. Everyone who knew the story had a positive memory of both the informant’s Great Uncle and the story. Someone at the funeral commented to the informant the following: “The only thing that would surprise me about Nick [Great Uncle] is if any of those stories [referring to other stories about Nick and guns] weren’t true.”

Although the informant was not born at the time of these events, he fully believes in them and the fact that his Great Uncle Nick was a great, if sometimes irresponsible, handler of guns. The story means a great deal to the informant, and is one of the main memories he has of Nick, who has since passed away.

Context

The informant’s Great Uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

The story and people’s positive reaction to it are demonstrative of America’s somewhat irresponsible history with guns, which is where much of modern gun culture presumably comes from. It is also interesting that people’s belief in Nick’s escapades is unshakeable. He has become something of a ‘legendary’ local figure.

 

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Police Officers and Guns in Minnesota, Piece #2

Main Piece

“One time they were, ah shit, I think they were at the range, and next to the range was a locker room. He was looking at a gun, and he asked if it was loaded, and someone said they didn’t know, so he pointed the gun at the wall and pulled the trigger. The safety was off, and the bullet went right through the locker and went through someone’s police jacket, and the owner never found out where the hole was from and never got a new one. Oh, and one time he blew a hole in the roof of a squad car while testing a shotgun.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s great uncle Nick, but the stories were all originally told to the informant by the his great uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the stories until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story.

The informant finds the story very funny, as did everyone else. Everyone who knew the story had a positive memory of both the informant’s great uncle and the story. Someone at the funeral commented to the informant the following: “The only thing that would surprise me about Nick is if any of those stories weren’t true.”

Although the informant was not born at the time of these events, he fully believes in them and the fact that his great uncle Nick was a great, if sometimes irresponsible, handler of guns. The story means a great deal to the informant, and is one of the main memories he has of Nick, who has since passed away.

Context

The informant’s great uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

The story and people’s positive reaction to it are demonstrative of America’s somewhat irresponsible history with guns, which is where much of modern gun culture presumably comes from. It is also interesting that people’s belief in Nick’s escapades is unshakeable. He has become something of a ‘legendary’ local figure.

 

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Movie Quote Passes Into Normal Speech

Main Piece

The following is often quoted in the informant’s family: “You fall behind, you get left behind.”

For the origin and correct wording of this proverb–like quote, see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Directed by Gore Verbinski, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003.

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Connecticut

Language: English

The informant’s immediate family say this to each other “all the time” whenever someone is moving too slow. The informant’s family first learned the quote together while watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, but the quote is no longer a reference to the film, as it has become a regular part of their speech pattern. It functions like a proverb.

Context

The informant and their family misquoted the line. The actual line is “Any man who falls behind is left behind.”

Notes

The interchange between media and folklore is exhibited here and is very interesting. The quote is not really a proverb, but it is not really fakelore either, because the film did not do anything intentional to pass it off as fakelore. It is interesting how misquoted lines are themselves something of a folklore genre; one of the most famous movie quotes of all time, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is “No, I am your father,” but it is usually misquoted as “Luke, I am your father.”

 

Foodways
Game
Humor
Material

“Thumper”

Main Piece

The following game is called “Thumper.”

“You all get around a table, and you go like this…”

The informant then did a drumroll on her thigh before imitating a call and response using two distinct voices:

”What’s the name of the game?”

“Thumper!”

“Why do we play it!”

“To get fucked up!”

I asked the informant to explain the rules, and she said the following:

“You all have symbols, you do like a fight on or something, and you do the symbol while you’re drum rolling, and you do a symbol while looking at someone and they have to do another symbol and look at someone else, and if you do a symbol that doesn’t exist or you mess up, you have to take a shot.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Los Angeles

Language: English

Context

The informant learned the game at USC from other USC students.

Notes

I had never heard of this game before, but I find it interesting that there are so many diverse different drinking games with the same, ultimate goal: to get everyone extremely drunk.

 

Game
Humor
Initiations

Paranoia

Main Piece

“So Paranoia [the game] is when you get a bunch of friends and sit in a circle. You whisper in their ear a question, usually about someone in the room, you say your answer out loud [name of person] and then you flip a coin, if it lands heads up, you have to reveal the question.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Los Angeles

Language: English

The informant learned the game from the internet and other people who she played it with. The informant loves playing the game because through it, you can learn about your friends. The game can be, according to the informant, “wholesome or not wholesome,” in terms of the information discussed.

Context

The game can be played while drinking but is usually be played without drinking. It is not a drinking game.

Notes

I find the use of games as a form of group identity building to be incredibly interesting. People can either be honest and potentially risk an awkward moment or give a fake answer, but the two options have vastly different implications in terms of what the group might think of them and how the participant in the game chooses to present themself.

 

Game
Humor
Musical

Pre–Show Chant

Main Piece

The following is chanted: Ooh I feel so good, like I knew I would, ooh I feel so good, ooh (pause) I (pause) feel (pause) so good!”

According to the informant, each person in the circle would do the chant once in their normal voice, and then everyone would do it as an impression of someone else, often a teacher or famous act. Finally, everyone would get into a tightly knit mob and say the following: “Little bit softer now, just whisper, mouth the words [with “mouth the words” being mouthed, not spoken], little bit louder now, shout it out!”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

The informant clearly enjoyed the tradition, as she laughed a lot while telling the story and performing the chant. They learned the chant from other members of their theater group, and it now reminds them of the fun they had while in the group.

Context

The chant was done before the informant’s theater performances in high school.

Notes

When I have previously heard this chant, it has always been performed by high school football teams. I find it very interesting that such vastly different groups can use the same chant to get excited before a performance or a game.

 

Game
Humor
Initiations

Overtly Sexual Theater Tradition at a Catholic School

Main Piece

It’s only done at shows, after we do this whole energy circle and this prayer because its catholic school. Then, whoever’s in charge says “practice room, practice room, etc” to whoever is relevant, which we use as one of the dressing rooms, it’s in the hallway. The two people who are the presidents of the musical or whatever, or whoever is willing to do it goes like, everyone take two fingers, and place them on your nipples! [Over one’s clothes] And rub and hum! And then you go, “louder” and then you go “louder” and then you go “scream!” and then you go “have a good show everyone” and someone turns the lights on [the lights are turned off during this ritual] and then everyone runs out.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island

Language: English

The informant learned the tradition from other students, and it has been going since at least 2013, but likely much longer. The informant laughed a lot while telling me this tradition, so it seems to be lighthearted with the intention of being fun. However, the informant did say that it was quite weird. Most often included in the tradition are those who would be considered “popular.”

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic high school where this practice took place.

Notes

This tradition is an example of high schoolers being overtly sexual and although it is seemingly harmless, it also seems very odd and potentially uncomfortable given the potential age gap between Seniors and Freshmen. That said, traditions like this seem to be very common amongst theater groups. I am curious as to the exact reason behind this phenomena.

 

Game
Humor
Musical

Overtly Sexual Theater Tradition at a Public School

Main Piece

“The guys would go into a room and praise a plunger, and during the show girls would try and steal the plunger. Also, there was a pre–show girl’s song about being a lady:

“We’ve got vaginas, (vaginas), the ovaries too, we’ve got the boobies (the boobies), a

higher IQ, we are women and we are better than men”

Next, after the show, a female cast member would sing about a boy in the cast:

“Oh, (name of the boy), please don’t touch me, please don’t touch me, as I slither…” This is all that the informant could remember of this particular song. “The song would end in orgasm noises,” according to the informant.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The informant found the first song about being a lady to be funny, while she thought the song after the show to be quite strange. Neither song had any particular meaning to the informant, other than serving as a fun and engaging way to prepare the group for their show. The songs were all learned from older members of the theater group, who learned them from students who have since graduated.

Context

The informant attended a public school in an affluent area near San Francisco. This tradition has been carried out since at least the early 2000’s and is still going on.

Notes

“Theater kids” as they are called are often stereotyped as being hypersexual, and songs and practices like this are part of the reason why. I find it interesting that the same songs, although they may have changed a bit over time, are still being sung. One might think that over the course of more than a decade the way teenagers engage in sexually explicit conduct would evolve, but in this case the practices remain the same.

 

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