Category Archives: Humor

Chinese High School Military Training

Context: All across China students join a mandatory military training for two weeks to a month before officially entering a public high school. The training usually takes place in the school. Students live in their dormitories together, and parents are not allowed to visit. Trainings are conducted by soldiers and head teachers. 30 to 50 students in the same class are trained together to learn basic marching techniques and military formalities. Trainings also include disciplinary housekeeping, for instance, military standards for making the bed are enforced. However, actual combat techniques are not taught.

The interviewer and the informant went to two different high schools in Qingdao, China.

Interviewer: Did you guys sing or chant during the military training?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, that was probably the only fun thing during the two weeks. It was kinda intense though.

Interviewer: Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s the same for your school.

Informant: Did you do the 1234567 one? hahaha that’s the only one I remember. I feel like they’re all the same no matter which school you go to…because the officers are all from the same troop hahaha.

Interviewer: Yeah that’s the one! Can you do it for me? Was it between two groups of students?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, but I think you do it with the officer, it’s like a “imaginary enemy” situation. So the officer yells things at you, the goal is to get you excited, then you guys [the students] yell back at him.

Interviewer: So you yell back at the officer, but you’re actually talking shit to another groups of people that are not there?

Informant: Yep. It’s basically shit talking. It’s called “pull the song” (拉歌,la ge), but it’s actually not a song. ok, here we go.

original script: 

officer: 对面唱得好不好?students: 好!

officer: 再来一个要不要?students: 要!

officer: 让你唱! students: 你就唱!

officer: 扭扭捏捏! students: 不像样!

officer: 像什么? students: 像大姑娘!

officer: 一二! students: 快快!

officer: 一二三! students: 快快快!

officer: 一二三四五? students: 我们等的好辛苦!

officer: 一二三四五六七? students: 我们等的好着急!

officer: 一二三四五六七八九? students: 你们到底有没有!

Phonetic (pinyin) script:

officer: dui mian chang de hao bu hao?

students: hao!

officer: zai lai yi ge yao bu yao?

students: yao!

officer: rang ni chang!

students: ni jiu chang!

officer: niu niu nie nie!

students: bu xiang yang!

officer: xiang shen me?

students: xiang da gu niang!

officer: yi er!

students: kuai kuai!

officer: yi er san!

students: kuai kuai kuai!

officer:  yi er san si wu?

students: wo men deng de hao xin ku!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi?

students: wo men deng de hao zhao ji!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu?

students: ni men dao di you mei you!

Transliteration:

officer: Opposite singing good or not?

students: Good!

officer: Another one yes or no?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Looking coy!

students: Not like anything!

officer: Look like what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Translation:

officer: Is our opponent’s singing good?

students: Good!

officer: Do you want another one?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Coy and sissy!

students: Not like other things!

officer: Like a what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Analysis: The chant is taught by the training officer to students. It’s performed often during breaks, when officers and students from different classes can mingle with each other. It softens the training atmosphere and boosts morale in a lighter tone. The chant is fairly rhythmic and easy to follow. The fact that it’s chanted between a class and their officer implies that the chant is performed to show aggression, but rather to foster the unity and identity of the class itself. It does not specify who the opponent is, and in fact the identity of the opponent does not matter. The pure existence of an opponent framed in the chant leads to emphasize that the class is an entity and it might face obstacles from the outside environment. 

“Like a what—Like a girl!” This detail shows another element of identity formation in teenage students. The military training happens at the liminal point of when a child is separated from their parents and absorbed into a completely new, pre-adulthood collective. The format of the military training, with the hyper-emphasis on order, obedience, and aggression, reinforces the patriarchal social order. Thus the liminal period of adolescence is enforced with patriarchal social expectations. 

The one being emasculated becomes the weak and the oppressed, and emasculation then becomes an act of aggression.

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

The Joke A Dog with No Nose

Informant: It’s a very short joke.

Interviewer: That’s perfectly fine. Just tell it how you know it.

Informant: Okay. A dog with no nose, how does he smell? — Terrible!

Interviewer: You don’t wait for someone to ask how?

Informant: Not usually. Usually everyone knows the punchline so we all say it together.

Informant: Who’s the we? Where did you learn this?

Informant: Well I think I learned it from my father, he was always making silly jokes like that. Everyone learned it so quickly that it’s a bit hard to say. I remember hearing it during a big party at a small house. It must have been a Sunday because Sunday was when you went to see your family. I remember that because it was something everyone used to get hysterical about, everyone would roll about laughing.

Background: The informant believes she first heard this joke from family. She was not sure if she heard it from her father or older brother who was in the army. They were very close so it’s difficult for her to say who came up with it first, or if they heard it from someone else.

Context: I was asking my informant to recount things she remembered from her childhood and she remembered a few songs and this joke specifically.

Thoughts: It appears to be more of an inside joke but every British person I’ve interacted with appears to know it, but they always play along if they’re asked. It is probably incredibly popular because it’s an easy joke for children to remember and is incredibly easy for them to share to other kids.

The Joke: Boston Crow Story

Informant: have you heard of Boston Crows?” ‘No?’ Okay so, in Boston New York, there has been a recent discovery of these special crows that are smarter than your average crow. They have these white speckles, making them very distinct. They’ve been recorded learning how to talk, do routines, and a lot of other things. People started considering them the local pets, almost, but people then started to find a lot of the same crows dead. The outcry got researchers to look into this, led by avian expert Dr. Roseburg. Rosenburg theorized there were many possible factors: different life spans, specific diseases, or predators. So the team observed the crows, trying to find the cause. They found a very interesting behavioral pattern. These crows mated for life early on and would spend a lot if not all their time with those partners while foraging. The most frequently visited places for these crows were the sides of not very busy roads, where people threw out trash of their windows while driving by. This is when scientists discovered something, a majority of these birds were dying due to being hit by vehicles. But these crows were not stupid, they had a very good system of communicating with one another. One bird would sift through the trash while the other sat on a nearby sign post or something and be look out. When a vehicle came along the look out would alert the one down in the gutter so it could fly out in time. But some birds still got hit, for you see, while it’s very easy for a crow to say ‘cahr’… it is very difficult for them to say ‘truck’.

Background: My informant states that they learned this joke from Reddit but they don’t remember the original name of the person who posted it. They first told the joke close to how it was originally written but quickly developed a game out of it where they’d try to spin the story for as long as they could. Their record was 30 minutes

Context: I asked my informant about the joke specifically because they took pride in making the story longer every time they told it. Over Discord I told them to make the story as long as they wanted, they sent me this version a day later.

Thoughts: This is a wonderful example of a shaggy dog story, and allows a lot of creativity on the half of the teller. As long as the punch line isn’t altered you can make it as local or as distant as you want. It was also a great joke to hear someone tell if you already know the punchline, for then you can simply watch the reactions of others who haven’t heard the joke before. I believe I found the original post my informant was referring to on reddit, please see:
docpepson. ‘The Crow Mystery‘. r/Jokes. Jan 25, 2008. www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/1l888r/the_crow_mystery/. Accessed March 22, 2020.

Engineering vs. Arts Degree Joke

The graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?” The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?” The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?” The graduate with an Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
Context
In a group discussion including college freshmen and high school seniors over what major the students were studying or thinking about studying, one high school senior said they were trying to decide between being an engineering major versus an art major. One of the college freshmen then shared the joke. The group was comprised of students and alumni of the robotics program, so all were at least thinking about pursuing STEM majors.
My Thoughts
This is a commentary on the massive pay difference between the average engineering (most STEM) majors and arts majors. It is a way for the rivalry in high school between those who are more STEM minded versus the arts-minded to poke fun at one another. The joke can mean a couple of different things. One, it can be a reminder to students who have interests in both fields that a job in the arts is less stable and guaranteed paycheck wise than a career in engineering. The second is to feed the ego and feelings of superiority that many want-to-be-engineers have in the pre and early college years (and beyond for some).

Engineer’s Rounding Joke

Piece
“pi=10, it also equals 3 and e=3 so pi=e!”
Context
When talking about safety factors, the informant, an engineering student, shared the joke. Because engineers are always concerned about the safety of the users of their products (because getting sued is no fun) and like to account for the things more difficult to account for, one way to introduce a safety factor is to make pi equal to 10 in all calculations. This massive rounding then prompted the follow up of simply rounding e (~2.718) and pi (~3.14) could simply be rounded to 3 for simpler calculations and that error would be accounted for with the safety factor.
My Thoughts
This joke has some practicality to it by reminding engineers to have large safety factors to ensure the safety of their designs, it is also a joke on the rather flippant view of numbers that engineers have as it doesn’t always need to be precise but simply overkill enough for the application. I also relate this to the idea that engineers are lazy and so create processes and machines to ensure they can be lazy at the desired times. Multiplying or dividing by 10 is about as lazy as it gets in math.

My Father’s Favorite Yiddish Joke

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my father/informant (JET). 

JT: So here’s the story. A man owes another man money, but the guy who owes the money doesn’t have any money. It bothers him so much he can’t sleep. So, on the day that it’s due, at like three or four in the morning, he goes and knocks on the other guy’s door. And he says “you know that money I owe you? I don’t have it, I can’t pay you.” And the other man says, “okay” (laughs) “so why are you telling me this at three in the morning?” (laughs) And the first man says “Bis jetzt hub ich nisht gekennt schlufen, jetzt solst dee nisht schlufen!” That means “‘til now, I couldn’t sleep, now you shouldn’t sleep!” (laughs). 

LT: I love that one. Can you explain the punchline a little more? 

JET: Yeah, it kind of plays with your moral compass. Sure, he couldn’t pay the guy back. But hey, he was honest! 

Background: 

My informant is my father, whose parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated from Poland to New Jersey without speaking any English. My father was raised primarily speaking Yiddish around the house, and he learned English mainly at school. This particular joke is a classic Yiddish joke and was one of my grandfather’s favorites, who told it to my father throughout his upbringing. My father likes this joke “because, first of all, it’s funny,” but also because there’s a lot of truth in it: “It would really bother you if you couldn’t pay someone back, if you have any morals at all, but the thing about that line is the roles get flipped. Now it’s the other guy’s problem, and it must really bother him to know he’s out of money!” 

Context:

While I’m not in quarantine with my informant/father, I do call him every day, and this piece was collected during a routine call. 

Thoughts: 

I like this joke because it plays on a famous Jewish stereotype. Although it’s never explicitly said, all the characters in Yiddish jokes are jews (unless specified otherwise). One of the most widely known stereotypes is that jews are stingy. Well, this joke is about two jews who don’t have any money. However, they do have other virtues that play into the joke. The first is generosity. The fact that the man’s debt couldn’t be repaid means that the other man gave him money in the first place. The second virtue is honesty. The man not being able to sleep at night shows how he was uncomfortable leading the other man on. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, is a sense of humor. There are so many ways to tell someone you can’t pay them back, but the man did it in a punchline. While this story probably isn’t true, what makes it funny is that it could be. Everyone in the community knows people who have the characters’ qualities. In addition, virtues like generosity, honesty, and sense of humor are what I think of as some of the core values of the Jewish community. 

Naughty Nursery Rhyme- Driving Down the Highway

Context: My informant went to elementary school in the ‘70s and sang me this song he said was used to pick on other kids you didn’t like. He told me it was a song that everyone knew, and everyone was afraid to have it sung to them. He remembers it today because of how funny he thought it was as a child.

Song Lyrics: 

    Driving down the highway, highway 64

    [Name] ripped a big one, it blew out the door

    Engine couldn’t stand it

    Engine blew apart

    All because of [name]’s supersonic fart

My thoughts: This definitely sounds like a song you would sing to make fun of friends and enemies. I hadn’t heard this song, and no one my age that I’ve talked to knows this song, so it must have gotten less popular as the years went on. I looked it up and found different versions for different regions. Here’s a link to an archive by hosted by Straight Dope where you can find different versions of this song, and other “naughty kid nursery rhymes” https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-271331.html

Viola Joke

Main Text:

“What’s the difference between the first and last stand of the viola section? About half a bar.”

Background: The informant who told me the joke is a man in his early 20s. He grew up in childhood in Southern California and now attends school at the New England Conservatory of music. He is currently earning a bachelor’s degree in viola performance.

Context: The informant says these jokes mostly come up in orchestral contexts and are typically told by people who play other instruments in a well-meaning but mocking manner. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, as shown between me and the informant, who told viola jokes back and forth for a while despite both playing it as an instrument. He recalls a particular conductor who, when waiting or stalling for time, would prompt the entire orchestra for good jokes (the majority of which, of course, were directed at the viola section). When asked why violas are such a popular target for humor, the informant speculated that it’s just an awkward instrument, and that violist have a history of being worse than violinists. My informant finds viola jokes funny, yet somewhat annoying because they’re such an overused format amongst musicians. He cannot recall where he learned this particular joke from the first time around, but it’s been retold on many occasions across several different orchestras he’s played in.

Thoughts: I would agree with the informant’s assertion that violists are more awkward—though not universally true, the types of personalities that gravitate towards playing viola tend to be more laid back and less competitive in comparison to violinists. In addition, the viola covers a lower range, and in classical music, is often given background parts where the cello or violins will get the melody. As a result, the standard musical repertoire tends to be less challenging.

The actual nature of the joke is rooted in music terminology—the first stand, seating-wise, is considered to be the leaders of the section, and they are located in the first row, directly in front of the conductor. In comparison, the back row will be further away and behind, usually directly in front of the winds and brass. A bar, or a measure, marks phrases in a piece, and each one has the same number of notes as the time signature. Essentially, this joke is saying that the back stand does not play in time with the front one, and this is evidence that violists are bad musicians.