Two bears are taking a shower. One of the bears asks the other, “Hey do you have any soap?” The other replies, “No soap…radio.”
“The joke is,” the informant said, “that it’s not really a joke. It doesn’t make any sense. But if you’re in a group of people and you and a few buddies are in on the joke together, one of you says the joke and everyone else just needs to laugh as if it’s the funniest thing ever. No one else is going to get it. They’re going to be really confused and then from there…it just gets funnier. It’s beautiful.”
Collector: Where did you learn it?
Informant: On a retreat I went on last year, during the drive up, two of the guys [who were older members] in my car did it to us. I had heard similar jokes before, so I picked up on it and started laughing, too. But the two other girls that were in the car had no idea and got really pissed. And even after we explained it to them, that it’s not supposed to make any sense, they didn’t find it funny at all.
I think this “joke,” or rather meta-joke (in which the joke aren’t the words but rather the situation of performance that becomes the joke) beautifully exemplifies the use of prank in liminal space. This retreat that the informant attended, he later explained, was a new members retreat to get the new members situated in the group. Ironically, while the intention of the retreat is to integrate additional people into community, the older members in fact alienated some of them. The informant, however, having figured out the joke earned a kind of place among the “big boys.” When asked if the joke was enacted intentionally as a bonding/alienating experience, the informant clarified that it probably wasn’t. Rather it may have just been an irresponsible prank in which the potential consequences hadn’t been fully recognized prior to enacting it on that nature of a retreat. Nevertheless, the experience illustrates a tension that lies between old members and the new: those who are in on the joke and those who are not. And if you happen to be new and yet somehow in on the joke, then you have only affirmed that you belonged in the group all along, even prior to having joined.
This type of prank emphasizes the binaries that establish identity: the “us” and “them” distinction, the “us” presumably being the originals.