Tag Archives: childrens humor

Playground Taunts

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Brick Wall

Waterfall

Boy you think you got it all

You don’t

I do

So poof with the attitude

Loser, whatever

Flyaway forever

Where’d you go?

Loserville

Population? You!”

Context: The performer explained that traditionally this taunt was chanted in elementary school, usually from the age ranges of eight to eleven. She explained that most of the time, they chanted it on the back of the bus on the way home from school, usually with friends. She mentioned a social heirachy on the bus, which stemmed from the fact that children were all different ages but lived in the same area, so the third graders, who didn’t like the fourth graders and so on, would chant it back and forth in a playfully “mean” manner. Sometimes it was targeted at a specific person and other people would join in.

Thoughts: Growing up in a different state from the performer, I had not heard this chant before, nor did I ever take a bus to elementary school. Still, I think the chant is amusing, especially looking at how it eases tensions for young children in a way that isn’t violent or truly hurtful. Instead they trade somewhat playful stock insults, which other children are encouraged to join in on. I wonder if there was a standard rebuttal phrase the performer and her friends would use if others sang this at them. The comment about the age-related hierarchy is also interesting, presumably because this sort of chant would only be learned by listening to old kids singing it. In addition to the lyrics, the performer had simple hand motions to accompany the lyrics (“where’d you go”/shrug, “population, you”/pointing at other person).

Llama Song

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Happy llama

Sad llama

Totally rad llama

Super llama

Drama llama

Don’t forget Barack-a-llama”

Context: The llama song was traditionally performed around age eight and stopped around age eleven. The performer cannot recall any particular reasons for starting it up, it was just the sort of thing chanted on the playground when bored. The llama hand motion (ring and middle finger touching thumb and pinky and index pointing up to form a llama head) was essential to performance.

Thoughts: I am familiar with the llama song, despite growing up in a different state than the performer. Her version has slightly different, more appropriate lyrics, despite the rhythm and the hand motions being the same. The part that surprised me the most was the final line “don’t forget Barack-a-llama,” because it specifically dates the song around the year 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected as President of the United States. Contextually, I think that this reference is an interesting measure of what children pay attention to—most elementary school-aged children would not be aware of politics before the 2008 election, but the event was memorable enough that proper nouns stripped of all political or historical meaning would work their way into children’s playground folk culture. The preoccupation with llamas is something else I’ve always wondered about, because I recall other childhood songs and jokes about them. I think it’s a combination of the unique spelling (the double “ll” is not common for English speakers), the inner rhyme of the word “llama,” and the fact that llamas were a rarer animal than, say, dogs or horses. For young children just getting familiar with the English language, the word “llama” is both easy to rhyme and funny to describe, as demonstrated with this song.

Violent Barney Song Parody

Main Piece:

(to the tune of the Barney Theme Song)

“I hate you

You hate me

Let’s get together and kill Barney

With a baseball bat and two-by-four

No more purple dinosaur!”

Background: The performer is a friend of mine in his early twenties. He spent his entire childhood in Long Beach, California and now lives in Tacoma, Washington. He went to public school in the Long Beach Unified School District from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and his elementary school (grades kindergarten through fifth) had around five hundred kids in it.

Context: The informant hadn’t sung the song since elementary school, but he was willing to perform it for me anyways. In a traditional context, the Barney spoof would be sung on the blacktop by children ranging from seven or eight years old all the way through elementary school (10 to 11). A remembers learning it from kids a few years older, hence the dark material.  After singing it, A seemed a bit embarrassed and shocked at his parody and asked me why we all had such animosity for Barney in particular.

Thoughts: Though I did not attend the same elementary school as the informant, I can remember similar violent Barney songs. I wonder if the informant’s school had ever tried to ban them the way mine did for their violent and sometimes gory rhetoric. It’s strange how it seems so disturbing now; A and I both thought the songs were very funny as children. I suspect that Barney was a popular target because of his infantilizing dynamic and dopey voice, as opposed to other childhood PBS characters like. Elmo or Dora the Explorer. Anti-Barney humor is actually a well-recognized phenomenon, in both adult and children folk groups alike. For young children, the violent humor can be a way of navigating changing worldviews and increasing maturity—the graphic gore or death taunts are a schoolyard form of taboo humor, a way of rebelling against previously held-notions of childhood and asserting that they are more mature than parents, teachers, and popular children’s shows might regard them.

Tweet Tweet!

Context:

The subject is a child in elementary school. I asked him if they had any inside jokes that they could share with me and this is what they said.  

 

Piece:

Subject: At school we had a rainy day one time and  at lunch the teacher wasn’t in our room so the visor lady would check on us sometimes. And, but we wanted to go on our iPods cause we can’t do that with the teacher there. So we had someone stay watch at the window and every time the visor lady would come they would yell “Tweet tweet” and then we’d put all our stuff away for when she’d come in and check. And we’d switch off sometimes on who would watch the window.

Interviewer: That’s really smart. So do you only do it on rainy days?

Subject: We started doing it at lunch and stuff when it’s not raining so that we can go onto our iPods on the playground and stuff.

Interviewer: Have you gotten caught?

Subject: No, not yet. I don’t think we will cuz it’s a pretty good plan, we always know when there’s a teacher or a visor lady around.

 

Analysis:

I think this is a common experience in childhood. Despite the addition of the technological advancement in the iPod, someone’s always delegated to be the lookout for adults on the playground. It’s comforting to know that certain things just don’t change.

 

Boy Named Butt Itches (Children’s Joke)

[The subject is CB. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a joke that she heard from a friend around third grade, but has remembered to this day.

CB: Um, there’s a boy named Butt Itches. And his mom named him Butt Itches, yeah. And, uh, he’s about to start school, and he goes to school for the first day, and his teacher’s like, “What’s your name?” And he’s like, “My name is Butt Itches.” And the teacher’s like, “That’s not really your name, like, that’s a fake name,” and he’s like, “No, really, that’s my name.” And she’s like, “You know what, if you don’t tell me your real name, I’m going to send you to the principal’s office,” and he’s like, “No, my name is Butt Itches,” and she’s like, “Go to the principal’s office.”

So, then he goes to the principal, and the principal’s like, “What’s your name?” And he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches.” And, um, the principal’s like, “No way is that your name, like, tell me your real name,” and, uh, he’s like, “No, really, my name is Butt Itches.” And the principal says, “Okay. If you don’t tell me your real name, I’m gonna call the police.” And, um, he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches,” and so he calls the police, and the police come, and they hold a gun up to him. And they’re like, “Tell me your name!” and he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches!” And they’re like, “That’s not your real name! Tell me your name!” And, uh, he says, “No, my name’s really Butt Itches,” and they say, they say, “If you don’t tell me your name, we’re gonna shoot you,” and he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches,” so they shoot him, and he dies, and right at that moment, his mom is walking by, and she runs up to him and she says, “Oh, my poor Butt Itches!” And the police officer says, “Would you like me to scratch it for you?”

Thoughts: This joke is very clearly a children’s joke, and one of the most obvious signs of this is that it uses tabooistic vocabulary, which is popular in children’s folklore. Beyond that, though, it reveals more about how children look at the world: the antagonists in the joke are all authority figures, and the child, who is the protagonist, is not really doing anything wrong by telling them his name, but he is punished by them anyway, which is how children may feel when they are punished. It also displays a childlike idea of how levels of authority work in society, with the teacher ranking under the principal, who ranks under the police, which are the ultimate authority because they have the power to punish children the most severely, which, in a child’s mind, would be by killing them. The punchline of the joke is also a kind of dirty tabooistic humor which would understandably make the joke more enjoyable for children, and in addition to all this, I can tell that the joke is from a Western culture because it is told in three levels, with Butt Itches having to defend himself to three different audiences before something happens.