USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘doctor’

Ironic Doctor Joke

Would you mind sharing a joke from your childhood with me?

“This is a joke that my dad, uhh, told me. Uhh… [tells the joke in Farsi, but the phonetics are muddled in the recording.]

The English translation is that my dad told me that ‘Whenever you get sick, be sure to go to the doctor. Uhh… Because, you know, the doctor has to make a living, he has to live. So when you go to the doctor, make sure you get a prescription, and take it to the pharmacist, and get your, you know, get your medication, because the pharmacist has to make a living too, he has to live also. And when you get your prescription, make sure you don’t take it yourself, because you want to live, too!'”

And what was the context that that would be delivered in, like, why was that a joke, why was that funny?

“Uhh, generally, everybody’s out there to make a living, you know, but you want to make sure it’s not at your expense. So you’re not a, uhh, sacrificial lamb for everyone else to make a living.”

Analysis: Keeping with the trend of cautionary proverbs and stories, this ironic joke from MB explains through humor that not everyone, even often-trusted authorities, ought to be trusted outright. With Masood’s background growing up poor in Iran, this may make some sense, but it is interesting to note how often distrust or wariness comes up in the lessons that he and Tahereh were taught when they were growing up.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke: A Lawyer, Doctor, and an Engineer

Informant: “So, a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer go golfing and they’re out there and they’re trying to play but there is this foursome in front of them who are god-awful, and they are hitting the ball but they are hitting it all over the place, sometimes it seems as if they can’t even find the ball, and their shots are just terrible. And, so the threesome, the lawyer, the doctor and the engineer, they call over the course manager and say ‘can you just help the group in front of us speed up a little bit, either that or just let us play through because this is just getting really obnoxious.’ And the course manager says, ‘oh I’m sorry you guys, but that’s Fred, Bill, Bob, and Joe and uh they are local heroes they are firefighters that saved a bunch of children from a school that was burning down uh but they all lost their sight so we try to do our part and let them play the course for free.’ And, they’re taken aback and the lawyer says, ‘oh, my god that’s awful well I’ll contact my legal firm and see if we can do anything, to help them maybe work with new resources to help them with their sight and at least help them with all the problems they must have now,’ and the doctor says, ‘oh, that is terrible, well I’ve got some friends who work with blindness research and I’ll see what they can do,’ and the engineer looks and his friends and looks at the course manager and says ‘why can’t they just play at night?’”

The informant is a young man from the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a freshman at USC and is majoring in Environmental studies. He is also an active member of his school community, participating on several club teams and is an honors student. In addition, the informant is close with his family.

The informant heard this joke from his dad, who is an engineer, when he was about eight. The informant said that his father repeats this joke often because his father finds the joke amusing.

The informant likes this joke because “I golf and my dad golfs, because its fun to listen to engineering jokes, and because my dad has that background, and probably because he tells it so often.” So, the informant also uses this joke to connect with his dad.

This joke is a form of occupational lore because it stereotypes three professions – lawyers, doctors, and engineers. This particular joke depicts engineers negatively because rather than try to find a way to alleviate the difficulties of the firefighters, as the other two professions do, the engineer is still focused on the earlier (and more self-centered) problem that the firefighters are completing the golf course slowly.

Folk speech

Joke: The Doctor and his Chauffeur

Informant: “So there is this doctor and he’s famous, he’s not super-duper famous, but he’s pretty famous. He gives quite a few talks and all these things. He’s got one particular talk that he gives a lot which is sort of his spiel, people like it, he’s sort of got it down. He has a chauffeur who always drives him around to his various speeches and things like that, and this chauffeur sits in the audience at uh for all of his speeches, he just sort of waits around. So one day, in the car, the doctor says to the chauffeur, ‘you know you’ve probably heard my speech tons of times and you probably know it by heart right now. I’ve given this speech a lot, you know its good, but I’m a little bored of it, why don’t you for once just go up on the stage and you pretend to be me and you give the speech,’ and so the chauffeur says ‘ok, yeah sure, I’ll do that.’ And, he accepts the offer and so for the next speech they go there and the doctor puts on the chauffeur’s outfit and the chauffeur dresses like the doctor and pretends to be him. And so, he goes there and the doctor sits in the audience as the chauffeur and the chauffeur gets up onstage and starts giving the talk. So he begins, and its going well, its good, he’s got it all down, it’s clear that he’s listened to this speech a lot of times, and so he’s getting towards the end, and its all perfect, and it gets to the end and… he nailed it, all well. So its all good, applause, nobody could tell it was not the doctor. The audience loves it, and it goes to the question and answer session as it usually does, you know, fairly typical questions. And then, one person raises their hand and then they ask a question that’s never been asked before. So, the chauffeur is up there on stage and he is thinking, and then he says to the person… that is the stupidest question I have ever heard in my life, even my chauffeur could answer it.”


The informant is a young man who comes from Mission Hills,San Diego and describes himself as relatively “quiet and introverted” and “nerdy.” The informant is a sophomore neuroscience major at USC and works in a neuroscience image and understanding lab, which focused on visual research. It was from the professor in this lab that the informant heard the joke. According to the informant, the professor he works for is “just filled with stories. I’ll go to say bye to him and he just tells me all this stuff.” According to the informant, he learned the joke when he was working in the lab; while they were discussing research, they got sidetracked and the professor told him this joke.

The informant likes this joke because “its got this long buildup and you chuckle at a few things because you think the joke is coming up, but its not. You wonder if the speech is going to work or not, you keep thinking something is going to go wrong, but it’s only at the end that you get the punchline… Its superb. My professor’s told me a lot of things, not a lot stuck, but that did.” The informant uses this joke around friends to “break the ice.”

This joke utilizes a particularly long narrative form, and it gains part of its humor from the suspense that it creates. As the informant said, this joke has a particularly long buildup which defies expectations and is why the informant found it so funny.

Folk speech

The Sexist Doctor Riddle

The following is a riddle my informant told to me:

A man and his son were driving down an icy road. When they took a corner, the car flipped. After a while, two ambulances came, one took the father to a hospital in the west, the other took the son to an hospital in the east. The nurses rushed the son into surgery, because he was losing a lot of blood. The doctor entered, and after looking at the boy exclaimed: ” I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son!” How can this be?

Answer: The doctor is the boy’s mother

My informant told me that he tells this riddle often at parties or to his kids’ friends. Half of the time people guess the answer right away, but the other half of the time it completely stumps them.

When I first heard this riddle from my informant I could not figure it out. I thought it had to do with the sun rising, or another meaning of the word: “son”. As it turns out, it just reflected how the term “doctor” is still associated more with men than with women. I believe that this riddle is important because it pokes fun at the sexism of American society.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech

Proverb Parody – American

The informant says he learned the following proverb parody from “social interaction at some point” but doesn’t remember exactly where:

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but only if you aim for the head.”

The informant claims that he “normally wouldn’t” perform the proverb parody unless someone else brought the proverb up first.

He thinks that “the whole ‘apple a day keeps the doctor away’ thing is dumb to begin with.”

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” the non-parodied version of the proverb, is part of the parameiological minimum for speakers of the English language. The informant did not specify why he felt that the proverb was foolish, but it may be because there is no nutritional reason to believe that eating an apple every day would keep the eater healthy. This version, which implies that throwing the apple at the doctor would be a more effective way of keeping him away, scoffs at the idea that eating an apple each day would have any great effect. Joe Schwarcz, the author of An Apple a Day: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Foods We Eat, agrees: “It is certainly possible to have a good diet and never eat apples, just as it is possible to gorge on apples and have a horrible diet” (7). This proverb parody, like many others, serves as a vehicle for mocking traditional wisdom.


Schwarcz, Joe. An Apple a Day: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Foods We Eat. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007.