USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘funny’
Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

A Plane Crash Riddle

Main Text:

JM: “There was a plane crash. Every single person died, who survived? The answer would be every married couple because every single person died.”

Context: 

This riddle was collected from my 11 year old sister who is currently in fifth grade and about to go to middle school. When I asked her where or when she would tell a riddle/joke like this, she told me that she would usually tell it to her friends on the playground at recess. I also asked her if it was every common for her to tell jokes or riddles in the classroom and she responded that she usually does not because then the teacher would get mad because it is teaching time and not play time.

Analysis:

One reason that children are passing along a riddle with such content can be explained by analyzing the environment that children are faced with at school. In elementary school all the way up to high school, many young kids and young adults are preoccupied with finding a boyfriend or girlfriend and all of the adolescent urges that are associated with this. The riddle plays off of the idea of there being a difference people single people and married people and for this to be a topic of discussion amongst young people is not really surprising. As said in chapter 5 of the book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres An Introduction, Jay Mechling says that people, especially children make jokes or base their folklore off of things that it has been taboo for them to talk about. Kids around 11 years of age are entering puberty and exploring new things about their body that come with puberty. In other words, one reason that this riddle is being passed around by 11 year olds and other kids in elementary school is that it takes about relationship status which kids themselves find as a constant preoccupation at school which is treated as taboo by most parents. It is also important to note that this riddle was collected from an 11 year old fifth grader who understand that this riddle is an example of a play-on-words and this kind of riddle would probably not be passed around by younger children due to its complexity.

Another main part of this riddle that can be analyzed is its focus on dark humor. Although the answer to the riddle has more to do with the play-on-words than on the subject of the plan crash itself, it is important to analyze why a plane crash would be the plot in the riddle in the first place. According to Peter Narvaez, the author of Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, many jokes and riddles are made to be dark humor. This means that the plot of the jokes and riddles are centered around many dark aspects of life like genocides, death, rape etc as a means to act as a release to those telling the jokes. People have been made to believe that they can not talk about dark experiences or occurrences, so as sort of a way to fight this oppression of speech per se, these jokes are created.

Coupled together, these analyses produce the idea that this joke was created and told among children as a way as addressing the topics that children have been made to believe that they are unable to talk about as well as a release of people’s beliefs on some things that are considered ‘dark’ in the form of humor. These forbidden topics hidden in the form of a joke/riddle allow this riddle and people to continue addressing these oppressed needs without repercussion from adults or other individuals, allowing the riddle to survive and continued to be told hopefully for years to come.

Customs
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

High School Senior Streaking Prank

IG: Ha, every year in high school in the spring the seniors would go to someone’s house who lived next to the high school and take off all their clothes and then we would run through the high school campus and it was really funny because everybody would leave class to watch us and then everybody would get their grade docked because all the teacher were hella against it and then every year the principal would stand there with just his like arms crossed but also like shading his eyes because it was so weird to look at your students naked but it was so funny because we would wear masks, obviously, so it would be kind of anonymous but then one year (laughs) my best friend fell (laughs) and she was bleeding and then somebody- like her mask like sorta fell off and then somebody in the crowd ripped it off so she had to (laughs) she had to run naked and bleeding and her face was out through like- we have a huge campus because it was a really big public school and it was really funny and then once we got to the end of the route of the run the gates were all locked so we all had to climb over a fence which was so painful because your bare legs are out and everything, but it was so fun and it happens every year so you just have to do it even if you don’t really want to-

VG: Oh my god!

IG: Yeah

VG: Where- Where- Where did you go to high school?

IG: ****** High School.

VG: Is that in ****, ****?

IG: Yeah, it has like 4,000 students.

A: Yeah, sorry, that sounds a lot like ****.

IG: Yeah, totally.

VG: That’s so funny though.

IG: It was rite of passage for sure.

VG: Yeah.

IG: Yeah, but also like so inappropriate. We wer-We were on the streets of Berkeley naked cause we had to get from the house to the school.

VG: So, it’s illegal.

(A laughs)

IG: Yeah, exactly. I know! And people were drinking and…I mean you had to get up some nerve- probably a lot of people, so…it was like extra illegal and then you would have friends who would be the getaway cars, waiting for you, which was so hard to ma- like manage because not everyone can fit. And then one year, it was so chaotic that somebody- my neighbor like crashed into another car- not like badly, but he just like skimmed the side, and everybody’s already trying to get you in trouble that day, so then just to do that next to the school was so bad- but then it was ok because the school was pretty lenient because everybody got in trouble all the time…so yeah. It was great.

 

Background:

Location of story – Northern California  

Location of Performance – Classroom, Los Angeles, CA, late morning

 

Context: This performance was done in a group of 3-4 people after a class in response to a question about potential high school traditions, festivals, jokes, or riddles. IG was unsure at first and then was enthusiastic about sharing once she remembered this story. Hers followed one joke made. IG and I are classmates. I censored the high school name for privacy reasons. 

 

Analysis: There are many obvious and severe breeches of normal social decorum as well as the law in the continuation of this tradition. The fact that it still exists demonstrates how integral this performance is to the school and surrounding community’s identity; if they did not see that it was worth the benefits, they would most likely be able to stop with with increased police force or harsher punishments. I think this performance is particularly interesting because it demonstrates that just because some rituals and traditions may be illegal, they are often so engrained into the identity of the community that it is difficult to stop the practice and nearly impossible to remove the memories from the community’s mind if it continues. I myself have participated in senior pranks, but this was still shocking to me. Additionally, I thought it was funny that other student knew the exact location of where this prank took place. Evidently, this prank was not just fitting to the identity of the high school community but to the identity of the town as well. In fact, the other student was not even from the town and was able to identity its attitude and myth. 

 

Customs
Game
Humor

Modifying Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Piece:
J is the interviewer.
K is the interviewed party.

K: “I would like to preface this with the fact that none of these are legitimate rules, I don’t think, as far as they go, and they’re just what I’ve always done. So whenever you go to a restaurant and they give you fortune cookies, right at the beginning, I’ve always heard that it’s bad luck or something to grab one — anyone but the one that’s closest to you. You have to grab the closest one otherwise its either bad luck or your fortune won’t come true or something like that. But then something that my mom would always do, believe it or not, is that whatever you read, whenever you say — it has to — you just add the words, when you read it out loud to other people, you read it and you say your fortune and then you add the words, as uncouth as they are, ‘in bed with a midget.’ So people will read their fortune, and it’ll say, ‘good luck will come to you’ or, ‘good favor’ or ‘you’ll discover something about yourself’ and then you say in bed with a midget at the end.”

Analysis:

Even though they come at the end of Chinese food meals, fortune cookies are actually a known American invention, so they exist as an example of one culture adding to another and being adopted by the new culture. If I ever go to a Chinese restaurant, I feel somewhat cheated if I don’t get a fortune cookie at the end of the meal, knowing full well that fortune cookies have no legitimate claim to Chinese heritage.

Fortune cookies exist for many people as a lighthearted form of the spirituality of another culture. The jovial nature of their existence is a perfect way to incorporate personal traditions of making the experience even funnier. At many of the dinners where fortune cookies are served, I have experienced a similar tradition of reading the fortunes and deciding who had the best one or putting personal spins on the fortunes to make them even better.

Context:

The interviewed party is a 21-year-old, male southern-California native. He lived his whole life in Irvine, California until he moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. This interview was conducted in person at the interviewer’s house. The audio of the conversation was recorded in order to ensure accuracy when writing the spoken words.

Customs
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Cumquat

While interviewing my informant, Audrey, I decided to document her Band Name. She got her Band Name from the upperclassmen of her section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Audrey is a member of the Mellophone section. I asked her to perform her band name to me as if she were asked to “introduce herself” by another member of the band:

 

Killian, who was sitting near Audrey during the interview, chimed in to start her off just as he would when asking another band member to introduce themself: “Who are you!?”

 

Audrey: “Once upon a time my name is Cumquat.”

 

Killian: “Why?”

 

Audrey “Because I Cum Quat-ly.”

 

My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes she is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.

 

According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.

 

My informant’s section gave her a strange because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant is not entirely sure why she is dubbed ‘Cumquat.’ She knows that it’s a reference to the movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Other than that, she is unsure why the older section members decided to call her that.

 

Analysis

I have seen my informant introduce herself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke she gave me is about average compared to the usual raunchy, outrageous jokes the section normally uses, although it requires a little more thought to understand. I think this is a good representation of how Mellophone Name Jokes usually are. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.

 

Humor

Dark and Stormy Night Story

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. I asked if she had any folklore she wanted to share. She asked me if she could share a joke that she learned from her brother in elementary school. I allowed her to perform it for me, and then I wrote it out:

 

It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough. A man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die… It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough, and a man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says, “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die… It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough, and a man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says, “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die…”

 

I then asked my informant for more context of how she learned the joke and when she would tell it. She told me: “My brother was just messing with me. He waa like, ‘you wanna hear a story?’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ And we kept telling it even though we had all heard it. It just never stopped being annoyingly funny.”

 

Analysis

While I have never heard this particular shaggy dog story, I have heard many like it. I am a huge fan of shaggy dog stories because they easily annoy people. Actually, a couple friends had joined us at the table while I was collecting this piece, and one of them angrily left the table when he realized there was never going to be a punchline. It was also good collecting this particular piece with people around because we all got to communally enjoy the joke and laugh at it together.

 

general
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Sexing a Bush

While interviewing my informant, Killian, I decided to document his Band Name. He got his Band Name from the upperclassmen of his section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Killian is a member, and section leader, of the Mellophone section. I asked him to perform his band name to me as if he were asked to “introduce himself” by another member of the band:

 

“Someone would say ‘who are you?’

And then I say, ‘Once upon a time, my name is Sexing a Bush’

Someone would say, ‘why?’

‘Because my dead dad didn’t like to shave down there.’”

 

My informant added after the performance that he doesn’t like to use the same joke twice, and that that’s important for me to note in my documentation.

 

My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes he is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.

 

According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.

 

My informant’s section gave him a strange name because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant informed me that he is dubbed ‘Sexing a Bush’ because it’s a reference to a song from the popular show Crazy Ex Girlfriend. The other members of the section believed that the lyrics of the song fit his personality.

 

Analysis

I have seen my informant introduce himself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke he gave me is very extreme and inappropriate (I debated even including it in the archive). The section normally uses raunchy, outrageous jokes, but I consider this joke a little too outrageous. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.

 

Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Venti Four Logo

While interviewing my informant, Peter, I decided to document his Band Name. He got his Band Name from the upperclassmen of his section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Peter is a member of the Mellophone section. I asked him to perform his band name to me as if he were asked to “introduce himself” by another member of the band:

 

“Once upon a time my name is Venti Four Logo.

Someone then asks me ‘why?…’

Because I’m a Marshal Snake.”

 

My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes he is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.

 

According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.

 

My informant’s section gave him a long, complicated name because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant is dubbed ‘Venti Four Logo’ because of a few reasons: 1. He’s tall, hence the ‘Venti’ part. 2. He has a history of getting coffee at Starbucks, hence the ‘Venti’ part. 3. He’s obsessed with Apple, hence the ‘Logo’ part. He does not yet know how the ‘Four’ part fits into his name, although he recognizes that “Four Logo” is a play on the drink “Four Loko.”

 

Analysis

I have seen my informant introduce himself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke he gave me is a little tame compared to the usual raunchy, outrageous jokes the section normally uses. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.

 

Humor

Anti-Joke

Main Piece: Anti-Joke

 

My brother told me this joke:

 

Brother: “Ask me if I’m a tree.”

 

Me: “Are you a tree?”

 

Brother: “No.”

 

Background:

 

This is my brother’s go to joke and has been for a while, and he finds it funnier than the person who he tells it to. He was told this by a teammate in high school who is around the same age as him, and tells me it is called an “anti-joke.” This was a big thing for a while, when people would begin to tell a joke and the listener would expect a funny punchline, but there really is no comical aspect to the joke. Here is another example of a joke like this:

What is green and has wheels?

Grass, I lied about the wheels.

 

My brother loves this joke because it is generally not seen as funny, but the fact of how stupid it is and how the listener is trying to think of what the punchline is leaves them dumbfounded by how simple it is and how there really is no point to the joke. Some people may think of how stupid the teller is, but once the joke sets in the listener tends to find it pretty comical.

 

Context:

 

This joke doesn’t necessarily have a subject, but is more so something you tell people at a random time when they’re unhappy or need to get their mind off something, because you are so caught off guard by the joke not having a punchline and having no real point.

That being said, there really isn’t a specific time or place when this joke is told, but rather it comes up when least expected and tends to catch the listener off guard, and that is what can make it so funny.

 

My thoughts:

 

I personally find this joke pretty funny, but I have a pretty odd and very far out sense of humor. My brother first told me this one day when I got home from water polo practice after a rough day of classes and the coach ripping me for messing up, and I had a pretty downer mood at that point. He had picked me up that day and could tell I was in a bad mood, and the first thing he said to me was, “ask me if I’m a tree.”

I find the stupidity of anti-jokes to be the funniest part, and seeing the confused and puzzled look on the listeners face more satisfying than the joke itself. I have used this joke occasionally and it tends to put a smile on the listener’s face whenever I tell them.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and the Cold Night

I understand that you like to tell “Mullah” stories. Could you share one with me?

“Mullah is a traditional character they attribute a lot of stories to him… and you know, they’re, they’re, usually as funny stories, but then on the other hand has quite a bit of meaning to every story.

This story goes like this, uhh… Mullah and his friend they were getting together, it was at night. So they were kinda challenging each other if, uhh… anybody can stay out there in the cold, it was really cold, night. And uhh, be able to survive until the morning.

Mullah says ‘well, I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna try that.’

So he stays out there, in real cold, but he endures, you know, and he had some experience, he endures the cold night. So in the morning they get , they get together, and he explains to his friends that he really, uhh… survived the cold, you know, last night.

They said, ‘nuh uh, it’s impossible.’ Uhh… you know, ‘You couldn’t have survived. You must have had some help. Maybe you had some fire? You made some fire?’

He says, ‘No! There was nothing! uhh… it’s just endurance, and I endured the uhh…’ uhh… I… I was supposed to say it in Farsi!” [laughs]

That’s okay! You can finish in English and tell the Farsi version [later]. (And MB did tell the full story in Farsi, but transcribing the entire story in phonetics would take an immense amount of time. I skip ahead here to the English explanation.)

“The English goes like this, uhh, Mullah and his friends, they were uhh, together, and they were getting together one cold night.

So they started challenging each other who can uhh… stay out there in that cold weather and uhh, survive until morning. And if anybody can do it, you know, they buy him lunch.

Mullah says, ‘Oh, I’m gonna try that!’ So he goes out there in the cold, and uhh, really cold night, and it was suffering all night and everything, but he, because of his experience, he endures the cold.

So in the morning they get together, Mullah says ‘You know, I managed to stay out there in the cold.’

But his friend says ‘Well, that’s impossible, nobody can do that. You must have had some fire keeping you warm all night.’

He says, ‘No, there was no fire. But on second thought, I could see a light several miles away. All night.’

His friends say, ‘Well, that’s it! That light kept you warm all night!’

Then Mullah says, ‘Okay, you folks won, and I lost, so I prepare you lunch tomorrow. I’ll make you some, uhh, soup… for lunch.’

They all say, ‘Great!’

They come to his house, wait an hour, nothing happens, two hours, they wait two hours, no sign of lunch. So they ask Mullah, says ‘Well, what’s happening?’

Mullah says, ‘Still cooking!’

They say, ‘Well wait a minute! How long is it gonna be cooking! Let’s go out there and, uhh, see what’s going on!’ So they go out there and see a big pot of soup with a candle underneath.

They say, his friends say, ‘Well, Mullah, this is stupid. This candle is not going to heat up that big pot and make your soup.’

Mullah says, ‘Well, if that light several miles away could keep me warm all night, this candle should be able to also cook your lunch.’

His friends realize that they, you know, made a mistake, and uhh, says, ‘Okay, we’ll buy you lunch, Mullah, you won.’ End of story.”

Note: For a published version of this story, see Houman Farzad, Classic Tales of Mulla Nasreddin (

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture. They are often used for humor and for imparting wisdom to older children, but are commonly told at all stages of life. There are countless encounters attributed to Mullah Nasreddin, and many have been documented in published works. For another version of this story, see:
MB is especially fond of this Mullah story, and was animated while telling it. MB made a habit of telling Mullah stories to his grandchildren after family dinners in order to get them to laugh and to understand more adult concepts like happy marriages, compromises, good friendships, and general wisdom.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Funny Korean Proverb

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she performs a proverb that is very notorious to her because she heard it for the first time after doing something she learned she shouldn’t have done.

Original Proverb: 누워서 침 뱄기

English Translation: “Lying down and spitting.”

The informant was an only child growing up. For this reason, in elementary school, she didn’t have anyone to vent about her parents with. So one time she bad-mouthed her parents to a friend. This friend told her mom, and the friend’s mom told the informant’s mom. The story ends with the informant’s mom repeating the proverb to the informant. The proverb is very apt in this case because the informant explained that she essentially “lied down and spit on herself” because by telling a friend, she invariably ended up telling her mother. The informant believes that this proverb is very significant to know because it can apply to almost anything. It is akin to the concept of karma because what goes around will always come around (or land on yourself as spit in this case).

To me, this proverb is very simple to decipher. I take it to mean don’t do anything that could come back to bite you. This is especially relevant in today’s day and age due to the prevalence of the internet and social media. Everything we do online is documented and saved forever in the archives of the internet. This means something we have published over 5 years ago could be resurfaced at a later date. Everyone knows of very obvious examples of where this has happened, but everyone at one point or another has posted or commented something they would not like the world to see. For this reason, it is imperative that one doesn’t “lie down and spit”. This etiquette is essential to prevent something incriminating coming back to cause harm further down the line.

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