USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘humor’
Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
——————————————————————————————————————–
Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
——————————————————————————————————————–
Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Customs
Humor
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Stamp Out the Name

One tradition of the Jewish holiday Purim is to take measures to stamp out the name of Haman, the man who tried and failed to kill all Persian Jews in the Purim story. This manifests in other little traditions but one of the most literal involves people writing Haman’s name (in English or Hebrew) on the sole of their shoes so then they walk about stamping out the name throughout their day. Sometimes this is even paired with secondary events to maximize stamping such as a footrace.

While never personally observed by this folklorist (my synagogue doesn’t do this) this tradition stands out as a humorously obvious interpretation of the idea to stamp out the man’s name and ergo very believable. It’s an ancient, international holiday; someone has to have done this. The humor is assuredly intentional and adds to the joyous vibe of the rest of the holiday.

Humor

Apples and Lemon Cookies to Remedy a Tapeworm

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

ME: Do you want to tell me the joke first, or how you heard it first?

KM: Um… I think the lead up’s kind of… well, no. No, I’ll tell you the joke first.

ME: Okay.

KM: Okay, so, um, there’s this man who comes back from vacation from… somewhere. The place doesn’t really matter, you can change it from time to time when you tell it. But, uh, this man returns from vacation and his stomach is feeling kind of weird, and he’s not feeling too hot, so he goes to the doctor. The doctor, y’know, checks him up, and closes his door, and he’s like, “I’m sorry, sir, but you have a tapeworm.” He’s like, “Oh my gosh, like, what do I even do… do I take, like, antibacterial medication? What am I supposed to do?” He’s like, “Well, I mean you could wait for it to pass, but that could take who knows how long.” And this guy’s like, “I don’t wanna feel like this forever this is gonna suck, so do you have anything faster?” And he’s like, “Well, why don’t you… we’ll schedule an appointment for tomorrow. And I need you to bring an apple and a lemon cookie.” He’s like, “Okay, fine.”

So he schedules that, goes and buys the lemon cookie, buys the apple, is like, why am I even doing this, this is stupid. So he goes to the doctor, and the doctor’s like, “Okay. Bend over and pull down your pants.” He’s like, “I’m sorry, doctor, what?” And he’s like, “You just have to trust me.” And so, the doctor tells him to shove the apple up his butt, which the man does, and then he waits a few seconds, and then he’s like, “Okay, now you have to shove the lemon cookie up your butt.” He’s like, “Okay.” [Makes shoving noise and hand gestures] He’s like, “Oh, god, that was awful, is that it? Is that it?” And the doctor’s like, “I’m really sorry, but you’re going to have to do this every day for the next six days, you have to do it for a week. But then, on the seventh day, you come back to me and we’ll talk about it. But you’ll also have to bring a lemon cookie and an apple.” He’s like, “Jesus, okay.”

So then the second day he’s like uuugh, okay, that wasn’t so bad. Alright. By the fifth day, he’s like, I am sooo ready just… to die. This is the worst thing. So finally it’s the seventh day, and he’s scheduled his appointment, so he shows up to the doctor’s office with the apple and the lemon cookie like, “Doc, I don’t know if I can do it again.” He’s like, “No. Sir, this is gonna be the last time you’ll have to do this, this’ll be great. Like, it’s gonna be done after this.” He’s like, okay, but the man doesn’t really know what’s different because he still had to bring the apple and the lemon cookie, so finally, the doctor’s like, “Okay. Shove the apple up your butt.” So he does it, and he’s like, “Okay, then the lemon cookie?” And the doctor’s like, “No no no.” And he waits a few seconds, and he waits a few seconds, and nothing’s happening. Finally, the tapeworm SPURTS out of his butt and goes, “WHERE’S MY GODDAMN LEMON COOKIE?” And that’s the joke!

ME: So how did you come across this joke?

KM: This is like, one of my dad’s favorite jokes in his repertoire. He just, like, really enjoys this joke. But actually, he heard this joke, I think, because he had been listening to the radio back when we did that in our cars instead of phone music, or whatever, and so um, there had been, like, a radio contest. And like, you submit a punchline of a joke, and they would select the joke that you got to tell on the radio based on the punchline. And so, the punchline of that joke is, “and the tapeworm spurted out of his butt and said, ‘where’s my goddamn lemon cookie?’” And they were like, “what’s the rest of the joke? We have to hear that.” So that’s how my dad heard that joke.

Context:
KM is a white female college student who has lived in Southern California for her entire life. The first time I heard this joke, it happened because I referenced a different joke where a man had to shove fruit up his butt and she thought I was talking about this one. Instead, we discovered that we had two different jokes with the motif of fruit going up someone’s butt. I asked her to tell me the joke again so that I could record it.

Thoughts:
When KM had first told me this joke about a year ago, the man in it had just returned from vacation in South America. I think that this has to do with a common fear that many Americans have about illnesses one can get from visiting or drinking the water in South America. I think that this joke is clever, because from the elaborate setup, I expected it to end with the man discovering that the doctor was giving him the wrong advice and a play on words or something would explain the misunderstanding. Instead, the doctor’s advice works, which makes it even funnier. I also think that this joke would be easy to change with each telling of it, whether you were to change the place the man had returned from or the foods that he uses to expel the tapeworm.

Humor

A Variation of the “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?” Joke

Main Text:

Collector: “Are there any jokes or riddles that you think are funny that you like to tell at school”

SM: “OO YEAH, I have one! And I think it is realllyyy funny!”

Collector: “Okay, what is it?”

SM: ” Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Collector: “Hmm, I’m not really sure. Why?”

SM: ” To get to the other SLIDE!”

Context:

The informant is a 6 year old girl who attends a public elementary school. I asked her to explain to me as best as she could the reasons why she would tell this joke to her friends. Other than saying it was funny, she said that they like to tell each other jokes at recess when they have nothing else to do and when they are bored. I also asked her where she heard this joke from and she said she learned it from another person in her class when they were playing outside.

Analysis:

In addition to this job being “funny” there are other explanations to why the timeless “Why did the chicken cross the road” jokes continued and still continue to be passed along through all of these years. To use a historical explanation, this joke/question first appeared in The Knickerbocker, a New York City magazine. The issue mentioned it as an example of a quip that might seem like a joke but is in fact a straightforward and unfunny solution. This joke was basically an example of anti humor and not too long after it was published, the line was modified and adapted to become an actual joke format, employing various puns and variations because everyone had already known the original answer to it. Because this joke plays off of the anti-humor aspect where the teller tells something that is not funny which the audience expect to be funny which creates a sense of ironic comedic value, it is important to analyze why people like to use anti-humor for their jokes and riddles in order to understand why this joke keeps being modified and told. More often than not, young children are the ones making variations to this “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke so I am going to analyze the culture of children and why they tend to use anti humor.

 Taking a psychological perspective, young children around the age where they are in preschool and shortly after learn the rhythms and formats of jokes and riddles without really understanding how  humor works, resulting in them saying nonsense like it is a joke, but it not really being a joke.
Adding on to this, kids are very reward-based meaning that they begin to realize that when people tell jokes, they joke teller is rewarded with attention and acceptance. So when these young kids tell these kids of anti-humor jokes and riddles that make no sense, they usually get a lot of positive reactions because it is “adorable” even if it is nonsensical (which also partly adds to the adorableness). This positive reaction the is fed to these young children then teaches and encourages them that it is okay to tell more jokes like these, leading to multiple forms and variations of nonsensical jokes, like we see in this collection. Another thing to understand about children who tell jokes is that kids tend to tell unconventional or peculiar jokes because they have not yet understood what exactly a joke is composed of. What makes a joke is that a joke presents some question or situation and then resolves this question. In other words, kids have not grasped the structure of a joke and therefore continue to tell jokes that make no sense to the listener. Kids are also exposed whether it be through school or their families to many jokes that they probably do not understand, so it makes sense that they think it is okay to put random things together into a joke because that is what they believe that people are doing with the jokes that they do not get.
This misunderstanding of the structure of a jokes as well as the attention they receive when they tell a bad joke accidentally leads to kids forming jokes that resemble more of a complex form of humor, that being the anti-joke. In different words, it is in the psychology and culture of kids to form anti-humor jokes and share them amongst each other and their families. For these reasons, this anti-humor then continues to be passed along from playground to home and because it is rooted in the psychology and social culture of the child I believe it will continue to be passed along for years to come.
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.

general
Humor
Signs

Bellarmine College Preparatory Seal

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains the legend of the reason why his school puts ropes around his school seal at the center of his high school campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: I attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for 4 years as part of my 12 years of Catholic education, which in retrospect, I would not do.  [laughs] So Bellarmine is an all boys school, a little bit of toxic masculinity there… One of the most prideful traditions was… our symbol was the “B” for “Bellarmine,” and so we had in the main quad, uh, imprinted on the quad was maybe a 6×6 rounded print of our logo on the quad.

What the school told everyone–and what we told ourselves–to fit into the standard was that no one could step on the “B,” so everyone walked around it. No one could step on the “B” because it was too disrespectful. Um, and so we do things like try to jump over it, you know like if you’re really risky like I did freshman year, but then one day near the middle of my freshman year, we showed up to school and Bellarmine literally put up ropes around the B. 

No one knows why the B was suddenly roped, but I guess someone must have stepped on it or maybe graffitied it or maybe defaced it? But there’s been stories, my favorite being that, our rival, St. Francis… one of their fine gentlemen defecated on the B. [laughs]

So now our tradition is enshrined, now instead of like a, uh, proverbial “hey don’t step on the B,” now it’s “hm, why does this area look like a crime scene?” It’s because it was a crime scene, probably because that man defecated on our prideful school symbol.

 

Thoughts:

The way Bellarmine treats its school seal is an oikotype of how many schools choose to treat their own school seals. Schools seals are usually incredibly sacred, and touching it (especially before you graduate) can bring you bad luck or be seen as a sign of disrespect towards your school. To maintain school pride, many schools protect this sacred symbol of their school, especially from rivaling schools, who also follow the tradition of trying to deface their rival school’s seals. USC’s rival with UCLA also reflects this type of folklore: during the week of the rivalry football game, USC duct tapes and guards Tommy Trojan 24/7 to ensure that UCLA is unsuccessful in painting Tommy Trojan blue and gold. Similarly, UCLA builds a cage around their school’s bear statue to protect it from USC’s attempts to paint it red and gold.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Serbian Derogatory Roma Joke

“So a Roma woman, a gypsy woman, goes to the gynecologist, and the gynecologist has his gloves on. He notices that his gloves are ripped and notices that his wedding ring has fallen into the gypsy woman’s vagina, So he goes and he looks around and then sticks his head in, and then he sticks his whole body in, and he he is walking around in her vagina. And he sees another man in there who seems to be looking for something. He says to the man, “Hey I lost my ring, have you seen my ring?” And the other man says to him, “No, have you seen my horses?”

Context: This informant, SM, is half-Serbian and was telling my friends and I about a specifically vulgar and racist joke that she has heard other Serbian folks tell her. She explains that the Roma people are all over Europe and some parts of Asia, and are nomadic people. They are known as “gypsy” people, which is a derogatory term as they do not like being called as such. Serbians do not have a positive outlook on the Roma people, as they are seen as beggars and pickpockets. SM explains that sometimes they [gypsies] even use their children to get sympathy and get more money. The stereotype that is used by this joke is that Roma women have a lot of children, hence the size of the woman’s genitals in the story. The joke stuck with SM because of how derogatory and misogynistic it was. SM does not agree with this derogatory speech towards this specific ethnic group, and whenever telling the joke she prefaces by stating her own views towards the joke.

Analysis: Jokes, especially crude ones, are incredibly telling and descriptive of the culture from which the joke emerged. Jokes are a reflection of the things that a particular culture find humorous or witty, or can be a way to allow the persistence of certain stereotypes and essentially make fun of them. For example, the ample number of “blonde” jokes that are basically just jokes about how dumb blonde people–specifically women–are. These jokes allowed the spread of this stereotype across various American communities, leaving many blonde people the burden of having to prove their intelligence–even though none of this is rooted in fact. In this case, the Roma people, and the Roma women are being put down in a racist way, and is a reflection of certain Serbian communities’ views on the ethnic group. The experiences and observations of the Roma People by the Serbian society have influenced the way that they perceive these people. These stereotypes bleed into their jokes as a way to connect with the rest of their community, despite its provocative nature.

Along with this, there is a specific demographic to whom we tell stereotypic jokes. SM would never repeat this joke in front of a Roma person, in fear of offending them or them thinking that she shared the views espoused by the joke. This shows that we alter the way that we share folklore based on the context and the audience.

Game

one word stories (game)

Text:

“When we would sit around the fire at night as kids we would tell stories in the form of one word. Which we would call “one word stories.” So the rules of the game were everyone would sit in a circle and usually the oldest or youngest person would start with the phrase ‘once upon a time there was’ and the following person in the circle, which was always done clockwise, would say one word like ‘fish’. This would then continue until a full story was formed. The stories always were quite comedic and didn’t really make much sense in the end since the younger kids loved to yell out random words that a typical 9 year old would think funny.”

Genre: folk game

Background: The interviewee, VP, is an American middle-aged female. VP resides in Northern California and comes directly from Austria and Latvian descent. VP remembers this game being taught to her by her American friends, however does not remember their exact origins or where they learned the game from. VP states that the game usually would consist of at least 3-4 younger children and often some adults to mediate. She mentioned that his game was played in a variety of locations sometimes around a candle at home or fire at her childhood cabin in Northern California. The game usually was centralized around funny and child inspired stories as it was primarily for the children of the group; the parents, as previously stated, were there to make sure the stories did not take a dark turn. This was a procedure put in place so none of the younger children would end up in tears over a death or other scary fate. VP mentioned that she passed this game down to her children as well, and in hopes they will do the same as it was product for some of her most memorable childhood memories.

Nationality: Austrian and Latvian
Location: Los Altos, CA
Language: English

Interpretation: I, once being a young kid myself, have had a personal relationship to this game as it was passed down to me as a child. I have played this game time and time again with friends and parents. Although the goal is to make sure no one is upset with the twists and turns the story, I remember several participants in tears after certain games. I was left curious with the is game’s concept and its origins, as my interviewee VP had no knowledge of this. A quick Google search later and I found a similar game by the name of Consequences. The game Consequences is not a typical board game, but is self-driven by its participants. There are two variations of the game, written and images based. These two game methods compliment the oral version VP practices which in turn creates a trifecta of written visual and aural stories. One version of Consequences is practiced by individuals drawing lines to create a creature or images, and the latter is done by the following template:

Adjective for man
Man’s name
Adjective for woman
Woman’s name
Where they met
What they went there for
What he wore
What she wore
What he said to her
What she said to him
The consequence (a description of what happened after)
What the world said

Although all three variations of this game are drastically different they focus upon imagination and blind story telling. This game is something that I will definitely attempt to pass on to others to inspire this level of connection and creatively.

Folk speech
Humor

Horse Walks Into A Bar “Dad” Joke

A: A horse walks into a bar and the bartender, and the bartender says: why the long face?

(group laughs and groans)

 

Background:

Location of joke: N/A

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. A was the last to perform his folklore and was particularly inspired after another student performed what was termed as a “dad joke.”

 

Analysis: Prior to A’s performance, another “dad” joke, as the group defined it, was presented. I had my own understanding of Dad jokes prior as just being truly ridiculous in the fact that the punchline was so on the nose…hence the groan. Therefore, my understanding of the effect of “dad” jokes was confirmed through these auditory cues and conversation. It is also interesting to note that dad jokes have no association with father’s at all; possibly this implies that you do not have to be a father in order to be embarrassing – a bad joke will do.

Childhood
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Riddle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Letter “E” Word Riddle

SB: I have one riddle that I know. And it’s what starts with E and ends with E and has one letter in the middle…

VG: Eye.

SB: No (laughs)-

VG: Oh, ha!

SB: Eye? Starts with E, ends with E, has one letter in the middle.

VG: Eye-

SB: What?!

VG: E.Y.E.

SB: Oh, I guess that works too. The riddle is honestly not that exciting- it’s an envelope.

VG: Oh, haha! Where’d you learn that?

SB: Um, well, when I was little I was really into riddles, so I had a little riddle book that my parents gave me, and that’s the only riddle I remember from it…

VG: When did you use the riddles? Just on the- friends?

SB: Yes, I used it as a way to make friends. I thought it would make me more popular. It did with the weird kids, but generally it was not a big hit. That’s why I only remember one.

 

Background:

Location of story – Denver, CO

Location of Performance – SB’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance was done just between SB and I in response to me asking if she had any urban legends, riddles, or holiday traditions. I am very close friends with SB. This story follows one about a conspiracy theory about the Denver airport being linked to Satan.

 

Analysis: This is a prime example of how riddles have been used historically as a social tools. SB was able to implement these in order to demonstrate her own wit to potential friends as well as vet them herself to see if they enjoyed the performance. It is also interesting to note that my answer fit the prompt, but she would still not accept it because that was not how the riddle has historically been performed. It does not matter if my answer is correct because it is not the one that she desired. To me, this demonstrates that the riddles people choose to perform are extremely personal and reflect personal preference, just as choosing clothing or music might indicate.

[geolocation]