USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘humor’
Folk speech

“Dark in Here!”

Context & Analysis

The subject is a BFA in USC’s School of Dramatic Arts Acting program, which is extremely competitive. I asked him if he knew of any theater traditions or sayings specific to USC’s theater program. I included the full dialogue of our conversation below for clarity.

Main Piece

Subject: ‘Dark in here’ is a big one for the BFA’s. Any time the lights turn off someone just has to go ‘Dark in here!”

Me: What’s the context of that?
Subject: It was a line in a scene and we—Mary Jo probably made them do that line for an hour straight.

Me: Who’s Mary Jo?

Subject: Mary Jo Negro is the head of undergraduate acting at USC, she’s our acting professor, she’s the one that cuts us [laughs]

Me: So what play was it taken from?

Subject: It’s a 10-minute play called ‘Tape’. It’s very bad. [laughs]

Me: So why did it become a saying within the BFA’s?

Subject: Uh, because we’re the ones that had to run through it for an hour—it was just that line. And so then every time the lights turn off we’d have to go ‘Dark in here!’—so the lights turn off and he [the main character] goes ‘Dark in here” and so now any time any professor ever turns the lights off somebody goes “Dark in here” and I hate it [laughs].


Feminist Riddle

I am a big fan of riddles, and I decided to search online for some specifically geared towards exercising the brain. Below, I recorded one I had never heard before, and most stood out to me


Question: Three doctors said that Robert was their brother. Robert said he had no brothers. Who is lying?

Answer: Neither, the doctors were his sisters.


I enjoy this riddle because clearly it is clever, but beyond that, I like that it is a slight take on feminism and misogynistic undertones. It merely suggests our mind is trained to associate siblings with firstly brotherhood, and also careers such as doctors. Usually, a classic feminist motivation is to clear up sexism in the work force, specifically in demand-driven jobs such doctors, surgeons, lawyers, etc. To me, this is an interesting example of folklore because I think it offers historical, political, and social context of feminism. It reflects, depending on when this riddle actually emerged, on a certain social climate of the time. It would be even more interesting to learn of the origination of this riddle.


Website Citation: For more references of other similar riddles, visit the following URL:




Riddle of the Days

I am a big fan of riddles, and I decided to ask my friend, marked KB, if she knew of any. She shared with me one.


Question: Can you name three consecutive days without using the words Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?

Answer: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.


Phone conversation in which I recorded KB’s recounts of folk similes as well as a riddle she grew up learning.


KB is a freshman at the University of Southern California and grew up in Austin, Texas.


I enjoy this riddle because it is clever and something I never would have thought of. It would be interesting to further research this riddles origins and possibly link it to specific heritages or cultures.


Old Age Proverb

The following proverb was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked HL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a proverb she was told growing up from her Grandmother.


HL: “Experience is a comb that nature gives us when we’re bald.”

CS: “Can you explain to me a brief translation?”

HL: “Sure. In other words, I think it’s meant to be along the lines of how as we age we are gifted more experience and knowledge over time. I like it. We said it all of the time in my house.”



HL is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Mission Viejo, California in a family with a strong Catholic background.


An in person conversation at a local coffee shop.



I enjoyed this proverb because it feels very frank, honest, and has an air of optimism. Instead of making age and growing up a dreadful future, it appreciates the growing because one gains much more knowledge and experience than they previously had. I think this saying is really important and something that could very well be spoken across many different kinds of cultures. I also enjoy its lighthearted and almost humorous tone, making the words less serious and indefinite and instead suggestive and admiring.



Lobster Joke

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

EC: My favorite joke of all time…I think I told this on the Weekender. I tell it every year on the Weekender, but…What’s the difference between a dirty bus stop and a um lobster with implants? …One’s a crusty bus station and the other’s a busty crustacean.

ZM: (laughs) That took me a while. Did you come up with that one yourself?

EC: No, I saw it on Tumblr in like 2000 something (laughs)


Context: This was recorded after I asked EC if she knew any good jokes.


Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis:I liked the interplay between the Internet and oral tradition. A lot of the time I think of how oral tradition is transferred to the Internet but not really about how it could go the other way. In this case, EC read a joke on the Internet and continued to spread it orally for years.







Folk speech


“You ever hear what happened to the two guys who stole a calendar? The both got 6 months”


Background: Justin is 23 years old and both raised in and currently residing in Calabasas, CA.

Context:Justin used this joke at Passover dinner.

Analysis: Jokes are a very subjective form of entertainment and rely completely on your audience. I never tell jokes, so I always enjoy when someone else knows a bunch off the top of their head. Justin told this joke at a large family dinner, which is, in my opinion, the perfect audience for a quick, witty joke such as the one told. I almost enjoy an audience’s reaction to joke-telling more than the actual joke itself on occasion, because the delivery and timing is so crucial for the joke to be accepted as hoped.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Joke of the Google Self-Driving Car

Background information:

Palo Alto in the Silicon Valley area is located in California and is beautiful in a myriad of different ways. It is close to nature, has beautiful architecture, and is an extremely environmentally conscious, friendly, and accepting location. I grew up in Palo Alto since I moved from Sweden to the United States when I was almost six years old and went to high school just around the time that Google started releasing their self-driving cars to test-drive around in the Palo Alto and Mountain View area, as Google’s headquarters is located right next to Palo Alto in Mountain View. The Google self-driving car projected was later named Waymo, but people always referred to these unique cars as the Google self-driving cars.


Main piece:

Because I was enrolled in high school around the time that Google released their self-driving cars out into the public traffic, I would often see them on my way to school and driving around my neighborhood. They truly began to gain popularity throughout my junior and senior year of high school (2015-2016), however, which was just around the time that everyone my age was receiving their driver’s license. Therefore, as more and more high school students started driving themselves to and from school, and Google started releasing more self-driving cars into the public, students my age would often run into them in the traffic to and from school everyday. The Google self-driving cars are amazing in their technologically advanced feats, but the one striking problem is that they drive very slowly. Therefore, because they are extremely slow cars, people would often get stuck behind them on the rush-hour getting to school and leaving school, so getting stuck behind the Google self-driving cars became a local joke in Palo Alto that people would always use if they were running late or to simply be funny.


Personal thoughts:

I am very grateful to have lived in the Palo Alto community because there are countless technological advancements around us everyday. Some of these advancements come with their host of disadvantages, however, as was seen with the Google self-driving cars. I remember being very frustrated when I was in a rush and ended up behind one of these cars because there were often very few ways to get around them and they often contributed to the traffic overall, so it is nice that there are no Google self-driving cars near USC.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Talko Supreme

While interviewing my informant, Brianna, I decided to document her Band Name. She got her Band Name from the upperclassmen of her section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Brianna 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:


Brianna: “Once upon a time my name my name is Talko Supreme”


In the background, Peter aka Venti Four Logo says “whyyyyyy?” He’s sitting on a couch nearby where I am interviewing, and chimed in like he naturally would when another band member was introducing themself.


Brianna: “Because when you’re with me, you’re gonna eat out.”


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 dubbed ‘Talko Supreme’ for a couple reasons: 1.) My informant is Mexican, hence the name’s play on ‘taco supreme.’ 2.) My informant is known for talking a lot and being very social, which is why the first part of her name is “Talko.”



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. 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.


Salvadoran Joke Proverb

” No te mais, aquien temio”

Literal Translation: Do not be afraid, of he has been afraid

Joke translation: Do not be afraid, of he who has peed on you

The literal translation comes from the proper Spanish from Spain. The way it is used in El Salvador is they make the last word into two words turning it into “pee.” This joke is usually told to  friend or close family member that is having a bad day or is anxious. My father heard this joke from his friends.

I asked my dad for some folklore while walking to the store.

My informant is a building engineer. He migrated to the United States form El Salvador when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a city in El Salvador. Lots of the folklore he has heard has come from his family.

What is interesting about this piece is how a slight shift in space of a word can change the meaning of the whole proverb. Salvadorans are known for being jokers. They like to call it being “trucha.”


Lebanese Donkey Joke

My informant heard this joke from her father.

So there is this gypsy that used to go around and buy donkeys. You know the gypsies are seen as kind of tricky. He bought this donkey from this man. He goes… uh… to another village to the bazaar. The gypsy was selling the donkey over there and he sold it. So this man so now he needs a donkey. So he went to the bazaar to buy a new donkey. So he found this donkey and oh my god he liked its color; it was blue and red. He said “I’m gonna buy this donkey.” He bought it for five times more than the donkey he sold. So he bought the donkey and was riding on it home. And you know the donkey knows it’s way to the house. This donkey was going without even directions, without gps. Just going right, left, right, woooo! So this guy came down and find out his pants are all red and blue. So he looked at the back of the donkey. And it was raining when he was riding. So what happened is the gypsy painted the donkey and sold it for more. Hahaha! He bought the same donkey!

My informant is from a Lebanese family. She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore from her family.

The Lebanese culture has a lot of donkey jokes. It was interesting to see how the stereotype of gypsy gets passed down into this story. Gypsy are for the most part seen as subhuman. Another interesting thing is the simplicity of the joke.