USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘humor’
Humor

Hagop and Dr. Vartan

Hague goes to Dr. Vartan.

V: You are such an educated person, why did you go to a witch doctor?

H: I don’t know.

V: What was the stupid thing he advised you to do?

H: Well, he said to come to you.

Background information: This is an Armenian joke. Hague and Vartan are recurring characters in Armenian jokes.

Context: The informant told me this joke in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is a funny joke, in which one person’s questions backfires on himself and leads to him being insulted to his face. Dr. Vartan wonders why Hague was stupid enough to go to a witch doctor, whose practices Vartan doesn’t believe in (it makes sense – the doctor would obviously think he knows more, since he is formally educated in medical matters). He then asks what was the stupid advice given (since he doesn’t believe in the witch doctor’s powers), and Hague fires back and tells him the stupid advice was to go to Vartan. It is a witty joke, and a clever and inadvertent way to insult someone.

 

folk simile
Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

“Hacer Conejo”-To Rabbit

“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.

Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Pastuso Jokes

The following are jokes about people from a region of Colombia that is far removed from the capital of Bogota. They are known as Pastuso Jokes. They are usually very long like most Colombian jokes which usually follow long storytelling format so I picked 3 of the shortest to give a fair representation. These were repeated by my grand uncle at an Easter dinner and different ones are told at every gathering.

The Pastuso having just arrived in Bogota wanted to go to the market and was told that he could wait for the bus or walk there, he was given directions that said “go to the other side of the street and make a left at the corner and then walk two kilometers and the market will be on the right side of the street.” He waited for a while and no bus arrived but he saw a man on his front lawn, he went over to the man spoke to him and crossed the street again. Then still uncertain, he asked someone who was now waiting at the bus stop and asked “where is the other side of the street?” The man said “it right over there (pointing to the man on the lawn)” and the Pastuso said “but I was just over there and they told me the same thing.” (Insert laugh here)

A Pastuso went to the Capitol (Bogota), he was told by a someone who was from the capitol to remember that money calls to money – meaning those who have money seem to attract others with money so that a peasant from Pasto would largely be ignored- so not expect too much. But the Pastuso, never having been to the capitol was super excited because he thought of a plan. He went to the bank and exchanged all of his small bills (100 pesos) for the largest bill he could get (20,000 pesos) and then he went outside of the bank to wait for the bank to close. After the bank was closed for the day he shoved the 20,000 peso bill under the door of the bank holding it by the corner, hoping the bill would call out to the other bills in the bank. But a gust of wind came and he lost grip of the bill and it was sucked into the bank. The Pastuso stood up scratching his head and said “I guess all those bill in the bank called out to my bill more loudly.” (Insert laugh here)

A Pastuso went to the store to buy a poncho, and asked the storeowner how do I put on the poncho” The store owner looked at the Pastuso and said “just open up the poncho and put your head through the hole, easy.” So the Pastuso went home and spread out the poncho on the floor and jumped head first into the hole. (Insert laugh here)

Analysis: The last one is my favorite because it is actually the most translatable and therefore the funniest. My grand uncle Arturo loves telling “Pastuso” Jokes They are the American equivalent to dumb blonde jokes or Polish Jokes. Pasto is a city in the southern most regions of Colombia near the boarder of Ecuador nestle in the Andean Mountain range, making the city very isolated. The people who live there are mostly peasants and uneducated blue color workers. Probably because of its isolation more than the average IQ score, they have been the targets of jokes that exemplify extreme acts of stupidity. The distance from the Capitol does make Pastusos appear to be more provincial especially when they come to the big city. These jokes seem funnier in Spanish, especially when drinking vast amounts of alcohol. A lot is lost in translation.

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
Humor
Narrative

“Whatever you do, don’t step on the cracks”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB was taught by his grandfather as a child to not walk on the cracks on the sidewalk to avoid bad luck:

AB: “When I was little, I would visit my grandparents on the weekends with my younger brother and we would sit in the family room all together after dinner. My grandfather would tell us all kinds of stories of when he was a kid growing up. He told us that his father would always tell him to never walk on the cracks on the side walk because it will give you bad luck for 7 years.”

How did your grandfather’s father learn about this type of lore?

AB: “Well, I asked him one day about the meaning behind the story and he said that his father learned it from a buddy of his when he was a kid. He said that his friend heard it from the neighborhood kids. My grandfather said it was mostly to be meant as a joke, but some of kids took it seriously, like my grandfather.”

Does this folklore have any significance to you?

AB: “Ya it’s pretty funny how it actually does mean something to me. Ever since my grandfather told me and my brother this story, I have been very conscious to walk a certain way to avoid the cracks in the ground. I know it’s mostly a joke and not meant to be taken too seriously, but just knowing the idea of the potential bad luck that can come from stepping on the cracks makes me more aware to avoid them. It’s pretty funny how seriously I take it sometimes.”

Have you shared your grandfather’s story with anyone else?

AB: “Ya I’ve told my buddy NC and a few other friends growing up about the story and it’s pretty funny now I have them doing the same thing. We know it’s not meant to be taken too serious, but I think it’s funny how much of an impact it made on all of us. Even at our age today we are still very mindful of the bad luck that can happen if we step on any cracks.”

Have your friends carried on this folklore in any way?

AB: “My brother and my friend NC have definitely shared this story with their friends just to mess with their minds in a joking way. They find it entertaining to make people feel that bad luck can happen if you step on cracks. It has become a running joke between all of us and it has managed to freak other people out.”

Analysis:

The informant’s example of oral folklore shows just how a story can cross boundaries between different groups of people and influence their everyday lives. It began with AB’s grandfather’s father who initially carried on the story, but now AB and his brother have continued to pass the story along to their group of friends. I find it interesting how this story has turned into an inside joke between friends, but how it also had such an impact that it managed to make them aware enough to avoid any chances of being struck with bad luck.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

“Il n’a pas la lumière à tous les étages.”

JN is a 19 year old student at USC studying neuroscience and French.  Most of her family lives in Chicago, but they’re from various European countries. She has travelled the world extensively, and she lived in France during the second semester of her sophomore year of high school. Here is a humorous example of French folk speech that she learned that year:

This is a French proverb that I learned when I was living in France.

It goes “il n’a pas de lumière sur toutes les étages.”
And that basically translates to the English version of “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer” or “He’s missing his marbles” or something like that. So it literally means “He doesn’t have light on all of his floors” so it means, oh he’s kind of missing something, or he’s kind of “dim”.

Where did you learn this from?
I heard my host mom and dad say it a lot especially over the phone when they were talking to their friends. I understood the words and it kind of made sense to me that it was that French translation of our English expression. I overheard it from them and then asked what it meant and then I made the connection.

Why do you like it?
Because I learned it from my host parents and it’s definitely a colloquial French saying- it makes me feel more fluent in French to know those things that you can’t just learn the classroom. Plus I think it’s kind of funny!

 

My thoughts: I agree with JN when she says that when it comes to learning a new language, it is the colloquial expressions-the folk speech-that makes the leaner feel that they are truly a part of that culture. It was interesting to see that this French proverb had parallels in English with “the light’s on but no one is home” or even “not the brightest bulb in the box”- different languages and cultures have similar ways of expressing the same idea figuratively.

general
Humor
Riddle

Big Book of Riddles

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: Do you have any riddles?

D: Well there was this riddle book that I used to love. “Big Book of Riddles” by Bennett Cerf. The book is probably 40 to 60 years old, and my parents still have it. I loved reading it with my kids when we visited them. The riddles were for children, but everyone always had a good laugh. My kids and my wife and I go though the book every time we visit. It has gotten to a point where we know every riddle in the book from memory.

Me: Can you tell me some of the riddles?

D: Sure. Why do firemen wear red suspenders?

Me: Why?

D: To keep their pants up!

Me: Ok.

D: What did the pig say when the farmer caught him by the tail?

Me: I don’t know?

D: This is the end of me.

Me: That’s a good one.

D: What do you call something that’s big, red, and  eat rocks?

Me: Umm.

D: A big, red, rock eater!

Me: They really gave these a lot of thought didn’t they.

D: Well the thing is, if you make it simple and put a small twist in it, it makes it a lot funnier.

Me: Hmm.

D: What makes more noise than a cat stuck in a tree?

Me: Uh…I have no idea.

D: Two cats!

Me: Wow.

D: What time is it when there is an elephant sitting on your fence?

Me: …

D: Time to build a new fence!

Me: Oh my god.

D talks about the book fondly and still gets a good laugh out of them. The are just stupid, dumb fun and he enjoy’s the feeling of being a kid again when reading them. The book still remains in his family after 40 to 60 years! His children will likely pass the book down to their kids as well, and if not the book then at least their favorite riddles. It’s funny how something so simple and childish and seemingly dumb can bring someone so much joy. It’s funny to think that reading a book of riddles can be a family tradition, but it is.

Here’s the link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Book-riddles-Beginner-books-Bennett/dp/B0007DL5JU/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=415%2BjVvyVCL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR115%2C160_&refRID=05WW8ZMV8F9E8CX6H72H

 

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Narrative
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Testudo the Turtle and the Virgin Graduate

Then there’s the folklore of Testudo. It’s the statue at the University of Maryland, of a land turtle, a terrapin, it’s this big turtle it sits on a big granite, uh…pedestal, in front of the library. And his nose is really shiny, because people rub his nose for good luck. Whenever you pass by him. And the legend is that when a virgin graduates from the University of Maryland, the turtle will do a backflip. And no one’s ever seen the turtle move. Put that in there!

 

Do you remember when you first heard it?

 

Orientation! Freshmen orientation.

 

Who told it to you?

 

The Orientation leader.

 

ANALYSIS:

This turtle statue is clearly a point of pride and identification for the University and its students. Located in the middle of campus, and symbolic of their school pride (it being their mascot), it is in the public eye and everyone seems to participate in the traditions surrounding it. First, there’s the belief that if you rub its nose you will have good luck – which is a unifying ritual that all students can share, and enforces their school culture. Second, the joke that implies that no virgin has every graduated from the University of Maryland is also clearly a point of pride and culture. And third, the fact that orientation leaders distribute this tale to new students as a kind of intitiatory introduction to what the school culture is all about, shows that the students pride themselves (and make fun of themselves) for “getting around” and having fun in college. This is saying to the new students, welcome, you will have fun here and I promise you will get laid in college – with a subtle warning that if you don’t, everyone will know you’re a virgin because the statue will do a backflip! You don’t want that humiliation or want to kill the tradition.

Adulthood
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Dean of Men’s Daughter

“She was only the Dean of Men’s Daughter,

With an IQ of twenty-three,

But the things that we college boys taught her

Could’ve earned her some sort of degree.”

 

Where’d you get that song?

 

University of Maryland!

 

So you learned that in college.

 

Yeah. 1965.

 

Who’d you learn it from?

 

I don’t know, some college boys. Some graduate student. In engineering.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a folksong that most kids at the University of Maryland presumably learn, from other, older students. It suggests school pride in being raunchy and sexually active, and there’s also a clear dynamic of gender roles embedded in the joke. The girl is either naive or provocative, but it’s the boys that show her the ropes and supposedly “corrupt” her. She is also obviously dumb, if she has such a low IQ. The fact that she’s the Dean’s daughter makes her a catch, because she’s highly unattainable and in a sense, off-limits, as well as perhaps easily corruptible because of her ‘stupidity’. Or maybe she’s dumb but attractive, so the boys don’t care. The fact that she’s the dean’s daughter makes her low intelligence funny. So this suggests the boys at U of Maryland can get away with things, and can persuade or manipulate even the most unattainable girls. They can have their fun and still stay out of trouble with the administration.

Contagious
Digital
Game
Humor
Magic

Love By Chainmail

Chainmail is a fairly well-known form of folklore, and has been around for a long time. Chain mail letters can be anything from handwritten letters to emails to texts and are typically sent to a group with some sort of either beneficial or warning message attached, as incentive for the person on the receiving end to pass the message along to more people.

An example of such a message is one my roommate shared with me that had passed around our sorority. The message read:

“You have been visited by the ghost of Helen M. Dodge! Pass this on to ten sisters in the next five minutes and she will give you good luck for the rest of the week!”

 

Thoughts:

Chain mails seem to fit into the category of contagious magic and involve belief a great deal. They are contagious in that in order for the receiver to either alleviate any harm that may come, or to ensure any benefit, from having read the letter, he or she must pass it along to X amount of people. The magic of the letter passes along with it and integrates into the daily lives of those who receive it, or it at least claims to do so.

 

Chain mail letters are really interesting in their relation to belief because I would bet that if you asked a large group of people if they believe in the power of chain mail letters to affect their lives in either positive or negative ways, the majority would say no. However, these letters are constantly passed around. They can be fit into the category of superstitious as well as contagious magic—perhaps it is the fear that chain mail letters may in fact have some power, some magic, that drives people to continue passing them along.

This particular chain mail letter doesn’t run the risk of being harmful to the person receiving it in any way, but perhaps the receiving individual may feel that they are to be at a loss if they don’t pass it along.

Or, perhaps chain mail letters get passed around as a way of continuing community. They are a means of reaching out to 5, 10, 15 friends who you haven’t talked to in a while. Or the particular chain mail letter you have received is funny so you want to share it with three of your friends you think would find it hilarious. Chain mail gets a pretty bad rap, yet its continued existence makes me think there is some part of its communicative, outreaching nature that people like.

For another example of chain mail letters, see Dan Squier. The Truth About Chain Letters, 1990, Premier Publishers.

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