USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘humor’
Childhood
Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Lead a Snot — Our Father Parody

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man is Irish Catholic. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “When we were in Mass, my siblings and I would say our own version of the Our Father.”

Collector: “How did it go?”

Informant: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead A SNOT into temptation, but deliver US from evil.”

Context

            The Informant learned that funny version of the prayer in a Catholic grade school. At the weekly Friday Masses, the children would come up with all kinds of ways to keep themselves entertained. He remembers this version because he claims it “always made [him] laugh”. While he claims he doesn’t believe only snots should be delivered to evil, he does believe it speaks a little truth about people getting what they deserve.

Interpretation

My first reaction to this piece was to laugh out loud. I am very familiar with the Our Father prayer, as I am Catholic as well. Hearing it told in a child’s way, from a grown man, was very funny. But I also believe he was right in making the point that it goes to show a little that not everyone can be forgiving. The original line is “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. In the satirical version, the prayer points out to actually deliver the snots – the brats, the people who deserved to be punished – to evil. I thought this showed the flip side of the same coin – people can be forgiving when it suits them, but when they can conversely want people to pay for their sins.

Folk speech
general
Humor

Heard of a Cow Herd Joke

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I’ve got a joke.”

Collector: “Let’s hear it.”

Informant: “So two guys are driving by a pasture. And one guy says, ‘Hey, look! A bunch of cows!’

The other guy says, ‘Not bunch, herd.’

‘Heard of what?’

‘Herd of cows!’

‘Of course I’ve heard of cows.’

‘No, no, no. A cow herd.’

‘What do I care what a cow heard? I don’t have any secrets from a cow.’

Context

The Informant told me that a lawyer friend of his from Chicago told him that joke once when they had to travel to Springfield, IL together. The Informant relayed the “good laugh” they had about it on the dreary drive down. He remembers the joke almost every time he sees a herd of cows in a pasture. He believes it be at first just a funny joke about a miscommunication. But upon a second look, one that got a greater laugh between the two lawyers who shared the joke, they found more humor in it because of their profession where words mean everything.

Interpretation

            At first glance, this joke is one to get a quick laugh, something to chuckle about when passing fields full of cows. But I agree with the Informant that one’s profession, his being a lawyer, can make the joke seem funnier. I believe that the Informant and his friend found the joke to be funnier when looked at through the lens of the law. When doing so, because of their profession, the joke reaffirmed for them the belief that words carry a lot of weight and they have their own power. Even when told in a corny joke, the punch line is a misunderstanding of words, something that happens on a larger and more impactful scale everyday.

Game
Humor

ZAIDS

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the concept of ZAIDS?”

Informant: “Oh god. Yeah… I guess I can. Basically in high school there was this fake disease called ZAIDS. Obviously it came from AIDS, but we put a Z in front of it to make it different. We had this one friend who we said got it originally, we made him patient zero. So when he finally kissed another girl we all made the joke that she had ZAIDS too. Soon enough the entire grade was tracking the spread of ZAIDS from him and that girl, and people were drawing out diagrams to figure out who exactly had the ‘disease’. At the very end of our senior year, at a point where most of the class had ZAIDS, we decided the only way to break the curse was for our friend who was patient zero to kiss that same girl again. I guess it was a funny way of ‘breaking’ the curse.”

Background:

The informant participated in this game in high school. Obviously he recognizes this ‘disease’ is fake but still thought it was a good excuse to give friends a hard time if they had ZAIDS. Before the ‘breaking of the curse’ described above, the informant was even a carrier of ZAIDS according to his classmates.

Context:

Because I went to the same high school as the informant, I was familiar with the story. This conversation was recorded while we were reminiscing about high school experiences after I realized the folkloric connections this game had.

Thoughts:

This game is clearly a more mature version of cooties, the game played by elementary school boys and girls. Instead of simple physical contact spreading the disease, however, in this version a kiss is required to transfer ZAIDS from one person to another. I think the significance of this game is simply an evolution of the significance of cooties. The game cooties allows kids to grapple with the ‘taboo’ topic of contact with the opposite gender. In this case, the ‘taboo’ topic is romantic involvement with the other gender, which is a natural progression of cooties. The game was most prevalent during early high school, like 9th grade, and faded from view as the class became older and the topics of romantic involvement became less taboo. The final moment of ‘breaking the curse’ during the senior year almost represents the class recognizing the absurdity of such a game or concept and shutting it down for good in a poetic way.

Humor
Musical

Miss Susie Song

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you mind if we go back to that song we were talking about earlier?”

Informant: “Sure.. I will do my best to remember all the lyrics, but I don’t know the name of the song if there is one.”

Interviewer: “Cool, go ahead when you are ready.”

Informant: “Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell / Miss Susie went to heaven, the steamboat went to / hello operator, please give me number nine / and if you disconnect me, I’ll cut off your / behind the fridgerator, there was a shard of glass / Miss Susie sat upon it, and cut her big fat / ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies / the boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their / flies are in the field, the bees are in the park / Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the / dark, dark, dark, dark / dark is like a movie, a movie’s like a show / a show is like a video and that’s not all I know / I know your ma, I know your pa, and your sister with a forty acre bra!”

Background:

The informant learned this song from young friends during elementary school. It was a common tune that kids liked to sing during recess.

Context:

The informant sung me the song during a phone conversation about childhood songs and stories.

Thoughts:

The purpose of this song is clear: kids use it as an excuse to utilize taboo words without technically saying anything wrong (e.g. instead of stopping at ‘big fat ass,’ the next line is used to change ‘ass’ to ‘ask’ so as to disguise the usage of the disallowed word). This way, kids are able to use words they traditionally would not be allowed to without fear of getting in trouble for misbehaving. This is a classic example of children’s folklore being used to toy with the idea of authority. Through folklore, children are constantly pressing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Adulthood
Humor

Haitian AIDS/HIV Medicine Joke

“So, back when I was doing HIV work I used to hear this joke all the time from my gay patients. It would go something like, ‘What’s the hardest part about having HIV?’ and the gay guy would say, ‘Convincing my mom I had sex with a Haitian. *laughing* ”

Context: This joke was performed at a dinner party whose guests were primarily family, with the informant being the father of the collector. The joke was said midway into dinner while the guests and informant had been drinking wine.

Informant Analysis: The doctor who said this joke had done much work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s. At the time, it was more of a secret for men to be gay since it was largely deemed “deplorable” by the average American. Today, this sort of anti-gay rhetoric has decreased. Many of the doctor’s patients were gay, had HIV, but also had a wife and children. They kept their sexual orientation hidden to their families and friends. However, when the HIV epidemic began to ravage America’s gay population, it was often difficult to hide the fact that you were gay since getting AIDS was considered a sign. Along with being gay being a sign of having AIDS, it was also common belief that Haitians also had it since there was and still is a high percentage of HIV positive people in Haiti.

Collector Analysis: The joke seems to play on the taboo topic of  coming out as gay to one’s mother. It seems to show that, especially during the 80’s, being considered gay was completely out of the question for many homosexual males. Instead of coming out as gay after being diagnosed with AIDS, the patient would rather say they got it from sex with a Haitian. The joke itself hinges on the fact that the highest percentage of HIV is found in homosexuals and Haitians. The humor also makes light of a situation which, especially during the 80’s, was considered a death sentence. Medical humor, including this joke, often contains this sort of dark humor to try to lessen the pain involved with such terrible situations.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs
Signs

Humboldt University Proverb

“Humboldt, where the men are men and so are the women.”

Context: The informant and myself were visiting Humboldt to see how the school has changed. The trip was built around the nostalgia of her college years. This proverb was then given while driving from San Fransisco to Arcadia, where Humboldt University is.

Informant Analysis: The informant attended Humboldt University in the 80’s while it was still a relatively small school. She noted that their mascot is a lumberjack, a very manly and strong figure. In part she said this was because Humboldt was a logging town surrounded by giant redwood trees. During her time there, she noted that the only people who went to Humboldt were very “granola” people– meaning that they were the outdoorsy type who enjoyed sustainable living. The few women who chose to attend Humboldt were also notoriously manly. According to the informant, it was a joke that the woman who went to Humboldt had hairier legs than the men.

Collector Analysis: I do agree with much of what the informant said about how the lumberjack figure represents Humboldt University well. I also wonder if this folk slogan was propagated by the men or women who attended the university. To be a woman at a predominantly male school is difficult and does promote for the women to affect a more masculine persona. It may be a way to fit in to the culture of the school or out of basic fear of being a woman in a male culture. While the proverb is a compliment to men, and viewed as a diss to women, I would argue that this piece serves as a strong representation of gender roles during the 80’s in Northern California. Although the culture and politics are very liberal today in Arcata, during that time, there was a strong clash of conservative farmers and liberal college students. This proverb may be a representation of this clash that occurred around the school.

Folk medicine
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Latin Proverb – Postquam vinum, lac Fac testamento tuo

Content: Latin Proverb
“Postquam vinum, lac. Fac testamento tuo.”

Transliteration –
“After the wine, milk. Make your will.”

Translation –
“If after wine, you drink milk, make your last will and testament.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it from my father. He was quite the linguist. I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but the idea is that if you drink wine then milk, the milk will curdle in your stomach and you’ll feel very sick.”

Analysis:
Wine will curdle milk, so the proverb is factual. The fact that informant’s father told him the proverb in Latin heightens the humor. It’s a pretty silly, intentionally humorous quote and Latin is usually a very ostentatious language.

Old age
Proverbs

Italian Proverb: “Old Age is Trouble”

Is there something of a proverb that comes to mind from home?

J.A. – “La vecchia e una rogne; ma si non l’arrive, e una veregogna.” (Italian)

Translates to: Old age is trouble; but if you don’t get there, it’s a shame.

J.A. – “My parents’ people were farmers in Italy.  This saying has a fatalistic humor that resonates with me.  I feel closer to people I never knew hearing the clever play on words in the original Italian.”

 

This being a dark proverb, it brings to my mind the mortality of those I’m close with.  I got stuck for a few minutes on the first half of that sentence; “old age is trouble.”  What does that mean?  Are you going to die?  Is disease coming for you?  It’s interesting – this person thought of the proverb as an example of “fatalistic humor.”  I’d disagree with that, actually.  I’d argue that it’s a blatantly depressing proverb, explaining that any life is better than death.  The inevitability of what’s coming for you may be frightening, but – hey, at least you’re alive.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle
Tales /märchen

4 Questions, 4 Tests

This conversation is between the collector (C) and the informant (I).

I: I’m going to ask you four questions, and this isn’t just for fun. It’s going to test you on your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Are you ready?

C: I’m ready.

I: The first question is, “How do you put a giraffe in a refrigerator?”

C: (After a long pause) I don’t know.

I: You open the refrigerator, put the giraffe inside, and close it. That was to test if you overthink simple questions. The second question is, “How do you put an elephant in a refrigerator?”

C: You open the refrigerator, but the elephant inside, and close it.

I: Wrong. First, you have to take out the giraffe. That was to test whether you understand the consequences of your actions. The third question is, “The whole jungle has an animal meeting, and all but one animal show up.Who isn’t there?”

C: (After a long pause) I give up.

I: The elephant! He’s still in the refrigerator. That was to test your memory. You have one last question, and it’s the most important one: “You need to cross a river. It is filled with crocodiles, and you have no boat. How do you get across?”

C: You distract the crocodiles?

I: You don’t need to. They’re still at the animal meeting. That was to test whether you learn from your mistakes.

Context: The informant is significantly older than the collector, which might add to the educational aspect of the joke.

Interpretation: Obviously, this is first and foremost for entertainment. But it does teach the audience to think through their answers carefully, understand that actions have consequences, and learn from past experiences. It is a silly series of questions with a surprising amount of moral value. It is distinctly structured for educational purposes, and therefore places the joke-teller in a position of authority and wisdom over the audience.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Why do you have to taste soy paste and shit to tell them apart?

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: It’s said in a way, like, “You don’t have to taste the soy paste and shit to tell them apart.” I think I’ve told you this already.

Interviewer: Yup I remember this.

Subject: Like soy paste kinda looks like shit, but most people are aware enough, like, we know from afar. But people who are so stupid, or like, people who go the extra mile to be safe. We say, “why do you have to taste shit and soy paste to tell them apart, why can’t you just — why aren’t you smarter?”

Interviewer: So that’s basically what you say to someone when they’re being dumb?

Subject: Yeah, if you’re being stupid, you’re tasting soy paste and shit to tell them apart.

 

Analysis:

I tried looking up the phrase, however I was unable to find any substantive background to the saying. The subject went on to tell me additional proverbs from Korea that also have to do with food, leading me to believe that the culture may have a great appreciation for it.

While the United States pride themselves on fast meals, a staple of Asian culture is the dining experience. It’s communal and meant to be shared.

 

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