USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Joke’
Humor

The Mosquito Joke

Piece:

J is the interviewer.
B is the interviewed party.

J: “I know you love to, so can you tell me the story of the mosquito joke?”

B: “[Laughs] That is one of my favorites. So I got told that joke when I was in… the summer of my eighth grade, right before I went into ninth grade, and we were at Montreat, church camp. And I do not remember exactly who told it to me, but, [uh], some guy knew it and… he… everyone else was, like, asking him to say it like all day long. They were like, [falsetto] ‘Oh, tell us the mosquito joke. Tell us the mosquito joke.’ And he kept refusing and building up hype. And so we kept asking and asking, and he finally told us it. Afterwards, he told me that when I tell it, that you can, like, make up your own … your own details to the story, but the basic points you have to hit on all of it are that there’s a mosquito, and he lives in Africa, and then he comes to America. And you just draw it out really long. You talk about his childhood in Africa, and then him coming to America, sometimes he gets a college degree, sometimes it’s different… all these different things. But, eventually, he needs to make his way back to Africa, and the joke is almost over as soon as you get back to Africa. And you say, ‘but the whole time he was in America, he didn’t have anything to drink, so he’s very, very thirsty.’ So he waits in line at the watering hole, but there’s a huge water line, so he doesn’t wait there. Then he goes to the Coke hole, and there’s also a huge line there. There’s a huge Coke line. So he doesn’t go. So he looks around, he looks around and he sees the punch hole, and the thing is… there’s no punchline. And that’s the whole joke.”

J:  “And what made you remember this so long?”

B: “Well the joke itself is really long, but there’s not that many details, so every time you tell it, it changes drastically, and you only have to remember just a few tiny, tiny details. So, it’s very easy to remember. And the same way the guy who told it to me did, you can build up hype for this joke, and the longer you build up hype the better the joke gets, because the more hype there is the more angry they’re gonna be when they hear the end of the story ‘cause there’s no payoff at all. It’s just a god-awful, terrible joke, but that’s the funny thing about it. So, I just have been telling it whenever I remember it and I guess that’s why I remember it so well.”

Analysis:

There exists a whole genre of jokes, called anti-jokes, where the punchline is that there is nothing funny about the joke. Comedy is all about subverting expectations for a laugh, and the most basic expectation of any joke is that it will literally be a joke. By taking away the joke aspect, the teller completely shocks the audience, who for this specific joke will be a little angry at first, and eventually, they will realize that the joke is funny, although probably not laugh out loud funny. Anti-jokes had a large boom in popularity in the late 2000s, which is when much of this story takes place. The more true source of this example may come from someone who read a similar joke and decided to add their own flair to make the joke even better.

Context:

The interviewed party is a 22-year-old male who currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island attending Brown University. Although he currently lives in the North East, he spent a majority of his life living in the Southern United States. This includes his birthplace in South Carolina and continues on to North-East Georgia.

 

 

Customs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor

“Yardsale!” – A Skier’s Term

Context:  I visited the informant’s dorm room at USC at about three o’clock, having already asked him if he was willing to participate in the collection project. He was willing, so we sat down to chat in his bedroom, alone. We began chatting, and I recorded two pieces from him. We sat in silence for a moment as I thought of more questions to ask him, and I remembered that he was an avid skier. I had been skiing since I was a toddler, and knew some folk terms from the practice. I asked him if he knew what a ‘yardsale’ was, and if he could describe it to me. Immediately, he recognized what I meant, and I began recording before he responded.

Transcription:

WD: What’s a yard sale in skiing?

JB: It’s like, when you’re skiing, and you eat shit, and you just lose every piece of gear.

WD: Yeah… but what happens then?

JB: So like, your skis will pop off, you definitely lose your poles, like, goggles, helmet, the whole fuckin’ deal.

WD: And then you’ve gotta figure out how to put all of it back on while on the side of a mountain?

JB: Yeah, your skis are the hard part, since they’ll  sometimes literally slide all the way down the hill, and then you gotta hike to go get it. Or, sometimes, like, fresh powder gets stuck in the bindings of your skis and you’ve gotta kick it out.

WD: And you look like a dumbass in front of other skiers, right?

JB: Exactly, sometimes people will yell “YARDSALE!” at you while they pass. You look like a fuckin’ idiot, for sure.

Informant:  The informant is an 18 year old, German-American student at the University of Southern California. He was born in Aptos, California, a small beach town located to the west of Santa Cruz. He is an avid skier, and has heard the term while skiing with friends in Mammoth, Tahoe and in Bear Valley. He has experienced this type of fall before, and knows how difficult it can be to reset your equipment in the middle of a ski run.

Analysis: This piece of folk language could also be considered as a joke. Experienced skiers tend to exalt themselves, especially when they see inexperienced skiers fall. The term “yardsale” refers to the image of all the skiing equipment scattered across the slope, like items set out for a yardsale. In practice, the phrase can be used as an insult, especially towards strangers on the slope. For example, if an inexperienced skier attempts to ride a hill outside of their skill range and loses their equipment, another more qualified skier may shout the phrase while passing. The inexperienced skier is then left in the middle of the hill, dodging other skiers while searching for their lost poles and skis. Yet, it could also be used as a form of relief in a frightening situation among friends. For example, if a pair of skiers are riding together through difficult terrain and one of them wipes out, their friend may shout the phrase to assuage any fears of injury their friend may have. Especially in a scary fall, the phrase can be used as a form of comedic relief to normalize the drastic nature of the tumble.

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.

Humor
Life cycle
Narrative

The Death of Mom Shaggy Dog Joke

Informant: “So, the joke goes… There was this guy who was on a trip to England for fun. The guy was maybe 40 years-old and this was a huge deal for him. He had never left the United States before and only spoke English so he thought that going to London would be the best option for him. Before he left, he needed to make sure his house was going to be taken care of. He also has a cat, and he is a lonely man so this cat has been a part of his life for many years and he loves it very much. So, before he leaves he asks a close work friend to watch over the house and stop by to feed the cat everyday while he is gone. His friend agrees and so the man leaves on his trip to London.

After being in London for 3 or 4 days he gets a phone call from his friend.

He starts by saying, “Oh hey! How is back home? I have had the most fun so far in my entire life here. Met a girl even. Everything going well over there? How’s my house?”

The friend is like, “Oh well… its been good. The house is fine, but I called you because something happened…”

“Oh god. What happened?”

“Well, I came by this morning to your house to feed your cat and I found him dead on the floor of the kitchen…”

“What? How did he die? Why did you tell me he died?”

“I don’t know how he died. He was fine the day before. I swear I didn’t kill him. I know this cat meant a lot to you and I am so sorry it had to happen while you are away.”

So kind of mumbling over the phone while thinking outlaid the man goes, “Ok.. well… he was getting old. I understand. Now I have to book a new flight and head back home tonight so I can handle this whole cat issue… I guess I can call the woman about our date and maybe she’ll understand and keep in touch..”

And the friend jumps in a says, “No, you don’t need to do that! Just tell me what you would like done with your cat and enjoy the rest of your trip.”

“How can I enjoy it knowing I’ll be coming home my a dead cat? In all seriousness, dude, why did you even tell me. Couldn’t it have waited till, like, the day before I was coming home?”

“I know, man. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know if you would want to know immediately or not. In hindsight I probably should have waited. But what could I have even said if you asked about how your cat was doing over the phone? I suck at lying.”

“I don’t know. I mean, you could had said something like, ‘Oh hey, something happened to your cat. He’s stuck on the roof and wont come down’ or whatever.”

“Alright well, I’m sorry. Had I known, I would’ve said that. I got to go, but call me later during your trip and I’ll let you know how everything else is going.”

So the guy is like, “OK, bye,” and per his friend’s advice decides to stay in London and call back home next week to check in.

The guy goes on a date with the woman he met and thinks he has found his match and, like, he is loving London and has even started to think about possibly extending his trip. The only thing is, the guy periodically keeps thinking about his cat and gets very sad knowing that he has died and wasn’t there to be with him. It doesn’t help that his new girlfriend, Catherine, goes by the nickname Cat. Nevertheless, a week goes by and he calls his friend back home.

“Hey, how’s everything going? Anyone miss me back there yet?”

His friend let’s out a small laugh and goes, “No, only me. Wish you were on your way back home…”

“Well, I was actually thinking of extending my trip… so I might stay in London a little bit longer. I love it here.”

And the friend is like, “Oh, don’t make me say it, dude!”

The guy is a little worried so he asks, “Did something else happen?”

After a short pause, the friend responds, “Well, yes. Your mom is stuck on the roof and wont come down.”

Context: The collector is the niece of the informant, and the original hearing of this joke was told at a dinner party. However, the transcription of the joke itself was collected at a later date from the same person. The story, from my memory, was relatively the same with subtle differences in the exact wording. The only wording that remained the exact same was the final quote from the friend.

Informant Analysis: The informant heard this joke from his best friend from college in Boston many years ago and said that he remembered it because he found it so hysterical. He said that his friend is from England originally so maybe that was the reason for the story always originating in England. He also said that he has told this joke probably more than 100 times to random people or friends if the time is right. Particularly, he noted that it is best told when people have been drinking. When asked why he thought the story was funny and what he thought it meant, he said that it was the relatability of being in a situation where you have to relay bad news to someone. He also said that he thought it is interesting to make a joke about something so serious and intimate as the death of one’s mother, and that if it meant anything, it meant that if there is anything that could possibly go wrong in a handful of situations, the death of one’s mother is perhaps the worst.

Collector Analysis: The easiest way to describe why this joke is told is because it is funny. However, the factor that makes a joke a joke is always because of its humor. So to merely analyze this shaggy-dog joke through its humor is not enough. Therefore, I am going to attempt to analyze it through its specific content.

With regard to content, this joke obviously plays upon the dark humor of death. There is something intrinsically funny to make light of dark situations. It is also very common. It has been studied that humor can work as a way to communicate pain more easily and even relate with the pain of others in an objective way. In this particular joke, despite the main character being at the receiving end of pain, there is also pain in the friend having to tell a son about the death of his cat and mother. I would argue that the humor doesn’t come from the protagonists pain, it actually comes from the pain of the friend being the herald of bad news. This joke also pokes at the natural tendency for people to avoid pain by utilizing euphemism or oblivion. The folk phrase, what you don’t know cant hurt you, seems like a common thread in this story. As we see, the cat’s death brings about the preferred euphemism the man would have like to hear. The phrase of “the cat is stuck on the roof and won’t coming down,” is a way to defer the pain much like the function of a euphemism. However, the joke made about this euphemism is that it can only be said when describing a cat— not an old woman. I believe the story also points to a liminal part in ones life where the identity of son is being ripped away, which is a commonality in many jokes. Furthermore, it points to timing and its occasional irony. This man who had never left the United States was suddenly met, at the exact time of his departure, with two deaths that necessitate him being home. There is entertainment in such horrific coincidence since most people can relate to bad timing of certain situations. There is another interpretation which may or may not have credibility: the relationship of the United States with England. England is considered the mother of the United States by many. It is curious that in this story, it is only upon the death of his mother that he must return home. Metaphorically speaking, it is the death of the motherland (England) that causes the man to return home. However, this may be considered too abstract for this particular joke lore.

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.

general
Humor

The Conductor came to MY House?

Context: This joke was told to over the phone by an older relative of mine

Background: This relative has been teaching music for 15+ years at a small liberal arts college.
A violist comes home one day and sees his home is burned down. The policeman says, “Conductor came, killed your family, and burned down your house.”
The Violist says, “The Conductor came to MY house?!”

This joke plays on the idea that Violists are very timid, and would not typically be noticed or acknowledged by the conductor.

Humor
Riddle

Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

“Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

Ziehst du den Ring ab, ist dein Haus weg!”

“What do a woman and a hand grenade have in common?

When you take the ring off, your house is gone!”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this joke from classmates who were mostly male.

Interpretation: This is perhaps meant to be cautionary toward young men. It is based on the stereotype that women use men for money, and could perhaps make men more cautious when choosing a wife so that they do not have to worry about “taking the ring off.” It uses humor to make women and marriage threatening, which is a common occurrence in American stand-up comedy. Furthermore, it subtly warns against divorce, which could suggest to the audience that an unhappy marriage is better than a divorce.

Folk speech
Humor

French Joke Turned Folk Practice for Middle School French Class

French Folk Joke:

“My 7th grade French class all took french. It was all our first year of french and I went to middle school with a bunch of people I ended up going to high school with so we all took a bunch of classes together. We had learned this joke that became an inside joke. It was the first French joke we ever learned. We would tell it to each other and share the reactions of the people we told the joke to with the rest of the class. So the joke is, ‘Comment s’appelle un chien qui vends des médicaments? Un pharmachienne.’ So it means, ‘What do you call a dog who sells medicine?’ The word chien is dog, so the answer is,  you call it a mixture of pharmacy and dog. The word for pharmacist which I don’t know off the top of my head and then ‘chien’. ”

Context:

A middle school french class in Omaha, Nebraska.

Informant Background:
The informant is 21, from Nebraska originally. She now resides in Southern California.

My Analysis:

This play on words is a good way to get children to remember vocabulary. There are many words in french that sound almost identical to their english pronunciation. Hence, it is easy to remember those. However, the ones that don’t align with english pronunciation like ‘chien’ are so abstract that this little joke will help young students remember the vocabulary term. My informant said she does not remember any french, but she does remember this joke. So, clearly this was an effective learning mechanism.

 

Childhood
Humor
Narrative

Boy Named Butt Itches (Children’s Joke)

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

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a joke that she heard from a friend around third grade, but has remembered to this day.

CB: Um, there’s a boy named Butt Itches. And his mom named him Butt Itches, yeah. And, uh, he’s about to start school, and he goes to school for the first day, and his teacher’s like, “What’s your name?” And he’s like, “My name is Butt Itches.” And the teacher’s like, “That’s not really your name, like, that’s a fake name,” and he’s like, “No, really, that’s my name.” And she’s like, “You know what, if you don’t tell me your real name, I’m going to send you to the principal’s office,” and he’s like, “No, my name is Butt Itches,” and she’s like, “Go to the principal’s office.”

So, then he goes to the principal, and the principal’s like, “What’s your name?” And he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches.” And, um, the principal’s like, “No way is that your name, like, tell me your real name,” and, uh, he’s like, “No, really, my name is Butt Itches.” And the principal says, “Okay. If you don’t tell me your real name, I’m gonna call the police.” And, um, he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches,” and so he calls the police, and the police come, and they hold a gun up to him. And they’re like, “Tell me your name!” and he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches!” And they’re like, “That’s not your real name! Tell me your name!” And, uh, he says, “No, my name’s really Butt Itches,” and they say, they say, “If you don’t tell me your name, we’re gonna shoot you,” and he’s like, “My name’s Butt Itches,” so they shoot him, and he dies, and right at that moment, his mom is walking by, and she runs up to him and she says, “Oh, my poor Butt Itches!” And the police officer says, “Would you like me to scratch it for you?”

Thoughts: This joke is very clearly a children’s joke, and one of the most obvious signs of this is that it uses tabooistic vocabulary, which is popular in children’s folklore. Beyond that, though, it reveals more about how children look at the world: the antagonists in the joke are all authority figures, and the child, who is the protagonist, is not really doing anything wrong by telling them his name, but he is punished by them anyway, which is how children may feel when they are punished. It also displays a childlike idea of how levels of authority work in society, with the teacher ranking under the principal, who ranks under the police, which are the ultimate authority because they have the power to punish children the most severely, which, in a child’s mind, would be by killing them. The punchline of the joke is also a kind of dirty tabooistic humor which would understandably make the joke more enjoyable for children, and in addition to all this, I can tell that the joke is from a Western culture because it is told in three levels, with Butt Itches having to defend himself to three different audiences before something happens.

Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].

[geolocation]