USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘jokes’

A Colombian Paisa Finds A Genie

This is a Paisa (Northern Colombian) joke I collected from a relative. Although the joke was performed as being distinctly paisa, it exists in multiple languages. In any case, it’s an excellent joke:

Below, the original Spanish followed by a complete English translation

Un paisa está haciendo un agujero en su jardín para plantar un árbol cuando desentierra una lámpara mágica.  La frota y le aparece un genio que le dice, ‘Te voy a conceder tres deseos, pero a tu vecino le voy a dar el doble de lo que tu me pidas.’  

‘Humm, mira, quiero una rubia que este buenísima y que pese 65 kilos; que le des a mi vecino cien millones de pesos, y que me des a mi un susto que me deje medio muerto….’


A paisa (Colombian countryman, cowboy) is making a hole in his garden to plant a tree when he finds a magical lamp in the ground. He rubs it and a genie appears, who says: ‘I am going to give you three wishes, with the exception that I’m going to give your neighbor double of what you ask me.”

‘Hmm, look, I want a 100 pound ruby that’s absolutely marvelous, that you give my neighbor a million pesos, and that you give me a scare that  scares me half to death’

Analysis: Any good paisa joke is based up in the mountains, or in the great outdoors where one works on the Finca, or Ranch. The joking hostility of the joke is quite interesting as the Paisa is known archetypically as a neighborly, kind Colombian. I love the joke and its play on words.


The Difference Between God and A Surgeon

The informant is a junior at USC from Chicago, Illinois studying dentistry.

After a discussion of the meaning and purpose of folklore I asked him if he knew of any folk practices or sayings related to his profession. We arrived at this question because he comes from a family of dental practitioners. He has been shadowing various oral surgeons over the past year and described an incident that occurred over the past summer.

He was shadowing a successful oral surgeon in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. He was observing his first intense oral surgery as it was occurring.

Mid surgery, the surgeon whom he was shadowing looked up and recited the following:

Do you know what the difference between God and a surgeon is?

(After a pause) God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon.

He couldn’t help but break into a fit of laughter as the surgeon returned to his procedure.


This is an interesting little joke that is variously ascribed to a variety of high skill professions such as lawyers and pilots as well. There’s an interesting duality here in that a high level of intelligence, skill, and grit is necessary to become a surgeon, and yet of course there are problems in thinking so highly of oneself. Thus, I sense a bit of ambivalence in the joke that is highly contextual. For example, if the surgeon performs a high-risk surgery correctly and says the joke, there’s a bit of pride in the sense of peril and gamble that the surgeon competed against. On the other hand, if the surgery were to fail and the joke be told (rare or strange, of course), the attention would then shift to the absurdity of such risk, of the sense of avoiding the unavoidable failure and the conceit latent in thinking so. Beyond this startling ambiguity, there’s also a sense of science superseding faith. The surgeon steps in and saves a life when there is no hope, thus affirming his or her self as a miracle of science is performed.

Folk Beliefs

Audi Advertisement

Living in an Indian household, folk knowledge is often easily substituted for what is considered “western logic.” Often times exorbitant price tags are seen offensively in Indian society, as overcharging needlessly is a sign of greed and lack of integrity. This conversation happened between the informant, D, and his grandma, G when they were watching Indian soaps and an Audi advertisement popped up.

Advertisement: we have 12 airbags, safety controls, safety sensors, and safety parking assistance… [translated to English]

G: *laughs*

D: What’s so funny, G?

G: We have Durga Ma and Babaji on the dashboard, Hanuman Ji on the rearview mirror, Nimbu Mirch on bumper, and Maa di Lal Chunni around the rearview mirror… Don’t worry about our safety… tu price kam kar

The interviewer laughed after G’s final statement. The ease with which G was able to scoff at the safety mechanisms Audi incorporated in their vehicles truly shows the disconnect between Western and Eastern ideals of wealth and necessities. Audi believes that they are selling Indians on the message of increased safety to justify the higher expenses on their vehicles but just the opposite is true – Indians just need Durga Ma, Babaji, Hanuman Ji, etc (religious figurines) to feel safe. What they would rather see Audi do is worry about their exorbitant prices (“tu price kam kar” = work on your pricing).



Main Piece: Anti-Joke


My brother told me this joke:


Brother: “Ask me if I’m a tree.”


Me: “Are you a tree?”


Brother: “No.”




This is my brother’s go to joke and has been for a while, and he finds it funnier than the person who he tells it to. He was told this by a teammate in high school who is around the same age as him, and tells me it is called an “anti-joke.” This was a big thing for a while, when people would begin to tell a joke and the listener would expect a funny punchline, but there really is no comical aspect to the joke. Here is another example of a joke like this:

What is green and has wheels?

Grass, I lied about the wheels.


My brother loves this joke because it is generally not seen as funny, but the fact of how stupid it is and how the listener is trying to think of what the punchline is leaves them dumbfounded by how simple it is and how there really is no point to the joke. Some people may think of how stupid the teller is, but once the joke sets in the listener tends to find it pretty comical.




This joke doesn’t necessarily have a subject, but is more so something you tell people at a random time when they’re unhappy or need to get their mind off something, because you are so caught off guard by the joke not having a punchline and having no real point.

That being said, there really isn’t a specific time or place when this joke is told, but rather it comes up when least expected and tends to catch the listener off guard, and that is what can make it so funny.


My thoughts:


I personally find this joke pretty funny, but I have a pretty odd and very far out sense of humor. My brother first told me this one day when I got home from water polo practice after a rough day of classes and the coach ripping me for messing up, and I had a pretty downer mood at that point. He had picked me up that day and could tell I was in a bad mood, and the first thing he said to me was, “ask me if I’m a tree.”

I find the stupidity of anti-jokes to be the funniest part, and seeing the confused and puzzled look on the listeners face more satisfying than the joke itself. I have used this joke occasionally and it tends to put a smile on the listener’s face whenever I tell them.


The Coffin

A man asked Juha: “What do you think is better, to walk behind a coffin, or in front of a coffin during a funeral?”

Juha replied: “Be wherever you want, except inside that coffin.”

Background information: This is a popular joke heard throughout the Middle East, starring a recurring character, Juha.

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

Thoughts: This is quite humorous, a bit of dark humor. It deals with funerals, but makes a joke out of it, saying the worst place to be at during these events is inside a coffin (because that obviously means you’re dead!).

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.

Folk speech

Broughton Jokes

“You still at Broughton?”
“I’ma take you to Broughton and get my $75 and a fruit basket.”

The informant grew up in North Carolina and lived there his entire life there until moving to Los Angeles around three years ago, where he currently resides.

According to the informant, Morganton (his hometown) is known for its’ insane asylum/mental institution, within North Carolina. That institution used to be called Broughton Hospital for the Criminally Insane (potentially has been changed since then, but this was what the informant remembers it as). This place was where people who either had mental disabilities or mental handicaps and were criminally dangerous, had committed crimes, and were a danger to others and themselves, would go. It is not to be confused with their other mental institution, Jay Iverson Developmental Center, which is for those with mental handicaps who are not criminally dangerous, but need extra care.

The reason these jokes are found humorous is because social work is one of the main industries in Morganton, meaning a lot of people both work at Broughton or have worked there at some point in the past (including the informants mother).

That being said, the first joke is only said to those known to have worked there or who are working there, implying that they are a patient and not an employee. The informant first heard it while with his dad, who said it to an old friend he ran into at the grocery store. However, the informant has never used the joke because he has never known anyone who worked at Broughton of his age group.

The second joke is based off of a rumor that if someone committed someone to Broughton, they would receive $75 and a fruit basket. The informant does not believe the rumor to be true and has not used the joke probably because of that belief.

The informant relayed this to me while in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car as she drove us all back up to Los Angeles. I have known the informant since he moved to Los Angeles.

Both of the jokes require a connection to the culture of North Carolina, potentially more specifically of Morganton. Without the understanding of where the joke comes from, it would not be funny to you because it would not make any sense. However, those in the town not only have a connection to Broughton Hospital, but would be finding humor in something that is part of their everyday life. In a sense, you have to be part of the group to understand the joke and could potentially be considered an outsider if it was unknown.


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:



Will’s Favorite Long Joke

On Reddit, which is a message board type website, one of the most popular subreddits is one called /r/AskReddit, where users ask questions for all of Reddit to answer. One question that you can almost always find on /r/AskReddit is some form of the question “what is your favorite joke.” I asked my friend Will, with whom I trade funny or interesting things from Reddit with, to find his favorite joke and tell me why he likes it so much. Below is the original post, and after that is my short interview with Will.

“Three young friends, seeking a fortune, adventure together to Egypt where a new pyramid has been discovered.

Upon arriving at the pyramid, they are immediately told to leave as the site has already been excavated. The friends, not willing to concede, look for a different way in and find an entrance never before used.

It is through this entrance that they find a secret passage way, one that is made at first to look like a dead end but is truly a turn in the hallway. They venture around this turn and into a great room.

In this room are torches. A sign just inside the room warns “He who lights this shall burn to death.” (In Egyptian hieroglyphs of course) The first friend takes a torch, and lights the end. The Friends venture through the room to another.

In this second room is a small lake, with a small canoe able to seat three. In the canoe is a paddle that reads, “He who uses this shall die a watery death.” The second friend takes this paddle and uses it to guide the three of them to the other side of the lake and through a third and final door.

In this last room is a great atrium, filled with heaps upon heaps of golden artifacts and jewels. The three friends rush in, and come to a golden sarcophagus. The third friend looks at it, and sees that it has the warning “The first man to touch this treasure shall die a most terrible death” written on its exterior. The third friend, giving the message no care, proceeds to pick up as much gold as he can. His friends quickly follow suit.

Many months later, after the friends had returned home with their loot and used it to live lucrative lives, the third friend received troubling news. The first friend had been sleeping when his mansion had caught fire and burned to the ground, killing him. Remembering the warning, he calls the second friend, but they both laugh it off.

A month later, the third friend is watching the news when a breaking story comes on. It is his second friend, who had been out on his yacht. The boat had unexplainably capsized, killing him. The third friend saw this and grew terribly fearful.

Assuming he had a month left before whatever horror would befall him, the third friend sold many of his belongings to afford the most secure underground bunker. He then used his remaining fortune to buy an incredibly high tech security system, cameras all over, and 30+ armed guards stationed at the entrance.

The third friend spent a month in the bunker.

30 days passed, and night was falling when the third friend look to the security cameras. Outside of the bunker, at the entrance, was an empty expanse of land, save one object. All the security guards were mysteriously gone, and just in frame was the silhouette of a sarcophagus. The third friend panicked.

Rushing to the door, he pushed all manners of furniture before it. A fridge, a bookshelf, his bed, a desk. But once he had placed the final barricade, a great pounding game to the door. Looking to security footage, the sarcophagus had begun to float, and was using itself as a battering ram. To the third friends horror, the door began to crack.

With a tremendous boom, the door and all the furniture was blasted away. The third friend screamed, as there in the doorway floated the sarcophagus. He ran through the bunker, stalked by the sarcophagus. The friend jumped into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. There, he sat on the toilet and cried.

BOOM The sarcophagus was there, breaking through the bathroom door. The third friend panicked, running to the sink as the sarcophagus inched forward. The friend picked up a bottle of shampoo and through it. The sarcophagus kept coming. He threw a can of shaving cream. The sarcophagus was within 10 feet of him now. He threw a tube of toothpaste. The sarcophagus was within arms length. The friend made one final attempt, he reached into the cabinet, grabbed a plastic bottle, filled with a green liquid , and threw it. The sarcophagus fell to the ground and turned to dust.

The man marveled at this. Looking for the last thing he had thrown, he picked it up and thought, “All I had to do was take some NyQuil and the coffin would stop.”

Me: I just want you to know, when you sent me this joke I was very angry with you.

Will: Why?

Me: Because I spent ten fucking minutes reading this soliloquy for a dumb pun!

Will: See, that was my reaction!

Me: So, when did you first see this?

Will: I think I must have been in eleventh grade or something, and I was so mad but I thought it was so funny. Those are my favorite kinds of jokes because once you’ve heard them you can’t believe you were so invested in it and your reward is a pun.

Me: Do you tell this joke often? I can’t imagine that you do.

Will: No, not at like parties or anything. One time my dad and I were driving to my grandparent’s house, and I pulled out my phone and read it to him.

Me: What was his response.

Will: Oh, he thought it was the funniest shit he’d ever heard. He almost crashed the car. I started reaching for the steering wheel just for protection.

Me: So he wasn’t mad?

Will: No. Do you know why?

Me: Why?

Will: Because he appreciates fine comedy.

Will loves to do anything that will get a strong reaction out of people, as long as it’s harmless. To him, telling this long winded joke that ends in a pun is as sweet as life gets. Wasting the time of another person, and making them think excruciatingly hard about what the end result of the joke will be, only to pull the rug out from under them, makes Will laugh. It’s harmless, but it does make people what I call “joke-mad”, where a person is angry, but can also laugh about what has just happened. They’re more angry at themselves for not recognizing the trap the joke was setting up.

Folk speech

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

There is a very common joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Usually, it’s followed by the answer: “To get to the other side.”

From that joke, there has been many other jokes that stemmed from the joke, such as: “Why did the chicken cross the playground?” “To get to the other slide.”

These types of literal jokes are called anti-jokes, in which the punchline is not a clever play on words, but a literal, mundane answer.

For reference of the first time this joke was published, please see: The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283.