USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘jokes’

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.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Life cycle
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.



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.

Folk speech

Jewish Jokes

*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandmother. She’s a Jewish woman who identifies with Yiddish aspects of Jewish culture.

The following are several Yiddish jokes. At least in my family, humor is considered an integral part of being Jewish, and there’s a special breed of joke that’s distinctively Jewish. Often these jokes come in the form of long stories that can be customized and drawn out by their teller. They often involve old Jews, rabbis, and/or Yiddish words, and a lot of them emphasize wordplay or poke fun at Jewish stereotypes or non-Jews skewed understanding of Jewish culture.

It’s important to note that when these jokes are told, it’s customary for the teller to speak lines of dialogue in a thick, exaggerated Yiddish accent.

INFORMANT: “So there was a big civic dinner one night at the local community center, and there were a bunch of people there from the local synagogue and the local church. And the main dish was this big glazed ham. So when they passed the ham platter to the rabbi, he shakes his head no, and the priest kind of chuckles and teases him and says ‘Rabbi, when are you going to forget that silly rule of yours and eat ham like the rest of us?’ And the Rabbi replies, ‘Oh, at your wedding reception, Father.'”

This is an example of a Jewish culture clash joke that points out the objective silliness of religious traditions and calls out the hypocrisy of other religions who scorn keeping kosher and other Jewish customs. The Christian priest thinks it’s silly that the rabbi doesn’t eat ham, but the rabbi points out that it’s just as silly that the priest can’t get married.

INFORMANT: “A little Jewish boy goes home to his mother and is excited to tell her about the part he got in the school play. He runs home and tells her, and she asks, ‘Oh, Saul, that’s wonderful, what part are you?’ Saul says, ‘I’m gonna play the Jewish husband!’ And his mother frowns and says, ‘Saul, honey, I thought you said you wanted a speaking part?'”

Jewish jokes often play on the fact that Jewish wives and mothers are perceived as extremely strong-willed and stubborn – they often run the house and are dominant over their husbands. The mother considers the role of Jewish husband a non-speaking role, poking fun at Jewish marital dynamics.

INFORMANT: “So there was this Jewish town and they didn’t have enough men to have a decent number of weddings, so they started importing men from other towns. One day a groom-to-be came in on the train, and two mother-in-laws-to-be were waiting for him. The first one said, ‘Oh, that’s my son-in-law,’ and the second one said, ‘No, he’s MY son-in-law.’ The town called a rabbi to settle the dispute. He gave it some thought and he told them, ‘If you both want the son-in-law, we’ll just cut him in half and give each of you one half of him.’ And one woman replied, ‘No, that’s horrible! Just give him to the other woman.’ And the rabbi says, ‘I will give him to the other woman. The one willing to cut him in half must be the true mother-in-law!'”

This joke is a play on the old Biblical story of King Solomon and the baby, except in that story, the real mother is the woman who tells King Solomon not to cut the baby in half, because she truly cares for her child and wants to see it live, even if it has to belong to another woman. In this variation, the family members involved are sons and their mothers-in-law, a relation that can generally tend to be tense in American culture. The joke implies that all real mothers-in-law dislike and wish harm on their sons-in-law, so the man’s real mother in law must be the one who was about to let him get cut in half!

INFORMANT: “There’s this beautiful lady at a charity ball and she’s wearing an enormous diamond, so another lady comes up to her and compliments her on it. The woman with the diamond goes, ‘Oh, thank you, darling. It’s the third biggest diamond in the world. There’s the Hope Diamond, the Kohinoor, and then this one, the Lipshitz diamond.’

‘You must be so lucky,’ said the other lady, and the diamond lady says, ‘Oh no, but it’s not all peaches and cream. With the Lipshitz diamond comes the Lipshitz curse.’

‘Well, what’s the Lipshitz curse?’


This is another joke poking fun at Jewish marital relations and the notion that Jewish people are greedy. In this scenario, the woman with the diamond is excited to have the diamond, but she considers the husband that gave it to her a curse. Jewish wives are often portrayed as being sick of or disdainful of their husbands.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Jokes about the Catalan

“Este es un chiste sobre los catalanes que dice la gente de Madrid:

Este es un Catalan que va conduciendo su coche y tiene un acidente. Entonces le gente se para para ayudarle y llaman a un ambulancia. Entonces viene la ambulancia y el esta mal errido como aturdido. Entonces sale el camillero y le dice a sus companeros de la ambulancia, “rapido trae me una mascara” y el tio medio sangrao, aturdido dice “la mas cara no, por favor. la mas varata.”

Hay el estereotipo que los catalanes son unos agarados con el dinero. ”

This is a joke about the Catalan that people from Madrid say:

“There is a Catalonian man that is driving along in his car and has an accident. So then the people stop to help him and call an ambulance. Then the ambulance comes and he is badly hurt and dazed. Then the paramedic steps out and says to his co-workers, “Quick bring me a mask.” And the guy, half-bleeding and dazed says, “Not the most expensive one, the cheapest one.”

The joke is found in the play on words between ‘mascara’ (mask) and ‘mas cara’ (the most expensive). They both sound the same in Spanish but have, obviously very different meanings. The injured man thinks the paramedic is saying to bring out the most expensive, when really the paramedic is saying to bring out a respiratory mask. In response the injured man requests the cheapest one despite being severely injured. The joke plays off the stereotype that the Catalonian people are very cheap. This joke is similar to jokes in the United States about Jewish people being frugal with money. Also, there is lots of cultural tension between the Catalan people and the rest of Spain due to a political movement on the part of the Catalonians trying to declare independence from the rest of Spain. This joke is a means of putting down the Catalonians therefore making it easier to separate themselves from them.


Los Melones de Tapachula

My informant is a 48 year old pediatric oncologist at Stanford University. He is bilingual, binational and bicultural, born to a white American father and a Mexican mother. He grew up in both places but spent his formative adolescent years in Mexico City, where he learned this joke from a high school friend. He cracks up every time he performs this joke, which is often.

The joke in Spanish goes like this: “No es lo mismo los melones de Tapachula que tapate los melones chula.”

The literal translation is: “It’s not the same the melons of Tapachula as cover your melons cutie”.

This is a semi-dirty joke that employs wordplay, and is one of many “no es lo mismo” (“it’s not the same thing”) jokes. These jokes play with the sounds of a phrase and mix them up to make them something very different, as with this joke, which switches from the tame concept of melons from a certain town called Tapachula to a crude way of telling a attractive woman to cover up her breasts.

I love this piece and think it’s pretty funny, especially because the informant (my father) always laughs harder at it than anyone he tells it to. As a semi-dirty joke, it’s somewhat of a light taboo for him to break, especially in terms of telling this kind of joke in front of kids, so he gets a kick out of it every time he can perform it.


Accounting jokes

18. Brooke Briody: Accounting jokes (5/1)

There are 3 types of accountants. Those who can count and those who can’t.

How does Santa’s accountant value his sleigh? Net PRESENT value.

Where do homeless accountants live? In a tax shelter.

The informant is going to be an accountant soon, but was told the story during a friend’s birthday party, when a random man at the party walked up to her group of friends and tried to chat them up with a series of cheesy accounting jokes, not realizing that she and many of her friends were accounting majors at USC.

The informant shared this with me in conversation.

While these jokes are ostensibly for people in the accounting occupation, someone with a basic understanding of what the profession entails (dry, “nerdy”) can also hear these jokes and find them funny, not because they’re funny but because they’re so in line with popular perceptions of what accountant humor is like.


Soviet military joke

A Soviet soldier and an officer are chilling together at the base. The soldier goes to the officer and says, “Comrade/captain! Can you tell me why is your shirt red?” The captain says, “Well, comrade/private, if we go into battle and I’m shot, I don’t want you to know that I’m bleeding out and I want you to keep on fighting.” And the private goes, “Oh, okay, that makes so much sense! That must also be why your boxers are yellow.”

He was told this joke by his Russian friend, about ten years ago. They were just talking about military stuff, maybe playing a video game together, when unprompted, the informant’s friend shared the joke. The informant still thinks the joke is funny, but

I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

Clearly, there are some attitudes about the Soviet military, and perhaps the entire Soviet political structure, being expressed in this joke. It takes the idea of the “cowardly officer” but expresses it in the faux-egalitarian framework of the Communist regime. Even though I don’t completely understand the joke in and of itself, I can still feel the upwards-directed anger within the officer/private confrontation.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Wonder That Is The English Language, or “Let Us Not Arg.”


“Two gentlemen are at a museum of modern art, one Indian and one American, and they are both looking at a very strange and indeterminate painting, trying to figure out what it is all about. You know, what people do with art, especially with modern art. So the first man proclaims his opinion on the work – ‘This painting is very vayg-yoo.’ The second man, although agreeing completely, is supremely annoyed at the first man’s butchering of the word ‘vague’. He attempts to clarify – ‘Look here, sir, in English, we do not pronounce the ue at the end.’ The first man nods, understanding, and benignly responds – ‘All right, all right, friend. Let us not arg.'”


The informant actually came up with this joke due to his fascination with the English language and its janky mechanics – “I came up with this joke after watching the film Chupke Chupke, which is, essentially, a questioning of the jhameli (ruckus) that is the English language. In the film, there is a line that perfectly sums up my fascination and confusion with this language – ‘Agar T-O “too” hai, aur D-O “doo”, toh phir G-O “go” kaise hua?’ (If T-O is pronounced ‘too” and D-O is pronounced “doo”, then how does G-O become “go”?) And so various other confusions came to my mind, namely the selective silencing of certain syllables. I thought this little anecdote was in perfect conjunction with this question from the film.”


English is a very weird language. It takes elements of every language by which it has been influenced and scrambles them up into an interesting but utterly confusing potpourri. The informant’s joke is, therefore, the perfect exploration and depiction of the non-native English speaker’s constant battle with the odd language. In India, especially, where Hindi is the most widely-spoken language, every syllable of every word is pronounced exactly as it is written in the native scripts. Therefore, when confronted with a word like “vague”, one can understand the confusion of the Indian man at the silencing of the last part of the word. Also, in a country where the rules of languages are fairly constant, one can also sympathize when the man does not understand that the rule of dropping the “ue” does not extend to every single word, and is instead a case-by-case situation. Interestingly, this joke gently pokes fun at the strange formulations of the English language while also not sparing the Indian man’s ignorance of pronunciation.