The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.
This piece is one of the informant’s favorite jokes.
“A bunch of art thieves are escaping from the Louvre, and they’ve stolen millions of dollars worth of art, and they’re in this van. So they’re chasing down Paris, you know the cops are right behind them, and news camera are watching them, the eyes of the world are glued to these art thieves. And then, they pull into a gas station, and suddenly stop. The police cars pull right up to them, and encircle them, and boom! They caught ‘em.
So the reporters descend on them like vultures on a corpse, and they’re like, “Why didn’t you just get away? You were, you were by far like, you were gonna make it home free, you were not going to get caught, et cetera. The lead ringleader just looks at the reporter and he says [the informant adopts a French accent], “Uh, ve didn’t have de monay for de gas to make de van go.””
This joke has a long, narrative build up compared to a relatively short punchline. While the joke could still be told effectively in a question and answer format, it is clear that the informant gets a lot of enjoyment from setting the stage and describing a more elaborate and vivid setup. The punchline plays on the slight alterations in English pronunciation by native French speakers as well as the play on words—“monay” with “Monet,” “de gas” with “Degas,” and “van go” with “Van Gogh.” The setting contextualizes the joke further, providing the foundation for the French and art references in the joke.
The informant is a fellow student and a good friend. While going out for smoothies, she shared her Filipino culture with me.
“I’m going to give you a heads up, so ‘ikau’ mean ‘you.’ So they would say, ‘What’s an example of an ugly cow?’ And then someone would say, ‘what?’ And then they would be like, ‘IKAU!’
Background & Analysis
The informant thinks this joke is really corny, but she still uses it with other Filipino people a lot. She learned it from Filipino friends in grade school, who had probably heard it from older brothers and sisters.
This is a more contemporary joke, because it’s in english, but makes use of a pun in tagalog. This joke most likely then originated among subsequent Filipino-American generation children here in the U.S.
Jennifer has been a close friend of my mother’s since childhood and has always been an aunt-like figure in my life. Multiple members of her family have at one point babysat for me as I was growing up and our joint families have often celebrated holidays together. Currently a 55 year old, Christian white (though with Native American Indian heritage on her biological father’s side) woman who works in Escrow in Glendale, CA, she grew up in La Crescenta, CA.
Jennifer also, essentially, grew up on boats. Her family owned a boat, a beach house in Newport Beach area, and a place in Avalon, on Catalina Island, and she frequently spent time on the boat and going to and from Catalina during the summer. Her father also had a fishing charter boat on which he would take out people that wanted to go fishing, and, she said, “my mother would have been involved with boats for forty years.”
She related to me a sort of joke, or pun, that her mother used to make while on the road, driving, that makes a play on nautical vernacular:
“Oh, what’s in the road? A head?”
This is a pun on the phrase “Oh, what’s in the road ahead?” an expression that comes from looking out the window of the car, down the road, and wondering what lies up ahead. However, as a member of a nautical family, at least in this usage, she’s not referring to a physiological human head, but rather the “head” from a boat, or the toilet. Thus, as Jennifer says about her mother, “By pausing when she does [between the “a” and the “head” of “ahead”], it sounds like there’s a toilet up ahead, in the road.” Jennifer relates that this joke is very typical of her mother, “Things like that, I grew up with, where she [my mother] would constantly…basically, be quizzing us and having fun with words, and seeing how you can change it, change the meaning by simply pausing or stretching a vowel.”
“So a man was sitting alone at a bar and he kept hearing this whispering that said “hey nice shoes” he looked around and nobody was there he heard “You look nice today” he looked around nobody was there. Then he finally asked the bartender “Am I hearing anything?” and the bartender said, “it’s the peanuts. They’re complementary”
My informant loves to tell this joke because it’s clean and it’s a pun.
Puns are a way of playing with language in a way that messes with how similar words can mean very different things. In this joke, complementary means both free and giving complements. I’ve heard lots of jokes where the bartender responds with a pun. It is a popular genre where the idea is that the bartender is the one who knows what is going on while the patron is confused or, a similar one, is where the bartender acts as the frame for the joke. This may be because a bartender is expected to be the one in control of a bar. They are the ones who control the intake of alcohol and are there to interact with the patrons.
蜘蛛是什么颜色? 白色. 是白的.
Translated: What color is a spider? White. It is white.
This joke was heard at a Christmas party for a company that was predominantly made up of Chinese people. This joke requires an understanding of both English and Chinese in order to fully understand the punch line. At first, the question seems relatively easy as it is just asking the audience what color is a spider. Audience members tended to yell out colors such as black or brown. At this point, the informant would yell out “白色” (pronounced “bai se”), which means white in Chinese. Then after hearing the confusions from the audience members, the informant would say, “是白的” (“It is white” in Engllish), which is pronounced, “Sh bai de.” As an English speaker can see, that particular phrase sounds like the word “spider.”
My informant told me that he heard this joke first when he was learning English after coming toAmerica. He told me that he felt a sense of accomplishment when he was able to understand the punch line as it marked his achievement in English comprehension. For me, this poem is a symbol for the blending of English/American and Chinese culture since the two respective languages are necessary for this joke.
The joke goes, “I just lost my mood ring. I don’t even know I feel about it.”
My informant heard it from his best friend and likes it because it reminds of that relationship, which he said is one based on humor. Their dynamic is always fun and things like puns and non sequiturs form a big part of it because they are often absurd and so a departure from the stressful real world. This joke is absurd, too. It’s funny because it implies that without a ring that is supposed to tell you your mood, you don’t know what your mood is or what your feelings are. It plays on the fact that mood rings don’t actually work and to know our feelings, we can simply ask ourselves how we feel. The joke makes the reverse seem true.
I think jokes like that, where we assert something absurd or untrue, are funny especially to the current generation because they’re a very self-aware form of humor (fits in with postmodernism). They don’t sound like typical jokes of the past, which are often very transparently jokes, but instead are just statements that we only know to be jokes because they are so untrue or absurd.
My informant is a Korean student attending the University of Southern California. He lived in Korea until the fourth grade and then, for familial reasons, moved to the Bay Area, where he went to school until coming down to Southern California for college. When I asked him to tell me a Korean joke, he thought for a bit, laughed, and said, “Weird. I only know Korean-American ones now,” which is understandable considering he has not gone back to Korea in the past five years. Mostly pun jokes, they were composed of Korean and English and require an understanding of both languages for them to be even remotely funny. For instance:
What is a vampire’s favorite drink?
This is funny because 코피 in Korean means nosebleed, while the way it is pronounced, kopi, sounds a lot like the English word coffee. So while the real answer is nosebleed, kopi adds another dimension to it by making it sound like vampires like coffee. In this case, the audience would need to know English to understand the question, but also the Korean word for nosebleed, and understand that its humor comes from kopi‘s similarity to an English word–a complex, bilingual understanding.
Which celebrity likes to hold the most luggage?
Now this is one that, if you did not know better, you would think was an American joke because of the lack of Korean words. However, this is only funny because Jim (or jeem) in Korean means, more or less, “luggage,” while Carrey just sounds like “carry.” Jim Carrey’s name in Korean-American terms then, could be seen as Luggage Carrey.
These jokes are deceivingly simple, actually requiring a pretty advanced understanding of both languages for them to be immediately funny, as they are supposed to be (my informant could not stop laughing while he told these jokes, while I stared at him blankly, especially the second one). In that way, it can be seen almost as a rite of passage, or a kind of test, for Korean-Americans. To be truly bilingual, to be truly Korean-American, is to be able to understand these kinds of jokes. The fact that these jokes exist at all, in fact, makes it clear that Korean-Americanism is its own culture–that Koreans living in America are not just displaced peoples, losing their culture to America, but an entirely new, emerging culture that thrives on its distinction from both Korea and America.
親父 (oyaji) in Japanese is a somewhat derogatory word for middle-aged men (for instance, my informant said that the word 親父 reminds her of a half-drunken forty-ish man sprawled on the couch in a sweaty wife-beater, watching a baseball game). ギャグ (gagu) is derived from the English word gag, and literally just means joke. Translated literally then, 「親父ギャグ」 is “middle-aged man jokes,” which is not far from its contextualized definition.
親父ギャグ aren’t just meant for middle-aged men, however. In short, an 親父ギャグ is simply any extremely lame joke, usually some form of pun or wordplay. There is a stereotype (or a blaison populaire of sorts) in Japan that dictates that middle-aged men are the ones that most often tell these jokes, because they do not care whether other people find it funny, as long as they themselves think that the joke is funny. Indeed, my informant’s father is an 親父ギャグ man, and when he tells one of these jokes, he finds his joke funny, but also finds it funny that none of his audience thought it was funny– in fact, he almost takes pleasure in their raised eyebrows and the shaking of their heads as they say, tiredly but affectionately, “Oh, there he goes again.”
My informant grew up in the city of Naha in Okinawa, Japan, and had 親父ギャグ engrained in her life from a young age by her own father. 親父ギャグ are most times made purposely lame–it seems as if it is a way, almost, of lowering oneself on purpose, so that other people are encouraged to be more themselves as well, a sort of ice-breaker. Look, the performance of it says, there’s no judgment here! Oftentimes 親父ギャグ can liven up a gathering or conversation in that way; it is extremely difficult not to smile or laugh at someone who is laughing hysterically at their own lame joke. When telling an 親父ギャグ, the subliminal aim is not to make everyone laugh at the joke–the point is to have everyone laugh at you laughing at your own joke, making yourself seem more accessible to everyone around you. In that sense, it is often a great act of bravery to tell an 親父ギャグ (unless, of course, you think it’s actually funny, and are embarrassed when nobody laughs at the joke itself). Both parties need to accept that the joke is lame, and laugh about it.
Some examples of 親父ギャグ from my informant’s father, which may or may not retain their humor through the translation (not that there was much humor in them to begin with):
A: “How do you say sidewalk in Japanese?”
B: 歩道？ (pronounced hodou, sidewalk, in Japanese.)
C: なるほどう！ (pronounced naruhodou, means I SEE! in Japanese)
Get it? Or this:
I’ll eat konnyaku tonight.
(This is funny, or supposed to be funny, because the food is konnyaku, and “I’m gonna eat tonight” casually is “konya (tonight) kuu (eat)” so they sound almost exactly the same.)
These are the kind of jokes that would get glazed-over expressions, silence, and low “ohhhhhhh my goodness…….” kinds of reactions if told in America. The difference is, that these jokes’ significance rest in their very lameness.
In Japan, a society governed by relatively strict social hierarchies and characterized by an almost extreme amount of politeness, these lame jokes are a way to let off some steam, and temporarily cast off any forms of judgment. 親父ギャグ are relaxing, in a way, because they do not require much effort from either party–the performer is not really trying to be funny, and all the audience needs to do is roll their eyes a bit, and smile.
ANNOTATION: In Japan, there is a popular children’s book series called 「かいけつゾロリ」(Kaiketsu Zorori), published by Poplar Publishing. The original books were also made into a feature-length film, a comic, and an anime. In this series, the fox protagonist of the story (and a wanted criminal) keeps traveling around the world with the goal of becoming the “King of Pranks.” This fox protagonist, Zorori, is the owner of the ぶっくらこいた (Bukkura Koita), a book that tells 親父ギャグ (oyaji gyagu) so bad that they physically freeze all those who hear it. In the series, he often uses this books to freeze or confuse his pursuers and opponents in order to make a quick get-away. That 親父ギャグ are used in a children’s series to add humor, then, illustrates the way 親父ギャグ are often viewed in Japanese society–something to make fun of, a distraction of sorts, but something people enjoy and find humorous all the same.
<Hara, Yutaka. Kaiketsu Zorori No Doragon Taiji. Kaiketsu Zorori. Tokyo: Poplar Publishing, 1995.>
<原, ゆたか. かいけつゾロリのドラゴンたいじ. かいけつゾロリ. Tokyo: Poplar Publising, 1995.>