Background: My informant grew up in a small town in Michigan in the 70s. Growing up, her friends would often sit around bonfires and tell stories. She tells me this is one of her favorite campfire jokes because you think it’s going to be a scary story, but it actually turns out to be a joke, which usually makes it funnier because people are expecting to be scared. She tells me the joke is told at the campfire as if it’s something that happened to you at a different campfire. We sit in her living room as she tells me the story.
“So we were all sitting around the fire, just like this”
She motions to the campfire we were pretending was in between us
“And suddenly we all heard ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye’”
She uses a deep ghostly voice for the part of the ghost
“Everyone looked around in shock like ‘what?! What was that?!’”
She says this part in a hushed tone
“Then we heard it again ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye’ only this time it was louder”
She continues to speak in a hushed tone except when she does the ghost’s voice
“And then it gets closer, ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye!’ by now everyone is shivering”
She makes a shivering sound
“Closer and closer, louder and louder, we kept hearing it. ‘I am the ghost with one. black . eye! I AM THE GHOST WITH ONE. BLACK. EYE’”
She gets louder
“And all of a sudden it’s right behind us ‘I AM THE GHOST WITH ONE. BLACK. EYE!’ and I stood up and I shouted ‘IF YOU DON’T SHUT UP YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE GHOST WITH TWO BLACK EYES!’”
She starts laughing
Analysis: As she was telling me this joke, I could tell it was important to her. She would smile to herself in the middle of sentences as if she was reliving her childhood sitting around campfires. While I did find the joke to be funny, I agree with her that part of the reason the punchline is so impactful is that you get caught up in the fear of there being a ghost that you aren’t expecting it to turn out to be a big joke. Sitting around a fire at night would have made it more impactful than sitting in her living room, but nonetheless the voices she used for the characters and the intensity in telling the story made it a very successful joke.