Category Archives: Humor

An apple a day keeps the doctor away


M is a student at USC. She told me about a common proverb about doctors that is considered a joke in her family because her parents are doctors.


“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”


This proverb traditionally means that eating apples or being healthy by eating nutritious food will help prevent unwanted doctor’s visits caused by poor health or illness. On the other hand, since my informant’s parents are doctors, she thinks this common proverb is more of a joke because it suggests that she can avoid her parents by eating apples. Avoiding parents is something all teenagers can relate to, and it appears that children of doctors do as well.

What, You’re Coming Empty Handed?


The informant is my grandfather, who spent his teens living in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City. This joke was one he heard every now and then. He calls it New York Jew humor.


I heard this joke a few years ago while out to dinner with my grandfather and his brother. When they get together, they tell jokes for hours on end, like they used to growing up in New York.

Main Piece:

The woman says to her friend, “Rachel, is it true you just moved into a big, new apartment?”

Rachel says, “It’s true. Why don’t you come visit. It’s on 1584 8th st. What you’ll do is you’ll take the train down to 8th st and get out. You’ll walk up to the door, there’s a big double door, and open the door with your left elbow and then use your right elbow to prop the door open and walk in. There’s another door, so you have to go to the list of buzzers and with the left elbow, buzz apartment 680. It’ll ring me upstairs and I’ll buzz you in. Then you use the right elbow to press down on the handle of the inside door and push in. You’ll be in the lobby and you walk up to the elevator and with the left elbow you press ‘up.’ You’ll get into the elevator and with the right elbow press ‘six’ for the sixth floor. The elevator will take you to the sixth floor and then you’ll walk to the left down the hall to apartment 680. You’ll ring the doorbell with the right elbow, and you can give some knocks with the left elbow. I’ll come open the door and you’ll come in and I’ll show you around and we’ll have some coffee.

“Wait, Rachel! What kind of directions are these with all the ‘right elbow’ and ‘left elbow? What’s with all the elbows?’

She says, “What? You’re coming empty-handed?”


Per my grandfather’s own words, this joke epitomizes Jewish humor, at least Jewish humor originating out of New York City. The joke distills the customs and character traits of New York’s Jewish population down to a joke. The meticulous nature of the idiosyncratic details that Rachel describes with all the elbows reminds me greatly of my aunts and uncles that still live in New York. It also conveys the expected hospitality and custom of bringing a gift when someone invites you over to their home. My grandfather also tells the joke with a voice, using a nasally, baritone voice when speaking Rachel’s part, making a mocking imitation of a middle-aged Jewish woman from New York. Much of this Jewish humor that my grandfather has described to me is somewhat masochistic and self-degrading. It makes sardonic, comic relief of shared experiences between New York Jews, such as the ones shared between my grandfather and his brother.

Jewish One Liners


The informant is my grandfather, who spent most of his teens in 1950’s and 60’s New York City. He is Jewish, and grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, immersing himself deep into the lore and sardonic nature of Jewish, New York humor.


These are some jokes my grandfather has told me to me over and over since I could walk. There’d be many times at family functions and events that we’d be talking and he’d break into a tirade of “Jewish jokes,” flinging out one-liners and jokes from Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and jokes he heard on the sidewalks in the city growing up. My grandfather told me that he and his friends would go for hours, cracking joke after joke like rapid fire, imitating the comedians on the radio.

Main Piece:

A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill. The doctor gave him another six months.

I broke my leg in two places. The doctor told me to stop going to those places.

My dad was the town drunk. Usually that’s not so bad, but in New York City?


These one-liners were always my favorite jokes growing up. For me, they were my first impression of an era of post-WWII America immortalized by films and television: New York City in the mid-20th century. This was a time where many immigrants were coming to the United States and establishing identities for their communities in this new land. My grandfather moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the city after his family emigrated from Israel. Many of the jokes he heard and told with his friends during his time growing up there formed the backbone of the Jewish identity in New York City. These jokes are quick, witty, and overly masochistic. The Jewish people suffered greatly in Europe in the prior decades, and now they were forced to try and assimilate to a foreign country. These one-liners are almost a coping mechanism for the Jewish people, as they learn to laugh at pain and misfortune. A broken leg is certainly not as severe as the Holocaust, yet it mimics the misfortune and shares the experience with companions when the joke is told to a group of friends hanging out in a schoolyard.

The Doc Benton Story

Informant Background:

            My informant, JC, is my father. He attended Dartmouth College, and was an active member of the Dartmouth Outing Club, or DOC.

Piece of Folklore:

JC: “The most important ritual of the DOC might be the annual ‘Freshman Trips’ orientation in the fall, where student leaders from the DOC take incoming freshmen out into wild places across northern New England for several days, teaching them Dartmouth songs and lore and bonding as a group with no adults around. All of these different trips convene at Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge on Mount Moosilauke, where the bone-tired freshmen would gather around the fireplace and listen to a shaggy-dog, long, winding ghost story called ‘The Doc Benton Story.’ The story is based on local legend — a 19th-century scientist named Benton becomes obsessed with finding the right alchemy/chemistry that might unleash eternal life. As he’s working on his experiments, he gets married, but his young bride tragically dies. Benton disappears, never to be seen again. But strange things start happening all around Mount Moosilauke; farmers’ animals unexpectedly die. A logger goes to the Dartmouth’s tip-top house atop the mountain and mysteriously dies, with strange marks on his body. Years later, a hiker is separated from his group and disappears. His body is later found, with the same strange marks on his body. Reports surface here and there of a dark cloaked figure haunting the flanks of the mountain — though it would be years after Doc Benton would have died had he lived out his natural life. Anyway… the teller of the tale digresses into the geology of the mountain, the history of the towns around the mountain, the education that Doc Benton received, extraneous family history of his relatives and so on and so on for an hour or more, with the best storytellers stretching it on for almost two hours, until the first-year students are nodding off and struggling to stay awake. And then at the climactic moment in the tale all the upper-class D.O.C. members let out an absolutely blood-curdling scream, terrifying the freshmen.”


            The tale of Doc Benton is a classic initiation ritual – It forms an in-joke that all of the people already folded into the subculture are aware of at the new members’ expenses. It works especially well because telling ghost stories around a campfire is also a very common tradition, so the ruse that the freshman are asked to believe in is very believable. Knowing what is coming becomes an easy indicator of who is a part of the subculture and who isn’t. Because of the shared experience of being startled when older members were first hearing it, it also creates a cycle of anticipation and shared experiences, even if they are set apart by a number of years. Additionally, the tale itself is grounded heavily in the land and the area around Mount Moosilauke, as the D.O.C. is, so although it is primarily used to set up the punch line of the scream, it has cultural significance in and of itself too, tying in bits of actual local history and culture into random made-up details.

Turkish Comedic Tales

Background Information: 

The informant is an older person who grew up in Central Turkey in the 40s and 50s. They have now been living in the US for the last 30 years. They are describing things from their childhood. 

Main Content:

ME: Can you tell me a little bit about the Nasrettin Hoca story? 

NA: Yeah, so he (Nasrettin Hoca), goes to his neighbor and asks “Can I borrow your pan”, cooking pan you know? Then he says “Ok” and gives him the pan. And then he uses it and then puts a little pan, his own, in it, and returns the pan the nest day. Then the neighbor says, “Hoca, what is this?”. He says,” Well, your pan has given birth”. (We both laugh). “So this is yours too”. And then okay, two days later, Hoca goes back and asks for that pan, the one that he borrowed originally, and then he takes it and never gives it back. Neighbor waits for few days and then goes to Hoca and says,” Hoca, I need my pan would you give it back to me?”. Hoca responded,” I don’t have it, it died”. The neighbor asks, “Hoca, how is that possible, how can a pie die?”. Hoca responded,” Well, you believed in the birth, how come you don’t believe in death?”. 

ME: That’s really funny (laughing)


This conversation happened over a FaceTime call. 


This legend is a part of a larger collection of folk legends about this one man, Nasrettin Hoca. These tales are very popular in the Turkish oral storytelling tradition. These stories are often told to little kids to teach them life lessons, while also providing some comedic relief. The man, Nasrettin, is clearly an idiot, but his story can actually serve as a valuable life lesson to children and even people. The neighbor had no issues accepting the extra pan when Hoca told him that it had “given birth”, but was upset when Hoca took the pan and claimed that it had “died”. This oral story clearly is trying to convey the lesson of “The Golden Rule”, or treating others how you want to be treated. The neighbor could have not accepted the extra pan, in which case Hoca would not have stolen his pan. Conveying this through a comedic and fun medium is also much more entertaining and compelling to small children. For a written version of this tale, see this book: Nasrettin Hoca Hikayeleri. Hürriyet, 2015.