Zach, my friend and fellow sophomore at USC, is one of the most intelligent individuals I know yet simultaneously has one of the strangest senses of humor I’ve ever come across. He introduced me to a category of humor I had never heard of: the anti-joke. When asked for his favorite, he refused to pick one, claiming “there are too many to choose one.” I chose three of my favorites from the multitudes he listed off.
Zach: “What’s red and smells like blue paint?”
Zach: “Red paint.”
Zach: “What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car.”
Zach: “Get in the car.”
Zach: “What would George Washington do if he were alive today?”
Zach: “Scream and scratch at the top of his coffin.”
These statements are in no way humorous. Instead, the anti-joke is a type of indirect humor that involves the joke-teller delivering something which is deliberately not funny. By setting itself up in the traditional form of a joke, the anti-joke builds the audience’s expectation for a funny punchline, toys with this expectation by instead delivering the most logical answer to the original question. Without this expectation, the anti-joke would be not be a category of humor at all. Yet the irony of the answer being so obvious and not funny is what provides the comedic value.
Personally, I didn’t understand the appeal of the anti-joke or other similar alternative forms of comedy for a long time. It wasn’t funny, and that’s the point of humor, right? However, once I understood that the purpose isn’t to be funny per say, but to invert expectations and parody the traditional idea of the joke, I found myself laughing along with every single one of the jokes that Zach was rattling off for their blatant non-attempt to be funny.