Joke – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

“A student at USC had not spoken to her parents in over a month and a half.  She finally decided to call her father and explain why she had not been in contact for so long.  So she calls him up and her dad answers.  She starts off right away saying ‘Hi dad! I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch lately.  Three weeks ago I fractured my skull when I had to jump out of my dorm window because the hall caught on fire.  I feel a lot better now that I only get a headache once a day.’ When her dad hears this, he gets really worried that his daughter is hurt, but she keeps talking and says ‘Anyway, college is so fun.  I  think I’ve decided I’m going to be an art major.’  This shocks the girl’s dad, since his daughter has always been good at math and science.  He asks why she has had such a radical change of heart and she tells him ‘Well, I met this great guy when I was at a bar near campus.  He’s an artist and is trying to get some of his work in a gallery.  He has so much talent, and I’ve decided I want to help him make it in the industry.’ Her dad doesn’t understand what his daughter means, so she continues to explain that she has dropped out of most of her classes, aside from a painting class, so she can work to pay for a studio for her new boyfriend.  Then the girl tells her dad that she is in love and is planning to marry her boyfriend once they find an apartment in L.A.  Her dad is speechless at this point, completely in shock.  The daughter waits for a second and then says “Dad! I’m just kidding!  I’m still taking all my classes at USC, I’m not dropping out of college to help a starving artist, and I’m not getting married!  I just have a C- in Econ.”

Dylan said that his Micro Economics teacher, Professor Mangum, told him this story during class one day.  During a review for the midterm, the professor was telling the students to try not to stress out about the exam.  In order to relieve some of the tension, the professor decided to tell this joke and said that if the students do poorly, they could use this story in order to break the news to their parents.

Dylan said he had heard the story before, but it was especially funny this time because it was changed to be about a USC student taking an economics class.  Because of the context of the joke, Dylan felt like he could relate to the joke more.  Also, Dylan said that even though the joke is highly exaggerated, it did help him feel less stressed before the midterm because there are worse things that could happen besides a bad grade.

I was also in Dylan’s econ class and heard this joke from the professor, although I had a different reaction to the joke than Dylan.  I knew that if I tried to employ the same tactics as the girl from the joke, my parents would not be relieved that I was “only” getting a C-; my mom would be mad at me for lying, and then even more mad for doing poorly in school.  Therefore, it is clear that depending on a person’s family situation, the joke will be interpreted differently.  Parents that value good grades would be less likely to feel relieved after hearing the “punch line” of the joke (that the girl only got a C-), whereas parents that stress good moral behavior would have a greater appreciation for the resolution.

Furthermore, the success of the joke relies on the contrast between the seemingly horrible situation that the girl has gotten herself into and the reality of only having one bad grade.  For someone who cares a lot about doing well in school, a poor grade may be as catastrophic as suffering from a fractured skull.  Thus, personal values also play an important role in how the joke is interpreted.  For Dylan, getting one bad grade seemed better than dropping out of college to date an artist.  In my opinion, the whole story was too exaggerated to be believable, so the only thing I could focus on was the thought of getting a C- in Econ, and therefore the joke was not that funny.

Annotation: For more information on the “Bad grade in college” joke, consult the following:

Dundes, Alan and Carl G. Pagter. Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire. Austin: American Folklore Society, 1975. p.p. 40-41.