The informant is a caucasian female in her 50s. She was born and raised in England. She, and her three siblings, were raised as orthodox jews. After university, the informant moved to Northern California for graduate school. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she now resides. The informant trained in school as a biologist, but switched to journalism and now works for a large newspaper. She is divorced with one child.
Following are two jokes the informant learned from her father.
The informant learned this joke from her father. He started telling it to her and her siblings when they were very young and has continued to tell it to them even while they are in adulthood. She retold it to her siblings during childhood. The informant considers this to be on of the worse, most pathetic, cringe worthy jokes that she knows. Its telling, however, reminds her of her father in a very affectionate way, and so even while she hates the joke, she will tell it to others and enjoy being told it by her father.
What did the earwig say as he fell off the cliff? Earwego!
The informant was told this joke by her father. He told it his children when they were teenagers. Part of the joke was the story that went behind it. Her father first learned it from friends at school. He did not understand the implications of the joke and so he told it to his parents, who were extremely shocked. In the informant’s opinion, it is this back story that makes the joke worth retelling.
A woman is in the hospital, lying in bed, with her new baby in her arms. And a man is standing by her bed looking at the baby. A little old lady passes the bed. Looks at the baby and says, oh what a beautiful baby, doesn’t it look just like the father. And the man turns to her and says Chuck it Mrs., I’m the lodger.
Analysis: The first joke makes an interesting case. The informant herself states that she thinks it is a terrible joke, with little to no comedic value. And yet she enjoys having her father constantly retell it to her and will tell it herself to others. The informant’s propensity to transmit a bad joke has to do with the emotional significance she attributes to the joke. This emotional tie is probably heightened by the geographical distance between the informant and her father (Los Angeles to England). This example illustrates that it is not always the lore itself, its comedic value, etc., that determines whether it will survive and be passed along through society. There are other factors, besides quality, such as emotional resonance and context, that can be more important in determining the propagation of a piece of folklore. The second joke is another example of this. While this joke does contain more strict comedic punch, it is not this that drives the informant to retell or remember it. It is the associated story about her father that keeps this joke towards the forefront of her consciousness. In this case, the story behind the joke, a funny tale in and of itself, supercedes the actual material of the primary joke. The joke becomes a vessel for the telling of the amusing story about her father. In both of these cases, the piece of folklore cannot be extricated from its context, as it is the context that defines the jokes in the mind of the informant and propels their remembrance and continued use.