Told over the entire span of a four-hour car ride, the so-called Longest Joke in the World was re to myself and two others by a friend as a means to pass the time.
On asking us if we would like to hear the joke, given the large expanse of time before us, we declined to listen. However, the friend insisted on the worthiness of its ending. Sold on the promise of a hard-earned ending, we agreed. And he told the story.
Because outlining the story line-by-line and beat-by-beat would understandably occupy too much space, I have compressed it into a greatly abridged format. It should be re-noted that the story was originally told over the course of four hours, with the friend continually reiterating the quality of its ending:
A man becomes lost in the desert after a compulsive, possibly suicide-oriented weekend vacation, spending days wandering the sand to no concluding avail and eventually running out of food and water.
After seven days, nearing death, the man stumbles upon a massive array of what appear to be solar panels, although ancient in appearance. Arranged in a circular pattern and spanning what must be miles, he makes his way to the center. There at the center sits a simple lever. Curled around the lever, a snake named Nate.
The snake speaks to the man, offering comfort. Billions of years old, the snake is the same age as the Earth, his sole duty since the planet’s beginning being the protection of the lever. To turn the lever would be to end the planet.
The snake, being an all-powerful entity, grants the man passage out of the desert. Before the man leaves, the snake asks that he come back and visit for the sake of providing company and conversation. After all, billions of years can become quite lonely.
The man returns home, and given a new passion for life, becomes very financially successful over the years. And each year, he does not fail to return and visit Nate the snake. The two become best friends over a matter of decades. Eventually, Nate explains that his time on Earth is coming to an end and introduces his young son, Daniel.
Since Nate will be gone soon and the man is the only connection to the outside world, Nate asks the man to show Daniel the wonders of the planet before he is required to be confined around the lever for potentially billions of years.
The man obliges and takes Daniel on a journey around the world (made possible by his financial success) that lasts a number of years. Soon, the man grows to see Daniel as comparable to a son of his own. When the time comes to return to the desert, the man gets a car and drives the two back to the array and Nate (as opposed to flying a plane, helicopter, etc.) in order to extend just as much time as they can until it’s time to leave each other to their respective lives.
On arriving to the array, the car stops at the top of a large hill. Down at the bottom sits Nate, waiting for them. The man and Daniel lament the end of their time together, proceeding down the hill in the car. Suddenly, the brakes give out and the car, going through the sand, is unable to be steered.
Having gained full speed, the car heads straight for Nate and the lever. The man and Daniel are horrified but cannot change the course of the car to miss either one. The man is now faced with the unavoidable outcome of hitting either his best friend or a lever that destroy the world.
The man turns to Daniel and says, “better Nate than lever.”
And hits Nate.
On the first experience of hearing this joke, one might initially assume that it falls under the category of ‘shaggy dog’ jokes, where a story/joke/etc. intentionally goes on indefinitely, with the humor being derived from an audience member eventually having to cut off the speaker in order to formally bring a halt to a performance that technically has no end.
The fact that this ‘Longest Joke in the World’ indeed has an end would seem to disqualify it from this category. While it is true that the story does go on for a greatly extended period of time, the emotionally engaging (ie non-joking) bulk of the story is meant to subtly disarm the listener from comedic anticipation, abruptly switching gears for a hilariously and frustratingly simple grammatical joke that comprises the ending. The effectiveness of the story as a whole would be greatly reduced if the hours of oral recitation did not precede it.
This being said, the length of performance can conceivably vary greatly to a couple of hours or even a mere 45 minutes. The time spent telling it relies on a number of factors, including how much time is presently available, the patience of the listeners, and the ability of the performer to recount the details in their entirety. However, an extended period of time spent telling the joke is the primary tool that contributes to its effectiveness.
To read the original ‘complete’ version of this joke, go online in search of ‘The Longest Joke in the World’ via any search engine.
The link is included here: