Age: late 30's
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 30 April 2014
Primary Language: English
The informant (B) is a professor at the Keck School of Medicine. He teaches gross anatomy to the medical students but his research focuses mainly on primates, both extant and extinct. He has been studying or teaching biological anthropology since he started his undergraduate education in 1995 at the University of Chicago. He got his Masters and PhD at Stony Brook University and has had a lot of interaction with other biological anthropologists and anatomists. Biological anthropology is a field that is hard to explain to others at times, so there are lots of jokes that only make sense if you know a lot about primates. I asked B for one such joke and he told me the following:
Q: What do ayes-ayes and celebrities have in common when there are paparazzi around?
A: They like to show off their middle fingers!
Ayes-ayes (pronounced eye-eyes) are relatively small, nocturnal primates that have an elongated middle finger that they use to tap trees and extract little bugs to eat (See attached picture). They pretty much look like drowned rats and used to be classified as rodents, even though we now know that they are actually primates. This joke is “funny” because their middle fingers make it look like they are flipping off the camera, just as some celebrities do to paparazzi. A lot of the humor in this joke comes from comparing aye-ayes, which are pretty strange looking, to celebrities, who are usually very attractive. Other than flipping off the camera, aye-ayes and celebrities have nothing else in common.
While this joke is somewhat funny, even B acknowledges it is pretty bad. The usual reaction is a cringe face because the joke is so bad yet entertaining to think about. This joke will not make sense to anyone who does not know the basic features that aye-ayes have, and the joke is not funny enough to bother explaining to anyone who doesn’t already know about their middle fingers, so this joke is pretty much only told to other academics who focus on primates.
The picture attached was found on arkive.org. (Zoos don’t usually have aye ayes, so I do not have any of my own pictures and neither did B) Clicking on the picture will link to the arkive.org page on aye ayes.