Shaggy Dog Story

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.

The informant used to tell shaggy dog stories very often. Shaggy dog stories are really long jokes with a usually very disappointing punch line, which makes the audience groan. She used to tell them in grade school, especially with her two brothers. She would tell them among the family or among friends. The stories would usually be told while walking around or during free time. They used the stories to fill the time and amuse themselves during free time. The informant had more time to fill as there was not a television in her family and she and her brothers did not participate in more structured entertainments or activities, such as sports or clubs. She and her brothers would walk to school and back and around town and told these stories during the journeys to fill the time. And in every telling the details and exact structure of the story would change.

Shaggy Dog Story (transcribed as it was told):

This story is about a man and one day he goes to a pet store. He fancies buying a pet. And so he’s looking at the cats, looking at the dogs, and he’s looking at the birds and the rabbits and all the other animals in the pet store and then he sees this really weird little small furry thing. And so the little was about two inches, with round furry feet, you could barely see it because it was just a ball fur. And he went up to the store owner and says, “What’s this?” And the person says, “Oh. Oh, yeah though. Oh, yeah, you don’t see many of them. I call it a rarie.” And so he, um, said, “I’ll buy it. It’s only five pounds.” So he took it home with the rarie food, and was told he could feed it rarie food and scraps, meat or grain. It wasn’t a vegetarian. He fed it and he went to bed and he checked in on it the next morning in its cage and looked in and he went, “Huh.” It seemed to have grown. Really, it was like two inched across the night before and then it looked like it was three inches across now. So he thought, “odd”, put food in the bowl and the rarie ate it all up and started, like, running around the outside of the cage squeaking so he gave it more food and he ate up all that. And, next day he goes to check on the rarie, it’s five inches across. And so it goes until this rarie is pretty much filling the cage and he realizes he’s gonna have to get a larger one. So he goes and buys a larger cage and he puts the rarie in it and he buys a heck a lot of rarie food and um, you know, some loaves of bread and some other stuff, um. The cheap bread, you know, ’cause he figures, this could get expensive. As indeed turns out to be the case. Because every day that rarie has grown. Soon it’s outgrown that second cage and he has to get an even larger one. And then, a week later it’s outgrown the larger cage and he has to put it in the bath. And then, the rarie outgrows the bath. And he goes to the pet store and says, “What’s going on? This rarie is getting bigger and bigger?” And the man says, “Well, sir, I, if you look at the form that you signed when we bought the rarie, it says, you know, all responsibility is transferred to you upon the transaction. And I really can’t be answerable for your problems. But we’ve got some rarie food on twenty percent sale right now. So if you’d like to pick up a few more, uh, bags”. So the man says, “Alright, but how big is it gonna grow?”. He said, “Well don’t really know much about raries, sir. Never had one before”. So, he buys a whole bunch of rarie food and in fact has to borrow his friends pick-up truck and fill it all up. And he has to go into his savings. And he, brings it all back. He buys a huge old metal wash tub basin, for putting water in, because the rarie is so big by this time that he’s basically sort of had to, move the rarie to the yard. And, um, make a very large rarie house and, uh, put him in a big, big pen. The rarie keeps growing. Growing and growing and growing. And he keeps on buying more and more food. And enlarging the enclosure. He’s lucky because he lives in the, uh, semi-countryside and he has a big field so the enclosure, there’s plenty of room for it get larger. But, he’s get worried. I mean now he’s worked through his savings in one bank account. He’s picking up night work to subsidize his income, which is not very much. Uh, to pay for the rarie food and his, and he’s lucky because he lives in England because, you know, you get all the water you want you’re not paying by the metre like in this country. And, or else the water bills would have just started to become astronomical. But even so, he’s getting worried because the field is only so big and by now the rarie is the size of… You know those VW buses? Well if you put two of them end to end that’s about how big the rarie has grown. And so it goes on. And he’s become very fond of the rarie, he combs his fur, and the rarie nuzzles his hand, and licks his face with his big raspy tongue and, but, he doesn’t know what to do. And so it goes. Until the rarie’s now as long as three VW, uh, vans, end to end. And he realizes there’s nothing to be done. He’s gonna have to get rid of this rarie. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s been back to the pet store multiple times and the pet store owner has started ducking into the back room when he sees him coming. And his secretary, and his shop assistant always says something like, “Oh, oh, you just missed him. He’s running errands, sir”. Or, “Oh, no. I don’t know nothing about the rarie. Um, can’t help you. Try tomorrow.” And so one day. After a night of soul searching. A night of soul searching. And it’s all silent outside, except for a gentle “thrrrrrrr, thrrrrr, thrrrrrrrrr”. Which is the rarie snoring. He realizes that he can’t go on anymore and the rarie has got to go. And he doesn’t know what to do with the rarie. And so what he does, he goes buys, rents, one of those big, uh, trucks that are, you know big flat bed trucks. Really big one. And, uh, the next morning he wakes up, he puts a leash on the rarie, and he, he leads the rarie into the truck. He slams the door shut and he starts driving. He drives long and far. He lives right in the middle of the countryside, uh, probably about two hundred miles from the beach. And what he’s decided he’s gonna do is he’s gonna drive to the white cliffs of Dover and toss and rarie over the cliff. ‘Cause what else can he do? The rarie, he hopes, can swim. And he’s, his idea is that maybe once in the water, swimming around, the rarie would, will just be able to feed himself on fish and kelp and anyway he just doesn’t know what to do. The zoos are not interested. So, he drives and he drives and he drives and he drives. He stops at a little coffee shop. And gets himself a coffee. And a doughnut. He gets back in the truck and he drives some more. He has to stop, has to let the rarie out to do, do its business. He has to load the rarie back into the truck. He drives more and more and more and more and more. He stops for lunch. At a little place and has some egg and chips. And gets back in the car. Truck, sorry. And drives and drives and drives and drives. And at last, he, the windows open he smells the brine of the ocean on his nostrils. And he hears the crying seagulls and he know that his destination is close. And by now the lanes that he’s driving are pretty narrow and its extremely difficult to navigate this huge flat bed truck. But, and like he can hear, he can feel the rarie getting lurched around in the back as he turns the tight bends. He arrives at the top of a white chalk cliff. Finds a place where he can park. He goes round. He opens the back door. He puts the leash on the rarie, lures the rarie out. He says, “Look. Rarie. I’m so very sorry, I just don’t know what to do. I, I can’t afford to feed you. I don’t have any room for you anymore. I, I’ve love your company, but this is getting out of hand. I don’t where things are gonna go. I, I’m at my wits end. I can’t afford to spend all this money on rarie food and scraps. Even if I cut out the rarie food entirely and just fed you on wonder bread, or something. Number one, it wouldn’t be very nutritious for you and number two I can’t even afford that anymore. I’ve been cleaning out the super market bread sections.” And the rarie looks at him and says. First of all the rarie licks his face and nuzzles his shoulder. And he says, “I understand. I know there’s nothing else you can do. But I just want to say”. And the man looks, by now there are tears falling down his cheeks and he looks up at the rarie and he says, “What, what is it?” And the rarie says, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”.

Analysis: The “shaggy dog” story/joke type is built for repetition. It is the details of the story, rather than the plot itself, that make the story interesting and worth retelling. It is this aspect of the shaggy dog story that probably led to it being retold so many times among the informant and her siblings, while trying to fill the time. The punchline of this story, although not the most important aspect of the joke, relies on knowledge of geography in Ireland for its humor. That would restrict the humor of the joke to a certain geographic region, centered around the British Isles. This probably contributes to why the informant does not tell this story in the US. The humor in the joke’s structure probably would not be received as well in America either. The punch line is very important in American humor. British humor is not so dependent on the punch line for all of the comedic value of a joke.