My informant was in theater and choir in high school. He told me about one particular joke that his choir director liked to tell during their concerts. This is his description:
“My choir director in high school would always tell the same joke during our concerts. I think he learned it from his college a cappella group, and the joke was, ‘What’s blue and looks like a bucket? A blue bucket. And what’s red and looks like a bucket? A blue bucket disguised as a red bucket.’ And I never really thought it was funny, and he told it at every single concert whenever there was an a long transition onstage and it was just silent and awkward in the house, and he would just tell that joke. Then after he passed away halfway through my sophomore year, at every concert since, someone if there’s ever an awkward silence will say, ‘What’s blue and looks like a bucket?’ And we’ll all laugh, but the new choir director doesn’t get it at all. And that’s actually very funny, because he doesn’t get it and we all do, which is probably mean.”
Humor is often used to alleviate tension. In this case, my informant did not always think this particular joke was very humorous, but he appreciated his director’s attempts to fill some awkward silences. This piece of folklore was initially used to lighten the mood of the audience; it also fostered a sense of community, because people who were members of the choir or who attended the concerts regularly could be in on the joke. They knew it was coming, and when it inevitably did, they could laugh together. In contrast, the new choir director was seen as a bit of an outsider, because he did not fully appreciate the context of the joke and never thought it was funny in the way that the rest of the community did. In addition to separating the choir and the devoted concert attendees from the newcomers, this folklore evolved into a token of remembrance. After the death of the old choir director, students told it to honor his memory in a way. It is a small example of how people sometimes use humor to cope with death. Instead of paying somber tributes to the former choir director at every concert, they tell a joke and make people laugh; they are able to fondly remember one of his silly habits together.