Tag Archives: childrens humor

Puerto Rican Fish Pun

GM is a college student studying communications. She is Puerto Rican and grew up in Miami. Both of her parents lived in Puerto Rico before moving to the United States and passed on Puerto Rican culture to her and her siblings.

Context: This joke was told over the dining room table while eating lunch. GM said when she was younger her grandmother told her this joke.

Transcript:

GM: This is one my family tells also:

Fish 1: ¿Qué hace tu papá para el trabajo?

Fish 2: Nada

GM: So “nada” in Spanish means nothing but it also means swim. I’m not sure if other Islands or Latin countries use “nada” for swim because it depends, but in Puerto Rico you can honestly just tell by the context of the sentence or conversation. That’s what makes it so funny; The second fish’s answer could go either way.

Thoughts/Analysis: This pun uses double meaning in words and is largely a children’s joke. Different Latin cultures use different words for things, and seeing as jokes are a significant part of cultural life and this is one example of its significance in Puerto Rican life. It is similar to English/American puns, in which homonyms are used.

Dirty Rotten Devil

Background:

My informant for this piece is my grandmother, who learned this song from her father and passed it on to her children and grandchildren. She grew up up in North Central Wisconsin and suspects that it came from one of the men’s groups, likely a fraternity, that her father was a part of there.

Context:

My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it down by the water on our family vacations to Lake Kathrine, Wisconsin, during summers when I was growing up.

Main Piece:

“I’m a devil, a dirty rotten devil, put poison in my mother’s cream of wheat! I put a blotch on, the family escutcheon, and I eat *slurp noise 2x* raw meat!”

Analysis:

While this piece of lore could be looked at as great example of how dark comedy can play an important role in the relationships between an individual and their loved ones, I want to consider it through the lens of a parent who’s child is mad at them. Given that a the rhyme uses the word “escutcheon” (the spelling of which I had to Google), I think it’s unlikely that it was written by a child. With that in mind, the parent in this situation is able to satirize the childs anger at them by joking that the child wishes to poison them–while that may not be completely true, it’s possible that the parent feels there’s some truth in the statement. Nonetheless, in noting the amount of chaos that children can cause at times, this rhyme shows the wisdom of a parent accepting that fact in their ability to make light of it.

Llama Song

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Happy llama

Sad llama

Totally rad llama

Super llama

Drama llama

Don’t forget Barack-a-llama”

Context: The llama song was traditionally performed around age eight and stopped around age eleven. The performer cannot recall any particular reasons for starting it up, it was just the sort of thing chanted on the playground when bored. The llama hand motion (ring and middle finger touching thumb and pinky and index pointing up to form a llama head) was essential to performance.

Thoughts: I am familiar with the llama song, despite growing up in a different state than the performer. Her version has slightly different, more appropriate lyrics, despite the rhythm and the hand motions being the same. The part that surprised me the most was the final line “don’t forget Barack-a-llama,” because it specifically dates the song around the year 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected as President of the United States. Contextually, I think that this reference is an interesting measure of what children pay attention to—most elementary school-aged children would not be aware of politics before the 2008 election, but the event was memorable enough that proper nouns stripped of all political or historical meaning would work their way into children’s playground folk culture. The preoccupation with llamas is something else I’ve always wondered about, because I recall other childhood songs and jokes about them. I think it’s a combination of the unique spelling (the double “ll” is not common for English speakers), the inner rhyme of the word “llama,” and the fact that llamas were a rarer animal than, say, dogs or horses. For young children just getting familiar with the English language, the word “llama” is both easy to rhyme and funny to describe, as demonstrated with this song.

Playground Taunts

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Brick Wall

Waterfall

Boy you think you got it all

You don’t

I do

So poof with the attitude

Loser, whatever

Flyaway forever

Where’d you go?

Loserville

Population? You!”

Context: The performer explained that traditionally this taunt was chanted in elementary school, usually from the age ranges of eight to eleven. She explained that most of the time, they chanted it on the back of the bus on the way home from school, usually with friends. She mentioned a social heirachy on the bus, which stemmed from the fact that children were all different ages but lived in the same area, so the third graders, who didn’t like the fourth graders and so on, would chant it back and forth in a playfully “mean” manner. Sometimes it was targeted at a specific person and other people would join in.

Thoughts: Growing up in a different state from the performer, I had not heard this chant before, nor did I ever take a bus to elementary school. Still, I think the chant is amusing, especially looking at how it eases tensions for young children in a way that isn’t violent or truly hurtful. Instead they trade somewhat playful stock insults, which other children are encouraged to join in on. I wonder if there was a standard rebuttal phrase the performer and her friends would use if others sang this at them. The comment about the age-related hierarchy is also interesting, presumably because this sort of chant would only be learned by listening to old kids singing it. In addition to the lyrics, the performer had simple hand motions to accompany the lyrics (“where’d you go”/shrug, “population, you”/pointing at other person).

Violent Barney Song Parody

Main Piece:

(to the tune of the Barney Theme Song)

“I hate you

You hate me

Let’s get together and kill Barney

With a baseball bat and two-by-four

No more purple dinosaur!”

Background: The performer is a friend of mine in his early twenties. He spent his entire childhood in Long Beach, California and now lives in Tacoma, Washington. He went to public school in the Long Beach Unified School District from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and his elementary school (grades kindergarten through fifth) had around five hundred kids in it.

Context: The informant hadn’t sung the song since elementary school, but he was willing to perform it for me anyways. In a traditional context, the Barney spoof would be sung on the blacktop by children ranging from seven or eight years old all the way through elementary school (10 to 11). A remembers learning it from kids a few years older, hence the dark material.  After singing it, A seemed a bit embarrassed and shocked at his parody and asked me why we all had such animosity for Barney in particular.

Thoughts: Though I did not attend the same elementary school as the informant, I can remember similar violent Barney songs. I wonder if the informant’s school had ever tried to ban them the way mine did for their violent and sometimes gory rhetoric. It’s strange how it seems so disturbing now; A and I both thought the songs were very funny as children. I suspect that Barney was a popular target because of his infantilizing dynamic and dopey voice, as opposed to other childhood PBS characters like. Elmo or Dora the Explorer. Anti-Barney humor is actually a well-recognized phenomenon, in both adult and children folk groups alike. For young children, the violent humor can be a way of navigating changing worldviews and increasing maturity—the graphic gore or death taunts are a schoolyard form of taboo humor, a way of rebelling against previously held-notions of childhood and asserting that they are more mature than parents, teachers, and popular children’s shows might regard them.