Tag Archives: humor

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” … “Because it was stupid.”

Text: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” … “Because it was stupid.”

Minor Genre: Joke, Anti-Humor


M said, “When my oldest daughter B was three, she told this joke, and everyone thought it was hilarious. She was telling it to my dad and she was trying to tease him back for all of the teasing he was doing to her.”


Although I don’t remember my original telling of the joke, this joke has been repeated frequently over the years in my family, its hilarity stemming from the idea that someone – a three year old girl, no less – had finally put my joke-loving grandfather in his place. I grew up hearing jokes all of the time from my grandfather, who loves to tease people. This joke arose likely as a combination of frustration about hearing the same joke one too many times and a desire to make him laugh.

It is interesting to look at this joke outside of my familial context, as it serves as an example of “anti-humor.” Anti-humor is a branch of humor that relies on irony and reversals in order to create a surprise factor within an already-familiar joke. This is ironic, because the traditional form of the joke (“Why did the chicken cross the road?… To get to the other side.”) is already seen as an example of anti-humor. The listener expects a funny punchline, but instead receive a flat statement about what is logical. In turn, my family’s joke is an anti-anti-humor: the listener expects the traditional answer, “to get to the other side,” and instead receives an abrupt quip: “because it was stupid.”

Row Your Boat Parody; Swim Ye Sperm

Informant was a teacher of sixth grade science for several years at a private, US K-12 school in the South.

Swim, swim, swim you sperm
From the testicles
to the epididymis
and onto vas deferens
Snack, snack, snack you sperm
on the sweets galore
From the seminal vesicle
not the grocery store
On, on, on you go
through the donut hole,
the prostate press
shoots you out
It is the great escape! 
(last line preformed as goodness what a mess, but when dictated out loud this was the last line used)
Swim, Swim, Swim Ye Sperm Preformed

Informant created this parody of row, row, row your boat for her sixth grade science classes when they learned the reproductive system. Her goal was to ease some of the awkwardness of the subject of genitals for middle school students by having them sing a silly, goofy song to both help them remember the reproductive system and to normalize the discussion of the topic. The other teacher that taught sixth grade students did not teach their students the song, so it became an identifiable marker of who was or was not in the informant’s class or associated with her. Additionally, because the song was so absurd, students often remembered the informant by this song she taught them.

As the informant’s daughter and with features that bare resemblance to her, I would be approached by random students several times throughout my years at the school she taught at. They would ask “Are you [informant]’s daughter?”, and when I replied that I was, they would explain that they were in her sixth grade science class and still remembered the song she taught them and then they would sing it to me.

The American School System has a long history of lacking when it comes to sexual education. Many students’ sex education can be summed up by the word “abstinence”. Although the private school this song was taught at did not have an extensive or even satisfactory sex education, it did have material covering the reproductive systems of males and females and how they worked individually. The conservative approach to the discussion of sex, sexual organs, and sexuality leads to those subjects being taboo both in school and outside of it. The informant’s use of a well know song to ground the subject in something well known and her parodying it with a subject rarely discussed provide a medium by which her students could comfortably and socially acceptably learn and talk about the reproductive systems that were taboo up until that time in their lives. She would sing the song to them first before they had to do it with her to ease tension and let them know it was okay to say or sing all of those words in her class. The need for such a song is indicative of the long standing taboo treatment of sex.

Joke: A Man Believes his Wife is Going Deaf

Text: “There’s a man that thinks that his wife is going deaf, so he comes up with a plan so that every day, when he comes back from work, he’s gonna stand at the door and ask ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ And every time [the wife] doesn’t answer, he’s gonna take a step toward the kitchen, where she’s making dinner. So the man gets home from work and he goes ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and he gets no answer, so he takes a step forward. And then he asks again, he goes ‘Honey what’s for dinner?’ and still no answer, so he takes another step forward. And he continues this until he’s right behind her and he asks again ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and then she says ‘For the last time, I told you we’re having spaghetti!’”

Conext: This informant, A, is a 20 year old artist and a USC junior majoring in Interactive Media and Game Design. They moved around as a child, but have family in Los Angeles and attended high school in the area.

A believes they heard this joke from one of their grandparents, most likely their grandpa, and says that they know it’s funny because, “the first time [they] told [this joke] to [their mom], she was driving and started swerving because she was laughing so hard.”

A usually uses this joke when someone asks if they have any good jokes. They mentioned that “it’s pretty long,” so they’ll “always add it.”

Interpretation: There are a couple of ways this joke’s punchline could be interpreted, actually. The punchline seems to be most easily interpreted as the husband, rather than the wife, being the one who is going deaf. This is a joke which might land differently according to the person hearing it, because one might also interpret the punchline as a gendered/heteronormative stereotype of a wife who is always saying something along the lines of “I told you so!” to her husband. Both interpretations track with what we know about jokes in folklore. I would associate the first version with the idea of humor as a relief; of letting go of something the person telling it may have been repressing. In this case – nervousness about growing older. People are often anxious about growing older and potentially losing things like hearing, so they tell jokes about it instead. I find it particularly interesting that the informant was told this joke by someone older (a grandparent). The second interpretation of the joke is also pretty typical of popular humor, a gendered stereotype which places the wife in the kitchen, the husband at work, and the wife being somewhat snappy/bossy with the husband.

Childhood Rebus/Drawing Game: A Story that Makes a Puppy

Text/Transcript: While drawing out the featured image, the informant said this: “There once was a man with no arms. And then he was attacked by bees. And so, to escape the bees, he jumped into a pond. But he had so many stings that he didn’t know what to do, so he ran to the police department, but they didn’t help him, because they can’t help with bee stings. And then he went to the fire department, but they couldn’t help him, cause they don’t help with bee stings. And so they told him to go to the hospital, so he ran all the way across town to the hospital and they put two little bandaids on his bee stings. And then you have a puppy.”

Context: G is a 20 year old USC junior majoring in theater. They are from North Carolina and have been living in Los Angeles for three years. 

G remembers this rebus of sorts from childhood. It’s a simple visual story told while drawing. The ‘puzzle’ begins with an armless stick figure (the nose and mouth), then adding dots as the bee stings (whiskers), the circle as the pond (face), more circles as the police + fire departments (the eyes), a large circle as the hospital (the head), and finally ovals on the sides as the bandaids (the ears). G notes that she is not sure the ears were originally bandaids, and that she improvised that bit. They also added the body for fun – it’s not part of the original rebus.

G remembers being taught this by a classmate at some point in grade school.

Interpretation: Amusement is valued and simplistic in grade school. I think of this folk drawing as something children will do to entertain themselves; to make each other laugh. This pseudo-rebus, in particular, is reminiscent of an elementary school experience either lacking technology or with minimal technology. In the early 2010s, when my informant was in grade school, technology had not entirely taken over learning spaces. It’s especially fitting that this was drawn on the back of her release form, as she mentioned remembering drawing it on the back of worksheets. This is a kind of folk drawing/speech that requires children to be a little clever and, although it looks different depending on the person drawing it, it is intended to look like a dog and is amusing to young children because of that. It’s purpose seems to be both amusement and relationship-building, as it’s something passed to a classmate (presumably a friend) to share in that amusement. There isn’t any intended cruelty to the receiving end of the puzzle, it’s something to enjoy together.

Chinese Insult


  • Original Script: 成事不足 敗事有餘
  • Romanization: Cheng Shi Bu Zu Bai Shi You Yu
  • Transliteration: Complete things not enough fail things have sufficient
  • Translation: You’re not competent enough to accomplish important things, but when it comes to failing you’re really good at it.

Context: My mom taught me this. She didn’t really teach me this I guess, she used it to describe my brother. You normally use this when someone makes a stupid mistake. I think it’s funny. Definitely Chinese speakers would have heard it before. You use it to roast someone. I would be offended if someone used it on me but in a lighthearted way. It’s a phrase that’s been around for a long time.

Analysis: This insult is an example of humorous folk speech that serves to embarrass someone else while being able to hide behind the notion of humor. Using folklore speech in this situation might be a way of relying on a sort of “vernacular authority” instead of directly insulting someone which could disclaim individual blame. Because humor is very specific to culture, this insult being common in Chinese culture might suggest that they have a more blunt and harsh culture in comparison to American culture where this insult might be taken more seriously.