Tag Archives: Joke


Informant Background:

My informant AL is my classmate from the ANTH 333 course offered at USC.


“80-6”. E.g. ’80-6 staff’ or ’80-6 nice people


AL heard this joke through her work as a waitress. ’80-6’ is a term used in the restaurant industry to indicate that something was missing in the kitchen. The waitstaff would often incorporate this job-specific term into jokes throughout the day to alleviate tension and boredom.


I would interpret this joke as a means of building comradery around a communal experience. In this case, the communal experience is the job of the waitstaff. Working as a waitress can often be tedious and strenuous work. The ’80-6’ jokes could be a way of finding enjoyment from their shared job and the fact that other people are going through a similar experience. Furthermore, using terms specific to a particular occupation intensifies the feelings of an ‘in-group’ overall making the experience of working at a restaurant more social and enjoyable.

Juan and the Otter


My father is an avid storyteller with a number of “dad jokes” in his back pocket. An electrician by trade in Southern California, his stories often come from the blue-collar line of work that he finds himself in. This joke story is a memorate whose origins my dad can’t remember. I first heard this joke as a kid while we were swimming in my aunt’s backyard pool. I remember him drawing out the story for as long as possible, maintaining the seriousness until the final punchline at the end, hinged on a play on words that harkens to the phrase “you can’t have one or the other.” He told me this story over dinner at my family home in this particular iteration.


TS: You want to tell the Juan or the otter one?

SS: Yeah. Well, there was once was a man. And he lived on a Caribbean island. And he used to go diving for pearls.

SS: And his name was Juan. And Juan and his wife lived a very simple life. They just lived in their little house and, and he’d get enough pearls to, for them to survive, and they were happy. And one day he was on his boat when he’s eating his lunch. And this otter jumped up on the boat, swam up and came up on the boat and it shocked him. And the otter looked at him and looked at a his food, and so he gave the otter some food. The otter ate his food, and he gave it a little more food, and uh, the otter looked at him and dove off the side of the boat and went away. And pretty soon the otter comes back with big arms full of oysters in his in his flippers, and he dumps them up on the boat.

SS: So Juan opened up the oysters and found many pearls. And he realized that the otter could dive down way farther than all the other pearl divers. So he befriended the otter, and they made a partnership. So they would go out and they would they would get the pearls together, the oysters. So pretty soon it became a thriving business. And they work dad started to have, you know, bigger house and, and lots of nice things because they got so many pearls and so many oysters. And so they started charging a lot of money for the services of this otter because they’ve you know, had enough, right? So one day the, this-this stranger came and he talked to the, to the wife and he wanted to know about hiring the hiring Juan for the day, and the otter and she–and she gave him the price. She said well, it’s $2,000 a day. And he was shocked. He was freaked out. And he said, “Well, that’s crazy.” She says “What?” “Well, how much for just–just Juan?”

SS: She said, “[imitating an accent] Oh no, señor, they are a pair. They only work together, you cannot have Juan without the otter.”


This joke falls into the category of a tale that has a final punchline to deliver the pun that it hinges upon. Having heard the story before, I know it follows the oral-formulaic method of storytelling, as he will lengthen or shorten the story depending on how invested the audience is. There are certain key motifs to remember in the story: of course, the phrase “Juan or the otter” is one, Juan as a pearl diver, his wife as his manager, and the stranger who asks for their services. When I first heard the story, I was around 10, and my dad told it with a conviction that made me believe the story is true until the very end. As such, he drew the story out to be much longer than this iteration, but this has every part of the story necessary for it to function. Given that I already know the punchline, I think he was less detailed in his oration.

While my father doesn’t remember where he first heard the joke, I imagine it can be traced back two his Mexican American coworkers, as it is set in the Caribbean and involves using a general Latin American accent to deliver the final punchline. The joke falls into a blanket category of “dad joke,” often garnering groans of disappointment from his audience when the final punchline is delivered.

Bitten by a Black Widow… on his Genitals


My father has been an electrician for SoCal Edison for the past two decades. His job involves traveling around the Southern California desert inspecting isolated electrical substations. He is an avid oral storyteller, and his stories often come from the blue-collar line of work that he finds himself in. This is one of such stories about his good work friend who suffered a black widow bite to his testicles while using a porta potty in one of these desert stations. A white man leathered by the sun, my father colors the story by imitating the Mexican accent of his friend, including certain Mexican Spanish slang terms like “cabrón.” This is a story I’ve heard many times, but it didn’t fail to make me cry with laughter during this recording. The story has become a legend among electricians in Southern California, which is what made me think of it for this archive. He told me this story over dinner at my family home in this particular iteration.


SS: The Legend of Hector the Electrician. They were working out at a, at a facility. He had another guy with him. And we were, we had a crew of about eight people, ten people. And they were working together, and I was working somewhere else with somebody else. And they were out in the middle of the desert. And if we work safely for a month, we get a safety lunch, paid [for us to go] out to lunch somewhere. And so I had just gotten to Home Depot for something. I was sitting the parking lot, getting ready to leave. And I get a call from Hector.

SS: And he says, “Hey, cabrón. Just forget about the safety lunch this month.” I said, “What did you do?” And he goes, “Okay, I got bit by a spider.”

SS: And I said, that’s the first question, right? “Where’d you get bit?” He said, “In the balls.” And I said, “No, come on. Just stop messing with me. Tell me what happened.”

SS: “[Imitating his friend] No, cabrón, it’s true!” And I started laughing so hard. I couldn’t drive, I had to stop. I was laughing so hard. And he says “It’s not funny!” Yes, I’m still laughing, and I said, “Well, how’d you know it was a spider? I guess both you and that spider felt a little prick.”

SS: So he was working with this other guy. And his, this guy’s name was Roberto. And he said, “Well, I was lucky I had Roberto along to suck out the poison.” ‘Berto’s in the background saying, “Hell no, that’s not true!” So anyway, he went into an outhouse and sat down on the outhouse in the middle of this dusty desert and there was a black widow spider up underneath–up underneath the toilet rim–barely. Black widow spiders don’t like being ‘teabagged.’ So he did it and he got bit. So we got pictures of him being carried off of an ambulance with a big-big-bag of ice on his balls on a gurney, so, and he was off for a couple days. And then the jokes started flying around, about, because we all knew his wife, about, you know, what happens now, you know? Instead of shooting, you know, [explicit gesture] when he’s, when they’re like getting intimate now, is he like, sticking on the walls? [laughter]

SS: And, and, so you know, it was a good laugh and then and then when he came back, we got his hard hat, we put spiders on it, we put like spider webs all over his desk and everything else. And and and we just, we just made it all up.

SS: So he came back, and kind of a full circle to the story: Sometime later, I was working with a different group of people and I was working in this office and there was these contractors. They’re doing something entirely different–but electrical–and we were talking about, you know, different things we’ve seen, you know, rattlesnakes and things, you know, these guys work outside in the field also. And one of the guys was just sitting there eating lunch and one of those contractors I’d never met before says, “[imitating] There’s this legend about this guy out in the desert that got bit in the balls by a black widow spider. But it’s probably an old wive’s tale.”

SS: And I go, “So let me tell you a story!” [laughter] So that’s a story of Hector and the black widow spider.


I chose to include this story in the archive because it is direct evidence of how a true story can become legend. This is indeed a true story; my father works directly with Hector, and I have been over to his house–which is in my neighborhood–for pool parties many times. But the story had the perfect makings to become legend among SoCal Edison electricians and contractors.

The environment, subject, and folklore group are key in understanding the spread of this story as legend. Electricians and contractors in Southern California often come into contact with dangerous wildlife like rattlesnakes and black widow spiders regularly, especially when they are working out in the isolated desert. Thus, the fear of being bitten by a venomous spider is something that resonates among this group, and the idea of being bitten in the testicles is something that is particularly fantastical. It is so fantastical, in fact, that it escaped the boundaries of “fact,” separating from its original subject to become a “wive’s tale.” Instead, the subject becomes a nondescript male electrician, someone who can easily be identified with among the folk group that shares the legend. The legend itself might serve as a warning to electricians who find themselves using porta potties in remote locations to always check under the seat before sitting down.

Spanish Earth Riddle

“¿Qué cosa es redonda como una pelota, pero pesa más que un elefante?” “El Planeta Tierra!” (“What is round like a ball, but weights more than an elephant?” “Planet Earth!”)


MD is my roommate’s friend here at USC. She is originally from Miami Beach, Florida and has lived there her whole life. She was raised by Argentinian parents who immigrated to Florida when they were in their teenage years. She describes her parents as both free spirited and herself in the same fashion. 


MD: My dad would always tell me riddles growing up while he drove me to school in the morning. Sometimes if we were taking my friends to school with us after a sleepover he would tell them to both of us. I remember trying to figure them out and getting upset if my friend got it first. 

DO (Interviewer): Can you remember one that was hard for you to get?

MD: Yeah. He would turn around in his seat at the red light and make hand motions with it. So like he would start off asking “Qué cosa es redonda como una pelota?” Which translates to “What is round like a ball?” And he would make a circle with his hands. And then he’d follow it up with “pero pesa más que un elefante?” And would make this funny elephant sound. Then we would guess. After a few times he finally would tell us. The answer to this one is “El planeta Tierra” which means planet Earth. I remember I was so upset after and thinking how stupid it was. But now I laugh at it. 

DO: What did these riddles mean to you growing up?

MD: Well they were pretty fun to do every morning. Looking back, I don’t know how my dad didn’t run out of ones to say. Riddles were part of our little routine that we had going on. I also loved when I got them right, it made me feel like the smartest kid ever. But it was also just a way for me to chill with my dad and bond with him so I guess there’s a little bit of nostalgia in them now.  


This riddle was part of children’s lore for this family. It was a way for her dad to bond with the kids and continues to be an important part of their childhood memories. This was one of the earliest and most impactful introductions to folklore for her. After this specific riddle, I was told a few more that stood out from this time. The riddles being simple and silly allow the kids to have enough knowledge about the topic to understand it but were still challenging enough to have them think hard about the answers. It also served as a confidence booster for the children if they solved the riddle and allowed them to think about things differently since the answer is not obvious. 

Drop Bears

For this narrative joke, my informant is my older brother (SF). The “Drop Bear” came up in conversation when talking about going on a hike or exploring nature in Australia. My parents had mentioned their plans for the following day on the trip to which my cousin interjected and said, “watch out for the drop bears.” “The what?” my father responded.  “The drop bears.” my cousin repeated, dragging on the anticipation of not expanding and letting other cousins and Australian family back him up.  My cousin then explained, “yea, big angry bears that live in the trees and they’ll drop on your head.”  Drop bears are a species native to Australia that most outsiders have never heard of.  The warnings continue to even suggest bringing a helmet into the Australian forests.

My family, being from the US, was unfamiliar with this concept that is widely known by Australians, and had fallen for the joke. We were visiting our relatives in Australia when I was younger, and my brother had remembered the story.  Though fallacious, drop bears have an extensive amount of detailed history and classifications.  According to the Australian Museum, Drop Bears are carnivorous marsupials, “around the size of a leopard or very large dog with coarse orange fur with some darker mottled patterning,” ranging from “120kg, 130cm long, 90 cm at the shoulder.”  My informant’s interpretation revolved around this story being a funny joke but not much more. He enjoyed the idea that this fooled his parents and aligned with his humor of subjecting gullibility.

My interpretation of this story/species is simply a way to prank tourists for entertainment.  It’s a harmless joke that catches newcomers looking up constantly and watching the trees.  It’s incredible that the legend has become so developed, so much so that the animal has basically all of the classifications any real species would, including appearance, diet, habitat, and regional distribution.  I would say this legend brings Australians together, as they essentially have a nationwide inside joke.