“I have to go to the bathroom”
This knock knock joke was collected in a second grade classroom in South Los Angeles. The active carrier of this joke was a student in that classroom who heard it from her neighbor while playing one day. After finishing the joke, the entire class burst out in laughter at the nonsensical punchline. It should be noted that the joke told to the class right before had a logical punchline, but did not receive such an enthusiastic response. The less successful joke was “Don’t trust atoms, they make up everything”.
There are a few reasons why this joke received such a great response compared to the one that preceded it. First of all, it was clear that the majority of the young students lacked the scientific background that was required to understand the joke. The bathroom joke did not require the application of any outside knowledge. Second, the unexpected nature of the punchline was worthy of a greater response than a logical joke would, regardless of what it actually was. There is something about being caught off guard that makes any story or joke more worthy of a response. Perhaps the most obvious reason that the knock knock joke was considered to be funnier is the fact that it contains a mention of a bathroom. Bathroom humor is inherently funny to a large portion of the human population, regardless of age.
This joke is a derivation of a classic joke in which the second, third, and fourth lines are repeated as many times as the performer sees fit before replacing “banana” with “orange” and ending with “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana”. The countless versions of this joke are examples of the multiplicity and variation that is characteristic of folklore.
It is important to note that this joke had been passed on from child to child. The student who shared the joke initially heard it from her neighbor while playing. She then shared the humorous passage with her classmates who received it with enthusiasm. This piece of folklore circulates exclusively within groups of children and would not have elicited the same genuine response if performed in front a group of adults.
Information about the Informant
My informant is a college student at a community college in San Jose. He’s an avid amateur photographer, and we know each other through going to the same online high school. His family’s very closely-knit, with his parents very involved in the lives of their children. I collected this family in-joke from him while we were visiting the same high school friend outside of Las Vegas.
When asked why this joke was important to the informant, he replied that, “It is or was for a long time the only joke my mom remembered. So when you said, ‘joke,’ that’s immediately what I thought of.” He and his mother do have a tendency to enjoy humor that involves subversions such as the one in this joke. In this case, that the punchline of the joke is the interruption and the derailment of the usual structure of a knock knock joke. Its subversion of the usual knock knock joke structure may be precisely the reason why the informant’s reason remembers it when she cannot remember any other joke, making this joke one that is precious both to her and my informant as the one family joke that they both remember and can share.
In the following, the informer tried to tell a grammatical Knock Knock joke:
I = Informer, M = me (interviewer)
The 1st Attempt:
I: Um, knock knock?
M: Who’s there?
I: Whom is there
I: Wait no that’s not right!
The 2nd Attempt:
I: Wait, knock knock, sorry, okay got it, knock knock?
M: Who’s there?
I: Wait, no…
The 3rd Attempt:
I: Oh! Knock knock, got it! It’s knock knock, who’s there, they say a name and then they say “that name who” and they say that name…. Maybe? It’s a grammatical, oh it’s slipping my mind right now, wait! knock knock?
Me: Who’s there?
M: To who?… too whom! Ah I get it!… That took a lot of trial and error
I: Yeah it did
While, at least by the third attempt, the joke is essentially self-explanatory, attempting to trick the person who answers second into using a nominative case interrogative pronoun (who) rather than the grammatically correct accusative case (whom), perhaps the amount of difficulty it took to tell the joke accurately suggests a limited usage of technically precise grammar in every day life.
This is another seemingly popular “knock knock joke provided me by my informant:
Informant: say “knock, knock”
Me: knock, knock
Informant: Who’s there?
[a long pause followed by laughter]
Informant: Yep, that’s the joke!
In this joke, the teller attempts to invert the knock knock sequence, by attempting the get the other party to tell him a joke without having a joke in mind, thus being rendered dumbstruck. It adds an interesting twist of deception to the otherwise predictable “knock knock” pattern.
Here is another knock knock joke, one which follows the standard pattern, but is more fun because it involves cows:
Informant: Knock knock
Me: Who’s there?
Informant: Interrupting cow
Informant: You’re supposed to go “interrupting cow who?” and then I… interrupt them.
While the informant did not recall exactly where he heard this joke, he did remember to have heard it or its variations multiple times while working with young children. It’s silly formula and absurdity surely appeal well to children, and it seems that it likely arose first from among children themselves
Man 1: Knock, Knock…
Man 2: Who’s There?
Man 1: Britney Spears.
Man 2: Britney Spears who?
Man 1: Britney Spears…
OOPS I DID IT AGAIN.
My informant told me this knock-knock joke one day when there we were in an awkward situation. He later explained that his sister always told people this joke when there was an awkward silence or to break the ice when meeting new people.
Jokes, I feel, are often an overlooked division of folklore. Since jokes are so common nowadays in our society, they become almost part of our everyday speech. They also seem to come out of nowhere, but somehow everyone knows them. Jokes permeate our culture and often represent certain aspects of politics, society and popular culture. In this case, the reference to Britney Spears truly demonstrates that certain jokes are only understood by special groups of people. If you told this joke to someone who do not know who Britney Spears is, the joke would lose all meaning.
“Boo.” “Boo who?”
“Don’t cry; it’s only a knock knock joke.”
A friend taught my informant this joke in elementary school. Like many knock knock jokes, it relies on using words with multiple meanings to give an unexpected punchline. And like some knock knock jokes, its annoying to the one hearing the joke, here because its suggested that they cry very easily (which could mean they are weak or oversensitive). My informant remembers disliking the joke for this reason, which is that it seems to trick the listener by taking their words to mean something they did not intend. My informant thinks it’s interesting because of this, though: because it shows that for some reason, there’s something people like about annoying others. They like pushing their buttons just to see what the reaction will be.
This is especially true in children I think, who want to see how people will react when they do something they suspect will annoy the person. Such a joke is also a form of teasing, which can make you feel above a person in a way. A child might want to feel that if they are insecure or just testing out social boundaries. Teasing, or jokes like this, can also be friendly, though, and used as a bonding event between people. Even though it’s at someone’s expense, it shows that the people involved are comfortable with each other and don’t mind making fun of one another.
A. Knock Knock.
B. Who’s there?
A. Amy Fisher.
A. Amy Fishe…?
B. … BANG!
This was only a couple years after a girl named Amy Fisher went to the door of the house of a man named Joey Buttafuco, whom she was having an affair with. She asked him to leave his wife and when he refused she went to his house and shot his wife in the head. This can be an example of a kind of disaster joke, these are risky because for a certain time after the initial incident, people can find the joke inappropriate.
“I heard this from my little sister who is 13 years old um she heard this on the playground. Ok so it goes knock knock, who is there? Little old lady. Little old lady who?”
Trying to imitate the sound of yodeling. Making the yodele-he-who sound. Jordan believes when kids are younger and in the developing age, there is a sense of curiosity about the world and finding your abilities within societal norms. By attempting to yodel or in fact thinking that you can yodel kids can feel like a part of something that you would otherwise be disconnected from.
I think little kids like to trick people, so this trap of a knock knock joke easily accomplishes the task. The original yodele-he-who sound is northern European, something heard in the Swiss Alps. Since the teller of the joke is Caucasian she may be from European dissent and this could be a way to relate to her ancestry.