“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