Tag Archives: narrative joke

I Can See Clearly Now

CONTEXT: DM is a current USC student who attended a North Carolina Christian sleep-away camp in the summer of 2011. This is a narrative joke that she heard from the head of camp, Jimbo. She heard this during Jimbo’s “Breakfast Club” during which he talked about God and told jokes. DM interprets this as a joke and a pun.

Alright, so one time there was this kid named Jim who lived in the fine, fine city of
Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was just coming up into high school, and in his
sophomore year of high school he’d just started to get a little bit interested in girls. And
there was this one girl in his English class that he really liked, and her name was
Lorraine. And he thought “oh my gosh, what an interesting name.” She was beautiful,
she had, like, beautiful eyes, beautiful hair, she was smart. They start talking. They
eventually start going on dates, and at first, everything’s awesome. Y’know, they’re
going on dates, hanging out all the time, getting to know each other, and then right
around when he says, “I love you,” world stops. Everything changes. And now, she is all
over him all of the time. She does not get off his case, is blowing up his phone while
he’s in class, while he’s at home, while he’s at work. And, like, he cannot get away from
this girl and it starts driving him crazy to the point where he goes “I think I need to break
up with this girl, but I don’t know how.” Same time, about halfway through his school
year, they get a transfer student from abroad. And she’s from some hippy-dippy
European family, whatever… she shows up in school and says that her name is Clearly,
and instantly AH, by-God, Jim is just struck over with love. He is falling head over heels
in a second, and he has forgotten completely about Lorraine. He is all about Clearly. All
he has to do is do it. So, he decides “What do I have to do? How can I sweeten the
deal? How can I make this go over without her actually killing me?” And he decides
“Alright, I’ll take her to the finest site in the city of Chattanooga – the Chattanooga River.”
Which, if you’re familiar, just is laden with the most beautiful., impressive, walls and
walls of concrete and big steel churning dams, and puffs of black smoke, and trash
floating all down the river in beautiful colorful sequence. And he takes her down to the
river, and he starts going “Well, y’know, I don’t… I don’t… I don’t really know how to say
this but I, um, I’ve been feeling…” and she’s going “yes?” As they’re walking, he sees
something cool in the river and he thinks “oh my god, what a great opportunity to
change the subject, ‘cause I cannot do this right now.” And he points in the water, and
he goes “Look!” And she turns around and leans over and falls into the river. And she
floats away and eventually drowns in the river. How sad. Oh my gosh. And he’s thinking
as he starts to call the police “Oh my gosh my girlfriend just fell in the Chattanooga
River. She’s probably suffocating on some plastic right now. How sad is this.” And then,
a thought crosses his mind, and he starts singing to himself as he walks away down the
river, “I can see Clearly now, Lorraine is gone.” (To the tune of I Can See Clearly Now
by Creedence Clearwater Revival)

ANALYSIS: This is a narrative joke in which the punchline is a play on a popular song from the 1970s. It is a play on words of the concept of seeing visually versus “seeing” someone in a romantic sense. The set up uses the names of two of the characters, Clearly and Lorraine, which doesn’t seem to be important until the punchline. It also relies on the similarity in sound between “Lorraine” and “the rain.” The punchline is sung so that the audience recalls the music it is based on. The joke will only work if the audience is familiar with the song. Knowing the storyteller, it is clear to me which parts of the story were added or embellished based on her personal preferences and style. It is a great example of how details are changed through oral tradition, even when the basic premise of the joke remains the same. It is also interesting that the main character of the joke, Jim, shares a name with the person DM heard the joke from
originally. It is the only character whose name has no bearing on the punchline. I wonder if that character has a different name in other versions of this joke, or if his shared name is a coincidence. It is also a “clean” joke, suitable for an audience of children at a Christian summer camp.

Waving Hare

CONTEXT: DM is a current USC student who attended a North Carolina Christian sleep-away camp in the summer of 2011. This is a narrative joke that she heard from the head of camp, Jimbo. She heard this during Jimbo’s “Breakfast Club” during which he talked about God and told jokes. DM interprets this as a funny story specific to her camp.

Alright, this story starts out with a mom in a very, very expensive neighborhood in a
place called Buckwood, in Atlanta. And Buckwood, like across the American South is
just known as, like, THE, THE Heights, like the most rich suburban neighborhood in that
entire area of the US. So, if you say Buckwood, people know what it is, so… It starts
with a Buckwood mom, who is driving back from dropping off her kids at school and
she’s like a good Christian Mom. She’s described as going to the same summer camp
as we went to, super moral, upright character, has really good kids, godly woman, like…
family…. All this stuff. And she’s driving down the neighborhood, and one thing that she
really, really cared about was animals. Like, she volunteered at a vet clinic, and had a
bunch of dogs in her own house, just really, really loved them. So, it was super
unfortunate that when she was driving home, she hit a little bunny with her car. It just
ran right across the road, too fast, before she could stop. And she frantically gets out of
the car, runs over to the bunny, and it is just not looking good. He is just lights out,
y’know, and there’s no signs of damage but she doesn’t know what to do and she freaks
out. And she runs back into her car and is frantically looking around for something to
help this bunny, something that she could do, and she grabs a bottle from her car
console. And right as she’s running back to the bunny, she can see that its’ not going
well. She doesn’t really have a lot of hope, but she’s like “let me try this one last thing. I
think I have this magical trick that I think really could work.” And she sprays the bunny
all up and down. At this time, another parent in the neighborhood pulls over, ‘cause they could see that there was a dead animal and a mom in distress. So, the neighbor pulls over on the side of the road, right as she’s spraying the rabbit. And they get out of the car, and they’re like “what is going on?” And she’s like “just wait for it, wait for it.” And the other person is really confused ‘cause they’re like “why does it smell like cosmetics out here, and what is she spraying this rabbit with?” And suddenly, before they can think more about what’s going on, the rabbit suddenly… the leg twitches. Just a little bit, but it’s enough for them to both stop talking and just notice it and look at it. And the leg twitch kinda keeps on happening and is getting stronger and stronger and suddenly, both of its legs are kicking, and suddenly one of its ears picks up, and then two, and then the entire bunny perks its head up and springs back to life like nothing happened. And it starts to run away from the road and starts to run back into the bushes. And as it’s running away, it was doing the most bizarre thing. It ran away, would turn around to the both of them, and then wave. And then it would take a couple more steps, turn around, and then wave. And then do the same thing, until they couldn’t see it anymore. And they go “Oh my gosh, that is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. What did you spray that rabbit with?” And she reads the label, and it says, “HAIR [hare] SPRAY – PERMANENT WAVE – REVITALIZING EXTRA POWER.” And that’s the joke.

ANALYSIS: Something I noticed in the structure of this narrative joke was the use of the word “and.” The narrative uses the word frequently, which I believe helps the audience stay engaged because it removes any breaks in the story. It is also interesting to me that the woman in the story is given a lot of personal traits that seem to have been meant to speak to the personal experience of the audience where it was told at this camp. The emphasis on religion and the use of a specific location would make this story and character even more lively in the minds of the audience. This joke is an example of a play on words, with “hair” and “hare” sounding the same when spoken aloud.

Death in the Sixth Cluster


I was unable to record the conversation with PK, but his quotes were transcribed by hand.

PK’s high school was divided into five main groups, with each cluster representing a different area. These clusters were meant to have students get to know each other better and develop stronger bonds within the student body. However, “there used to be six groups and it was thought that the school went from six to five because a girl (or guy) had drowned in a pond that the sixth cluster was named after.” In order to cover it up, the school re-divided the clusters into five. There’s one specific dorm that was very far from all the other buildings in its cluster, yet it was still listed in that cluster, which raised suspicion among some students–maybe the school “quickly drew up a borderline to redistribute.” Unsure if this was related to the story or not, PK remembered his biology teacher warning students: “Don’t go near the pond when it’s winter because, first of all, it’s kind of gross, and it doesn’t freeze over properly, so don’t even bother trying.” As PK entered his junior and senior year, he saw fellow classmates making and displaying posters joking about “bringing back the sixth cluster.”


This was a story that PK never really told before–it wasn’t a narrative that he thought much of after high school. He mentioned that he “doesn’t believe anyone died in that pond because it was kind of shallow, but it did sometimes freeze over very thinly.” Moreover, there’s “no way” his school could hide a student death. As he told the story, he began to remember more details about what other people said about the sixth cluster pond. Especially since it wasn’t necessarily a legend he took seriously, there was no reason for him to really spread it to other people. However, as he looked back on childhood and his life before college, he realized that these stories were simply ingrained into his high school’s culture, even if he didn’t actively partake in their spread.


In order to become a part of a group, you have to understand their folklore–the unofficial knowledge, like the inside jokes, legends, and, in this case, school “secrets.” Incoming freshmen are transitioning between phases of their life and entering a brand new sphere where they have to adapt to the school’s internal culture in order to truly feel like a member. Scare tactics are forms of initiation- upperclassmen tell these legends to intimidate younger students and accentuate the feeling of danger when facing new surroundings. However, once overcoming the initial shock or fear, the younger students become nestled within the community surrounding the legend. No matter if they actually believe in it or not, engaging with the story as part of school tradition strengthens the school’s identity. The more one interacts with the story, the more they begin to speculate: even after claiming the story was most likely false, PK added, “It’s plausible to believe that someone went out at night and on thin ice and fell and died. It’s possible.”

In a way, developing the narrative of a student’s potential drowning on schoolgrounds resists the organized forms of authority established by school officials. Rather than accepting practical rationales given by teachers or heads of the school, students created this legend as a much more interesting alternative, perhaps as a way to share an inside joke that adults aren’t in on. This isn’t necessarily a story that is meant to be taken seriously, but it requires a certain initiation and deeper knowledge to realize it is a joke. Once students understand, they can carry on the tradition by disguising the inside joke as an eerie legend, and the cycle continues.

The Ballad of Squirmy the Worm



“I was sittin’ on a fencepost mmmmm

Chewin’ my bubblegum mmmm

When along came Squirmy the Worm he was this big

*S holds up a distance between forefinger and thumb

and I said ‘hey charli what’s happening?’

and he said ‘I’m hungry!’

and I said ‘Squirmy you should eat some food!’

“I was sittin’ on a fencepost mmmmm

Chewin’ my bubblegum mmmm

When along came Squirmy the Worm and I said ‘hey squirmy what’s happening?’

And he was thiiiis big

*S holds up a further distance between her hands

and he said ‘I ate five flies!’

and I said ‘No way Squirmy!’

“I was sittin’ on a fencepost mmmmm

Chewin’ my bubblegum mmmm

When along came Squirmy the Worm and I said ‘hey squirmy what’s happening?’

And he was THIS big

*S holds her arms out wide

and he said ‘I ate ten flies!’

and I said ‘Wow Squirmy!’’

“I was sittin’ on a fencepost mmmmm

Chewin’ my bubblegum mmmm

When along came Squirmy the Worm 

He was this big

*S holds up a distance between forefinger and thumb

and I said “Squirmy! What happened?’

and he said ‘I ate one-hundred flies!’

and I said ‘Wow Squirmy!’’

“Basically it keeps going until Squirmy throws up at the end. We used to do it at summer camp and the camp counselors would just make it more and more ridiculous and make up different things for what he eats. I think they would add more when we were waiting around for stuff to take more time.”

Context: S grew up in Southern California, and explained that she went to different day camps each Summer, until she was about twelve. She says that at most camps they would sing a variation of “Squirmy the Worm.” S says the song was usually led by a camp counselor, but sung by everyone who knew the words. 

Analysis: The tune that S sings is different from the one in the video attached below, entitled “Herman the Worm,”  but much of the structure and lyrics of the songs are similar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-rg7EIt1x4. “Herman” or “Hermie the Worm” seems to be a semi-popular song at children’s summer camps. S’ version of Squirmy the Worm is at times spoken with animation more than sung by her, and is humorous in nature both with the aspect of the ridiculousness of the amount that Squirmy eats “one-hundred flies” and the punch line being that he “threw up.” As a result it could potentially be considered dually a ballad and a narrative joke. There’s also a lesson for children in Squirmy’s story: don’t be greedy and eat too much or there will be consequences. Camp songs and campfire songs for children gained popularity in the late 18th and early 19th century with the rise of the wilderness movement in which the Puritans believed it was their God-given responsibility to shape the American wilderness into “earthly paradise.” However, this song doesn’t include many mentions of nature, but it does have the singer interacting with a personified worm, giving the worm human characteristics of speech and feeling. This gives sympathy to one of nature’s smallest creatures and allows the children to feel a kinship with them, perhaps having once done something similar to Squirmy the Worm.

Joke: The Doctor and his Chauffeur

Informant: “So there is this doctor and he’s famous, he’s not super-duper famous, but he’s pretty famous. He gives quite a few talks and all these things. He’s got one particular talk that he gives a lot which is sort of his spiel, people like it, he’s sort of got it down. He has a chauffeur who always drives him around to his various speeches and things like that, and this chauffeur sits in the audience at uh for all of his speeches, he just sort of waits around. So one day, in the car, the doctor says to the chauffeur, ‘you know you’ve probably heard my speech tons of times and you probably know it by heart right now. I’ve given this speech a lot, you know its good, but I’m a little bored of it, why don’t you for once just go up on the stage and you pretend to be me and you give the speech,’ and so the chauffeur says ‘ok, yeah sure, I’ll do that.’ And, he accepts the offer and so for the next speech they go there and the doctor puts on the chauffeur’s outfit and the chauffeur dresses like the doctor and pretends to be him. And so, he goes there and the doctor sits in the audience as the chauffeur and the chauffeur gets up onstage and starts giving the talk. So he begins, and its going well, its good, he’s got it all down, it’s clear that he’s listened to this speech a lot of times, and so he’s getting towards the end, and its all perfect, and it gets to the end and… he nailed it, all well. So its all good, applause, nobody could tell it was not the doctor. The audience loves it, and it goes to the question and answer session as it usually does, you know, fairly typical questions. And then, one person raises their hand and then they ask a question that’s never been asked before. So, the chauffeur is up there on stage and he is thinking, and then he says to the person… that is the stupidest question I have ever heard in my life, even my chauffeur could answer it.”


The informant is a young man who comes from Mission Hills,San Diego and describes himself as relatively “quiet and introverted” and “nerdy.” The informant is a sophomore neuroscience major at USC and works in a neuroscience image and understanding lab, which focused on visual research. It was from the professor in this lab that the informant heard the joke. According to the informant, the professor he works for is “just filled with stories. I’ll go to say bye to him and he just tells me all this stuff.” According to the informant, he learned the joke when he was working in the lab; while they were discussing research, they got sidetracked and the professor told him this joke.

The informant likes this joke because “its got this long buildup and you chuckle at a few things because you think the joke is coming up, but its not. You wonder if the speech is going to work or not, you keep thinking something is going to go wrong, but it’s only at the end that you get the punchline… Its superb. My professor’s told me a lot of things, not a lot stuck, but that did.” The informant uses this joke around friends to “break the ice.”

This joke utilizes a particularly long narrative form, and it gains part of its humor from the suspense that it creates. As the informant said, this joke has a particularly long buildup which defies expectations and is why the informant found it so funny.