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.