Tag Archives: punchline

Just a head – Storytelling Joke

Main Piece:

TB told this fictional story that her dad used to tell at parties.

“There was this young couple that was deeply in love and they got married, and they bought a home together and they were so excited to start their family… and they gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, um, but the only thing was, was that he was just a head. He had no body, no arms, legs- whatever, he was literally just a head. And they- when he was born they were like, ‘We’re so excited to have a child, we still love him but like, he’s just gonna have such a hard life, like… I don’t know if we are prepared. He’s gonna be bullied, he’s just gonna have such a hard time.’

And surprisingly, as soon as he went to school, he did super well. He made a ton of friends, he was like the most popular guy in school. He was super talented, he’s smart, he makes good grades, he has a ton of girlfriends. He’s an athlete, somehow, perhaps playing the ball. And so then one day, these doctors that have been following this kid his whole life, because he’s like a phenomenon- an anomaly…

They’re checking on him and they said, ‘We think we finally found your son a body. And he can just live and exist as a normal human boy with arms and legs.’ And so the parents like sob, they’re like, ‘We never knew this would be possible, like, this is a dream.’ He’s turning eighteen years old, he can start his life as an adult with a body.

The parents are so excited to tell him, and so on his eighteenth birthday, he’s in his room on his bed, just sitting on his pillow. They come into his room and are like, ‘Son. Happy Birthday. We want you to know we have a really exciting surprise for you, and we have a really good gift for you’ and they’re like crying, repeating, ‘we just have something great.’

And he looks up at them. And he says, ‘not another fucking hat.'”


The informant had heard this joke told by her dad to her and has heard it with many different middle sections but always with the same setup. There are parents with a boy who is born as just a head, they learn of the body, and then the punchline is him being frustrated with all the other gifts he’s gotten given his unique condition. Her dad would then fill the in between with story, as long as possible, so that when it hits the reversal at the end, it comes even more out of nowhere.


This story joke was told by Gilbert Godfrey, someone who TB’s dad would watch often and took that joke and made it his own.


Hearing of the different iterations that this story joke has gone through before it got to me was almost part of the humor. I knew going into it that she was going to be vamping to lead up to some sort of punchline, but in spite of that was still caught off guard by the finish. The story touches on a universal struggle of parents forcing a certain gift on to you based on how they perceive your interests, but taken to a physical extreme. The structure of it also seems to borrow from folk tales that establish a twisted status quo, subvert it with a “but one day” moment that introduces a new opportunity/challenge, and then spins that structure on its head by hitting you with an abrupt stop to the story instead of reaching the stereotypical fairytale ending.

Ironic Doctor Joke

Would you mind sharing a joke from your childhood with me?

“This is a joke that my dad, uhh, told me. Uhh… [tells the joke in Farsi, but the phonetics are muddled in the recording.]

The English translation is that my dad told me that ‘Whenever you get sick, be sure to go to the doctor. Uhh… Because, you know, the doctor has to make a living, he has to live. So when you go to the doctor, make sure you get a prescription, and take it to the pharmacist, and get your, you know, get your medication, because the pharmacist has to make a living too, he has to live also. And when you get your prescription, make sure you don’t take it yourself, because you want to live, too!'”

And what was the context that that would be delivered in, like, why was that a joke, why was that funny?

“Uhh, generally, everybody’s out there to make a living, you know, but you want to make sure it’s not at your expense. So you’re not a, uhh, sacrificial lamb for everyone else to make a living.”

Analysis: Keeping with the trend of cautionary proverbs and stories, this ironic joke from MB explains through humor that not everyone, even often-trusted authorities, ought to be trusted outright. With Masood’s background growing up poor in Iran, this may make some sense, but it is interesting to note how often distrust or wariness comes up in the lessons that he and Tahereh were taught when they were growing up.

He Couldn’t Find the Punchline

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This is the informant’s favorite joke.

“This kid, he’s at an amusement park. And so, he really wants to go drink some Coca Cola. Alright? So he’s wandering through this amusement park and he’s looking for a booth of some sort where he can drink Coca Cola. So he goes up to this one booth and he’s like, “Excuse me, sir, do you have coke?” And the guys says, “I don’t have coke, is Pepsi okay?” And the kid says, “Of course not,” and he walks away because Pepsi is an inferior drink.

Um, so then, he goes over and he goes to another booth. And so he’s like okay, alright, maybe I can get a coke here. And the guy says, “I’m sorry, we’re fresh out of coke, but then you might want to check the booth right down the street.” So he goes, “Oh, son of a bitch” and he keeps walking. So he keeps going, he goes to this next booth, and that booth is also out of Coca Cola.

So the guy tells him, “You know, there’s a—you can go to the convenience store that’s down the street, and the convenience store should have something.” And so he exits the amusement park, goes down to the convenience store because he just really wants a Coca Cola, right? He just really wants it bad. So he goes down to the convenience store, and when he gets to the store front, there’s a sign on it. And the sign says, “Sorry, we’ve moved.” And gives him an address about three blocks north. Sorry, 30 blocks north. My bad.

Um, so he goes, “Well shit, that’s a lot of walking I’m going to do.” And then he starts walking because this guy isn’t very bright, clearly. So he keeps walking, and walking, and walking, and walking, and he’s going farther and farther and he’s getting really really tired and he’s getting thirstier and thirstier. And the guy appears to him on the street, and he’s got a little thing of water. And he says, “Would you like some water, sir?” And the kid goes, “No. I want that Coca Cola, damnit.”

And the hobo goes okay, and just lets him pass. So he keeps walking, and he’s gone about 10 blocks by this point, so he goes to the next roadblock. Which is this woman standing in front of him, and she tells him, “You’re looking really dehydrated. You need to drink some water.” And he says, “I don’t want water, I want Coca Cola, damnit.” And the woman refuses to let him go, so he ducks under her legs and he keeps going.

And then he keeps going down block after block after block and he’s on the 25th block. And then he’s basically dragging himself on the ground. He’s sweating, he’s tired, and he hears someone ask, “Do you want a drink?” And he says, “No, I want that Coca Cola, damnit.” So he keeps going, and he drags himself the last five blocks to the convenience store. And then the convenience store is closed.

And so he’s basically just up the river without a paddle. And then he sees—because at this point, he’s—he’s gone 30 blocks. He doesn’t care about the coke anymore. He cares about getting any form of liquid that has sugar in it into his body. So then he sees a stand that’s advertised as punch, right? And it’s only a dollar, so that’s actually a really big bargain. And the stand is far away on a hill, so he starts trudging towards it. And trudging towards it, and trudging towards it. And so, you know after a certain point he decides maybe I’ll take the bus.

So he gets on the bus and takes the bus down four blocks, until the bus driver refuses to let him off. And he goes, “Why are you refusing to let me off?” And the bus driver says, “Because you look really sick, and I’m going to take you to the hospital.” So the kid hits the bus driver right in the face, knocks him out, gets out of the bus, and he’s finally at this knoll that has the punch booth. Except he keeps walking around and walking in circles and walking in circles and he just can’t seem to find the punchline.

That’s the joke.

The point of that—let me contextualize, so the point of that joke is that you start of with the premise of a kid with the coke thing, and see how long you can keep going before they realize that this joke is going nowhere. And because you’re doing it for a school assignment, it’s perfect because you have to listen to the entirety of it.”


While the informant describes this piece as a joke, it is also reminiscent of a tale in several ways. As with Propp’s morphology of the folktale, the narrative surrounding the joke includes, among other elements, a lack/absence, a departure, a quest, and a scorned gift. The structure of this joke lends itself to this format well; the purpose of the joke is to string the listener along for as long as possible, so it becomes important for the performer to keep the audience engaged with the story that leads to the eventual “punchline.” Because this piece is quite long and performed orally, using a familiar narrative structure from folktales would help the performer remember what happens next, whether or not the performer is aware of this similarity.

Additionally, the punchline, or lack thereof, gives this joke a different intention. Instead of provoking laughter, the joke inspires more of a benign exasperation, an acknowledgement of a trick well played. It might even feel like a subtle prank. The informant seemed to relish the opportunity to string me along for as long as possible.