The frog, the rice cake, and the veteran

BACKGROUND: My informant, MP, was born in the US. Her family is from DC and have lived there for as long as she can remember. MP was a bit of a class clown at my former school so I asked her if she has any interesting jokes she would like to tell me. According to MP, this is her favorite joke that she inherited from her older brother.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend to exchange jokes.

Me: So this is a two-part joke?

MP: It’s gonna be a long one yeah. So once upon a time there was a rice cake. A rice cake and a frog are looking off of a pier and the rice cake, looking into the water, saw its reflection and said: “I am the prettiest rice cake in all the lands.” The frog was fed up with the rice cake and responded “If you say that one more time, I’m going to push you in the water.” The rice cakes was like “okay.” So the pier is quiet for a bit. No one really says anything. Then eventually the rice cake looks back into the pond and is like, “I am the prettiest rice cake and all the land.” So the frog pushes him into the water. 

Okay so here’s the second part. So I guess once there was a man and a woman and they were like high school sweethearts. Um, and they’re really in love. And then suddenly like a war happens, like, yeah, one of the American Wars and he gets drafted for the Navy and she’s really sad. And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’m going to give you this ring now. And I promise, like once I get back, we’re going to get married. Just like, think about this ring whenever you miss me. Or look at it or whatever. And we’ll get married when I get back from the war.” Um, and he’s like,”Yeah, once we come back, I’ll meet you at the dock and we’ll get married. So what happens? He doesn’t die. Right? Yeah. So he doesn’t die. He comes back to the town. Um, but unfortunately the town built a completely identical dock to the other one, but it’s on the other side of the town. And so since the woman’s been living there the entire time, she goes to the right dock and he goes to the new one, completely confused. And the woman thought he must’ve died in the war and she find a different husband moves on. But he’s so heartbroken and he’s like, “You know what? I’m going to dedicate my life to this pier because she didn’t pull through for me. I’m going to pull through for myself.” So then all the kids knew him in the town. He’s known as like the dude who works at the dock and who fishes every day. Years and years and years and years go by, 50 years pass. And one day he goes out, sits on the dock to go fishing, then reels in the rice cake.

Me: What? What’s the punchline?

MP: He reels in the rice cake. That’s the end of the joke.

THOUGHTS: At first I felt very swindled by the joke. MP purposely added a lot of pauses and gesturing to drag on the joke for over 4 minutes. By the time I got to the end, I was salivating to know how a frog and a rice cake would connect to a girl and a veteran. Also considering that MP was a fairly funny person, I expected the joke to come to a very cathartic conclusion. The fact that it ended so abruptly and randomly made me angry, realizing that my reaction to the uselessness of the joke was the joke itself. The punchline is that there is no punchline, almost elevating the joke beyond what it would’ve been if there actually was a joke. It’s basically an anti-joke, built on the irony of its dissatisfaction.

For another example of a long-winded anti-joke, see: Brunvand, Jan Harold. “A Classification for Shaggy Dog Stories.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 76, no. 299, 1963, pp. 42–68. JSTOR,