Trombone Player Joke

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant shared a joke told to her by her father, a professional musician.


Informant: My dad is a musician, and he has a lot of musician jokes. Basically he told me that, and I wouldn’t have gotten it, but basically he told me that like trombone players are apparently like the butt of every joke because apparently they’re like useless. So, one of the jokes he um told me is: What’s the difference between a rattlesnake in the desert and a trombone player?

Interviewer: What is the difference between a rattlesnake in the desert and a trombone player?

Informant: The rattlesnake was on his way to a gig.

Interviewer: That’s really funny. So, do musicians say this to trombone players? Is it like a form of hazing?

Informant: It kind of is. I don’t know if my dad tells this to trombone players, but definitely among his musician friends they go back and forth with stupid trombone player jokes. I just had no idea that trombone players were the butt of the music community’s jokes, but apparently they are.

Informant’s relationship to this item: While the informant did not understand the joke initially, once her father explained that trombone players are often teased by other members of the music community, she was able to recognize the humor in her father’s joke. This is not a joke that the informant regularly shares with people who are not members of the music community, nor is it a joke that her father typically shares with trombone players.

Interpretation: The joke shared by the informant definitely qualifies as an inside-joke, or a joke that only a specific community of people would be likely to understand. Not only is the joke specific to the music community, who are the only people who understand that trombone players are regularly made fun of, but it is also not typically performed for trombone players. Additionally, the joke qualifies as a joke riddle, in which the listener is prompted to figure out the correct and humorous response to the posed question based on context clues. Finally, the joke qualifies as blason populaire, a term used to describe any kind of folklore (not just jokes) about a stereotypical identity or group. This specific joke is making fun of the fact that it is typically difficult for trombone players to find paid work.