Friday, July 2, 2010

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

A while back, in a post peripherally about the recent and tragic World Cup, Steve from Yorkshire commented about that particular phase of the World Cup (this was during our brief period of optimism—remember that?) and its resemblance to WWII. The comment went, “The World Cup is like WWII because the …” But you’ve heard that already.

Sensing this was an ephemeral joke, I told it to as many people as I could, including a bus-buddy on my way to work that morning. When we met up at the bus stop in the evening, he said to me, “Remember that World Cup joke you told me? My wife called me and told it to me after I got to work, and three other people told it to me this afternoon. That Internet really moves fast!” (By the by, this was ironic coming, as it did, from a BT employee.)

But his point was well made: humor, in the age of instant communication, has an incredibly short shelf life.

This got me thinking. And, after my brain recovered from the shock of such an unusual event, it occurred to me that I don’t hear many jokes these days. Time was, if you were out with some friends at the pub, or at a house party, or even chatting on the bus, someone would say, “I’ve got a great joke; stop me if you’ve heard this. A frog hopped into a bank…” And a week later, when you found yourself at another gathering, you could pull that joke out and be relatively sure that most people hadn’t heard it. A good joke could last for months.

Now, people don’t bother; they know everyone has heard them all. In fact, the rarest of pleasures available in these digital days is getting an Internet joke I have not yet heard. But even that is a fleeting and bittersweet delight because I know, by the time I get to the pub (or even out to the kitchen to tell my wife) everyone else will have heard it, as well. And so will I—over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Internet is brilliant (after all, it was because of the Internet that I finally learned the real words to “Louie, Louie”) but I think the slow death of classic joke-telling is one of its unfortunate downsides; not only have I not heard a good, new joke in a long, long time, but venerable, old jokes are starting to resemble dead horses because they are being flogged around cyberspace so often. Information sharing is no bad thing, but we’re becoming like The Borg, practically reading each other’s thoughts in real time. And have you ever seen a Borg tell a joke? I think it’s clear that the lack of humor in their culture was what made them so cranky, like the Germans.

I wish I had an answer, I wish I could say the trend is reversing, but I fear we are entering a new era, an age where humor arrives via your IN box and is shared by use of your SEND TO ALL button (as an aside, please stop that, okay?). Perhaps this will lead to spam filters evolving to the point where they can divert any joke you have heard before (though this would make your incoming mail volume drop by about 97%) and filter out those recipients you have already sent it to.

I realize that’s a depressing note to leave you on, so here’s a good joke to cheer you up: A transvestite walks into a bowling alley wearing nothing but fish-net stockings and lederhosen and, as he’s requesting a pair of shoes, the clerk says to him…

Sorry, I see you’re heard this one already.


  1. Good One Mike - I agree about the speed of things - I do not claim to have invented the WW2 comment, but I had heard the first 2 parts to it separately from my own adding of the English being left with the Germans - Obviously others were of a similar mind and thus the joke was born..... unless of course my version, told to a dozen or so people and a forum, moved that quickly??

    Ok, so I'll close on one I heard recently (and not via the internet - so there's a chance it may be new to you!)

    Man 1: I'm going to buy my wife a wooden leg for Christmas this year.

    Man 2: Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realise she had lost a leg.

    Man 1: she hasn't, I'm just buying it as a stocking filler.

    Boom Boom

  2. Nearly half way through your book! Loving it and it was a great distraction from the smelly fat man on the bus on the way back to Bristol. I can't believe England had a "wardrobe malfunction" as well. Who knew?!

  3. Steve: Thanks!!! I had NOT heard that one before so, well done! But now, of course, everyone has :(

    Lady: Glad you like my book and that it was a good distraction during your trip ;)
    NOTICE TO READERS: None of the humor in my book is on the Internet (well, not a lot of it, anyway)

  4. Or, di you hear about....

    The Irishman who worte a letter to the Tampax company starting

    "Dear Sir,

    I've been using your products now for three months, and I still can't ride a bike, play tennis or swim"

    I'll get me coat......

  5. Not hearing many jokes these days? You clearly don't live with a 7 year old. And of course, I can't remember a single one at the moment.

  6. So this frog hops into a bank and goes up to the loan officer, Ms Patricia Whack.
    "We can't lend you any money," she says, "you're a frog."
    "Don't you know who I am?" says the frog. "I'm Kermit Jagger. Mick Jagger is my father."
    "I don't care who you are, we don't lend money to frogs, especially if you don't have any collateral."
    "But I do have collateral," says the frog, and he hands Patricia a small velvet sack. Inside is a tiny porcelain pig.
    By now Patricia has had enough. She takes the pig and goes to see the bank manager.
    "I've got a frog out there who claims Mick Jagger is his father and all he has for collateral is this pig, and I don't even know what it is!"
    The bank manager looks at the porcelain pig and then at Patricia and says:
    "It's a knick-knack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man's a rolling stone."

    Ba-dump bump.

  7. Spare a thought for the poor professional comedian, who tells jokes for a living ...

    In the days of the music hall (vaudeville in America) comedians could deliver the same act day after day to audiences at theatres up and down the country, fairly confident that the jokes were mostly new to their audiences. Rival comedians would often 'steal' some of their jokes, but even then many people would not have heard them.

    Then along came mass communications .... First radio, then TV, and now the Internet. Now, a freshly-minted joke can be used once on TV, say. They have to write a new act for each performance.

  8. Yes, it must be double-edged sword for a budding comedian to finally make it to TV only to realize that the material that got him there is suddenly no good any more.