When I write a column, I’m never really sure if it’s funny. I can’t always trust my own instincts, because it’s one in the morning, and my computer certainly doesn’t laugh, and when my wife reads it, she rolls her eyes. And I’m usually too far behind deadline to run around showing it to my friends. And as far as my editor, the only feedback I get is either: “Thank you,” or, “The powers that be feel that it is not appropriate to write about exploding goats. Please have another column ready this afternoon.”
I’m never sure if my column is any good until it’s too late to change anything.
So in general, I’m never really sure if my column is any good until it’s too late to change anything, and I’m usually not present when people read my columns. And thank goodness for that. I say this because of a recent study at Washington State University in which people went around inserting purposely bad jokes into everyday conversations, just to see how people would react. The result: the people who told the jokes received an outpouring of hostility, ranging from eye-rolls to fake laughs to insults, and even the occasional punch to the arm. This is why I write my column from an undisclosed location in New Jersey.
“The predominant verbal reaction to failed humor in our study was oriented exclusively toward attacking the speaker,” one researcher said.
My question is this: They really needed to do a study to figure that out? I could have told them this when I was in high school. In fact, I think we all knew a lot of people in high school that seemed to be participating in this study.
But in case you’re wondering why there was such an outpouring of hostility, this was the joke they used:
Q: What did one chimney say to the other chimney?
A: Nothing. Chimneys can’t talk.
The researchers say that the hateful reaction comes because telling a bad joke is a breach of social contract. This is the social contract:
“If I, (name of joke-teller), being of sound mind and body, decide to interrupt your life by telling a joke or a story that did not really happen, I will do my utmost to make you laugh. In fact, the longer it takes me to tell the joke, the better the payoff will be. I will not make you sit there for twenty minutes while I try to recall all the insignificant details of the story with utmost precision, and then, when I finally get to the end, royally mess up on the punch line, or forget it altogether. I will also not ask a riddle that implies that chimneys can talk, and then, instead of a punch line, tell you that chimneys cannot talk. If I do, then the person whose time I’ve wasted has the right to give me one (1) punch line to the arm. Get it? Punch line! Ow.”
The researchers also said that people considered bad jokes an insult to their intelligence, like the speaker said, “I have a dumb joke. Here, you’re dumb, you should like it.” And at best, the joke is just a bid for attention. Basically, the person got the attention of the entire room to let everyone know that: A. Chimneys can’t talk, and B. Therefore, nothing happened.
On the other hand, there are people who really do like these jokes. Every once in a while, someone will come over to me at a kiddush and say, “I really like puns. You should put in more puns.”
Yeah, right, like I’m gonna do that.
But most people don’t like them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that no one would eat Laffy Taffy at all if the taffies themselves weren’t so good. Laffy Taffy is a brand of taffy that puts corny riddles right on their wrappers. At some point, back in their early days, they realized that “Laffy” rhymed with “Taffy”, so they decided to call their product “Laffy Taffy”, and then they realized that if they did that, they would have to put some jokes on the wrappers. But not jokes that were actually funny, or people would choke on the taffies. So they resorted to having people send in riddles. And there is always someone who has to read them to you, usually with a mouth full of taffy.
“What is the hrrfm mrfuf rumfumpur?”
“I don’t know,” you say. “What is the hrrfm mrfuf rumfumpur?”
“Rufumbumbum! Har har! Ow.”
And then there’s always someone who reads the answer before the question. My sister used to do that. Not only that, but she’d read the name too. She’d say, “Michael Smith, Sheboigan, IL. To get to the other side.” Then there’d be a pause, longer than there should be, and she’d say, “Oh. Why did the chicken cross the road?” And then she’d complain to my mother when I punched her.
Basically, if you absolutely have to tell a corny joke in polite society, here are the rules you have to follow, for your own safety. First, take a step back, so your audience can’t swing at you. Then take another step back, in case a miracle happens and their arms stretch. Then take a few more steps back, to be safe, until you are in a different room entirely. Then close the door.
But I think that maybe the problem isn’t the reactions, it’s that the jokes are really bad. In fact, in the past couple of years, I’ve only heard one decent riddle, and it goes like this:
Q: What did one snowman say to the other snowman? A: Do you smell carrots?
In fact, I think that a lot of jokes could possibly be improved if we just thought of better answers for them.
Q: What did one chimney say to the other chimney?
A: Do you smell carrots?
Okay, so it doesn’t work for every joke. But I’ll get us started:
Q: Who is the father of all corny jokes?
ORIGINAL A: Pop Corn.
REVISED A: Your father in law. And you have to laugh at every blasted one.
Q: What did the dolphin say when he bumped into the whale?
ORIGINAL A: I didn’t do it on porpoise.
REVISED A: Whoa, I didn’t see you there. Have you lost weight?
Q: What did the girl say when the Statue of Liberty sneezed?
ORIGINAL A: G-d bless America.
REVISED A: Has anyone seen my little sister?
Q: Why did the New Yorker sleep under an oil tank?
ORIGINAL A: He wanted to wake up oily.
REVISED A: It was bigger than his apartment.
Q: How did the peanut end up in the hospital?
ORIGINAL A: He was assaulted.
REVISED A: Allergies.
Q: How do you make soup gold?
ORIGINAL A: Add 14 Carrots
REVISED A: Leave it in the fridge for like six months.
Q: What is it called when you lease false teeth?
ORIGINAL A: A dental-rental
REVISED A: “Do these taste funny to you?”
Q: Where do hamburgers go to dance?
ORIGINAL A: A meatball
REVISED A: Your stomach.
Q: What is the best time to go to the dentist?
ORIGINAL A: Toothurty
REVISED A: Right before Pesach.
Q: What falls down but doesn’t get hurt?
ORIGINAL A: Snow.
REVISED A: A yeshiva bochur on Purim.
Q: What goes up but doesn’t come down?
ORIGINAL A: A kangaroo stuck in a tree.
REVISED A: Your weight over Pesach. How can you gain weight eating almost nothing?
Q: What did one matza ball say to the other?
ORIGINAL A: I knead you.
REVISED A: Do you smell carrots?
Q: How do you keep an audience in suspense?
Oh, look! We’re out of space here!
Have your own bad jokes? Feel free to share them with us in our comments section below