by John Russell
“It is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” Mark Twain (famous humorist)
Jokes come in all shapes and sizes. This article looks at just a few of these shapes and sizes and gives a few tips to those of you who like telling jokes.
According to the dictionary, a joke is “something that makes you laugh”. This is a very short definition for something that can make you laugh, cry, feel angry, or sad, scream or shout. They can be about anything in the universe, from jobs to relationships, from nationalities to animals. They can also make you think very hard or laugh immediately.
From the one liner (1) to jokes about computers (2) humour is something that connects all countries and nationalities
(1) The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. (Einstein)
(2) I use my cat’s name as my computer password. Unfortunately I have to change the password every month so now my cat’s called czc-x9ig-pol9!
A very common type of joke in English is a pun or a play on words. This can be based around different meanings for the same spelling (homographic);
He’s the senior – teacher. He’s over 70! (How many different meanings of senior are there?)
It can also be based around different meanings for the same sound (homophonic).
Why didn’t the perfume arrive? Because it wasn’t scent.
A pun can also be used in a shaggy dog story. This is a very long joke that usually finishes with a punch line (the climax of a joke) that uses a play on words. Some people argue that a shaggy dog story is just a long joke.
A man and a woman were involved in a terrible car crash, but amazingly neither of them was injured. After climbing out of their separate cars and looking at each other the woman finally said. “The fact that neither of us was hurt must be a sign that we were meant to meet each other, and were meant to be friends.” The man, still shocked, nodded his head in agreement.
Just at that moment an unopened bottle of whiskey rolled out of the woman’s car and she said “again this must be a sign that we were meant to ‘toast’ our friendship with a drink.”
The man (by this point needing a drink) took hold of the bottle and drank a few mouthfuls. He gave it back to the woman and asked “aren’t you going to have any?” The woman (wiping her fingerprints off the bottle) shook her head and replied. “You know…I think I’ll just wait for the police to arrive before I drink anything”
Many jokes also have a darker side. People laugh about other peoples’ misfortunes and problems, and about difficult relationships:
Husband: Pack your bags. I’ve won the lottery.
Wife: Wonderful! Shall we go to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo?
Husband: I don’t care where you go… just pack your bags and get out of my house!
A lot of jokes also involve using another person as a victim – as the focus of the joke – often a stupid person. This can be another nationality, sex, religion, or just a person who has blonde hair.
How did the Blonde hurt herself drinking milk? The cow fell on her.
Death and other depressing topics are also very common subjects for jokes; this kind of humour is called black humour.
When asked in class how they would like to die, one student said to the teacher "I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep - like my Uncle…….not screaming in terror - like the passengers on his bus."
How to tell a good joke?
There are a few things to remember when you tell a joke:
Firstly, remember who you’re telling the joke to. Choose a subject that your audience can appreciate – young people won’t find jokes about economics funny however, economics students may. Be careful not to offend people by mistake, a joke about Doctors or sick people may be funny, but not to a Doctor or a sick person.
Doctor: I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news and some very bad news for you.
Patient: What’s the bad news?
Doctor: You have 24 hours to live.
Patient: And the very bad news?
Doctor: I should have told you yesterday.
Never announce a joke “I know a very funny joke…” or tell anyone you know a story that will make them laugh. It will never be as funny as you want it to be. Tell the joke without introductions.
To be happy with a husband you have to understand him a little and love him a lot. To be happy with a wife you have to love her a lot and not try to understand her at all!
The timing of a joke is also very important. Don’t rush towards the punch line, the joke should build up a little tension………….and a little more…………….. and then a pause………..and then a strong punch line. Your punch line could also be something that surprises, something your audience doesn’t expect. In the same way, if your audience have to think a little before they understand the joke, they may appreciate it more. Try this one (how many different meanings of change can you think of?):
Change is inevitable…………….. except from a drinks machine.
Finally, topical jokes (jokes about events now) are funnier than jokes about events in the past. How many people would laugh now at a Margaret Thatcher joke, or a joke about the Berlin Wall coming down? But there are thousands of Tony Blair jokes or funny Internet sites about current events.
In the end, it’s up to you what you find funny. And even if you can’t tell jokes very well you can still enjoy them.