A joke is a short story or short series of words spoken or communicated with the intent of being laughed at or found humorous by the listener or reader. This sort of "joke" is not the same as a practical joke.
Laughter, the intended human reaction to jokes, is healthy, uses the stomach muscles, and releases endorphins, natural happiness-inducing chemicals, into the bloodstream. Daily laughter is recommended to every human being. Jokes have been the subject of serious academic study, a notable example being Sigmund Freud's "Jokes and Their Relationship to the Unconscious". Marvin Minsky even suggests in Society of Mind that laughter has a specific function related to the human brain. In his opinion jokes and laughter are a mechanisms for the brain to learn Nonsense. For that reason, he argues, jokes are usually not as funny when you hear them repeatedly.
Most jokes contain two components: joke setup (for example, "A man walks into a bar...") and a punchline, which when juxtaposed with the setup provides the neccesary irony to elicit laughter from the audience.
Types of jokes
Jokes often depend for humour on the unexpected, the mildly taboo (which can include the mildly distasteful or socially incorrect), or the playing on stereotypes and other cultural myths. Many jokes fit into more than one category.
These target the perceived flaws of people in certain trades. Lawyer jokes are traditionally popular in the United States.
- Q: You find yourself stuck in a hole with a murderer, a rapist, and a lawyer. You're armed but you only have 2 bullets left, what do you do?
- A: Shoot the lawyer...twice.
Italians trade jokes about the Carabinieri national police force, and this fact is rather good-humouredly acknowledged even in the force's own website, probably because the Carabinieri know that, jokes aside, they do enjoy a high degree of respect. Carabinieri are factually known to be occasionally willing to tell a few such jokes themselves. It is also known that they have a small office in Rome devoted to tracking, developing, and collecting jokes (but this is a joke).
- Our officers, eager to keep their patrol cars clean, will capsize them at the end of every shift in order to empty the ashtray. (Adapted from the official Carabinieri website.)
Yo' mama jokes
Main article: The dozens.
Jokes of this kind originate in the dozens, an African-American custom with West African roots in which two competitors—usually males—go head to head in a competition of comedic, often ribald, trash talk. The target of the traded insults is most often the opponents' mothers, but can involve other family members as well.
Political jokes tell about politicians and heads of states.
- Q: A child, an honest politician, and Santa Claus all spot a $20 bill on the ground. Who picks it up?
- A: The child, since the other two don't exist.
Bush approved of a new method of testing ready-to-eat meat for the potentially lethal Listeria bacteria found in factories. According to the legislation, ready-to-eat meat will have to pass standardized tests as part of Bush's "leave no hot dog behind" campaign.
- A couple are touring a graveyard when they spot a tombstone that reads "Here lies an honest man and a politician." The man says to the woman, "Look honey, there's two people in that grave."
Often posed as a common riddle, the answer is twisted humorously.
- Q: What is black and white and read (red) all over?
A1: A newspaper. (The oldest and most common answer, because red is also the pronunciation of read; this class of joke works only when spoken aloud so that which homophone is meant is misconstrued because of the inclusion of other colors.)
A2: An embarassed zebra. (This is funny primarily because most people are familiar with the older joke and expect the interpretation to be "read" rather than "red." It is one of the most common "twist" answers, because it's one of the few G-rated ones. See Why did the chicken cross the road? elsewhere on this page for more instances of the same phenomenon.)
- A3: A bloody skunk. (A penguin, a nun, or any likely wearer of a tuxedo can also be used in place of a skunk. Also "sunburnt" can be used in place of "bloody.")
- A4: A blind nun trying to read a cheese grater. (This is a less tasteful variant on A2.)
A5: A Goth on her period.
...and so on.
Of this type are knock-knock joke, lightbulb joke, grape joke, Radio Yerevan, and some jokes of other types described here.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
- Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
- A:To get to the other side.
Although perhaps the most famous of all jokes in the English language, this joke is a Non-joke, in that its humor value comes from the fact that it is expected to be funny. Additionally, it is rarely told on its own, but instead is referenced, modified, or parodied in a number of other jokes.
- Q: Why did the tachyon cross the road?
- A: Because it was on the other side.
- A: To get to the same side.
- Q: Why did the chicken cross the road in Texas?
- A: To show the armadillo it could be done.
Usually a riddle of the form "Why did the elephant...?", where the answer is ridiculously impossible.
- Q: Why did the elephant cross the road?
- A: Because it was stapled to the chicken.
- Q: How do you tell if there's an elephant in your refrigerator?
- A: There are footprints in the peanut butter.
- Q: How do you tell if there are two elephants in your refrigerator?
- A: There are two sets of footprints in the peanut butter.
- Q: How do you tell if there are three elephants in your refrigerator?
- A: The door won't close.
- Q: How do you hide an elephant in a strawberry patch?
- A: Paint its toenails red.
- Q: How can you know this works?
- A: Have you ever seen an elephant in a strawberry patch?
- Q: How does an elephant ask for a bun?
- A: (while waving either arm in a trunk-like manner) "Give us a bun!"
A dirty joke is one that depends for all or part of its humour on reference to taboo sexual content. Many dirty jokes are also sexist. Many jokes from other categories are dirty.
The effect of the dirty joke may be enhanced by the addition of further taboos, as in the subgenre of nun jokes.
- Two nuns are in the bath. One says, "Where's the soap?" The other says, "Yes, it does."
Note that this joke involves a pun (the word "wears" for "where's") as well as the sexual taboo.
Another subgenre is that of unmet expectations, in which the joke is the absence of the sexual content which the audience has been led to expect.
- There was an old farmer who sat on a rick/Laughing and waving his big hairy... fist.
This joke is funny because the last word of the second line is expected to rhyme with the last word of the first. There is often, in such jokes, a pause before "fist".
A subgenre of jokes derives their humor simply from violating taboos and being so blatantly offensive in their subject matter that (for some) the situation becomes funny, not macabre.
One example of such a joke is The Aristocrats, which dates back to Vaudeville.
The phrase "sick jokes" appeared in the New York Times on October 9, 1958, when a football columnist noted that "those macabre 'sick jokes' that appeal to the younger generation are popping up in football quotes." An October 26 article on How These Joke Cycles Start, indicates that the "sick joke" genre was already well in progress. The columnist gives an example:
- Child: "Mommy, when are we going to reach Europe?"
- Mother: "Shut up and keep swimming."
He states that "This body of humor first crawled out from under a stone in London five years ago when several British actors outlined plans for a never-to-be-produced show called The Bad Taste Review." In 1959 a Times columnist opined that "the tide of 'sick jokes' may be ebbing but Tom Lehrer's 'sick songs' are still at flood."
Dead baby jokes
The 1980s and 1990s saw the vogue of the "dead baby" joke, a subject which would usually be considered the opposite of "funny." A fair number of the jokes are derivations of each other, told in sequence for maximum effect. Others derive their humor from the implication that the teller knows from personal experience. Like all jokes, they are funnier when they are told rather than read:
- Q: How do you get 1000 dead babies into a phone booth?
- A: Use a blender.
- Q: How do you make a dead baby float?
- A: A glass of root beer, two scoops of ice cream, and a scoop of dead baby.
- Q: How many dead babies does it take to paint a house?
- A: It depends on how hard you throw them.
- Q: What has four legs and one arm?
A: A doberman in a nursery.
Little Johnny jokes
Main article: Little Johnny.
Little Johnny jokes are about a small boy who likes to ask innocent questions and has a very straightforward thinking. At times he is all too well educated in the terminology of sex, then he is known as "Dirty Johnny", while at others he is all too innocent. He also has cousins across the world, Dirty Ernie, Spanish Jaimito, Brazilian Joăozinho, Russian Vovochka, Czech Pepíček, Italian Pierino, and French Toto.
- Ms. Smith stopped to reprove Johnny for making faces: "Johnny, when I was small, my mother used to tell me that if I made ugly faces, at some moment it would freeze and stay like that". Johnny looked up at her and thoughtfully replied: "Well, Ms. Smith, you can't say you weren't forewarned."
- The teacher asks everyone in the class to demonstrate something exciting. When Johnny's turn came, he walked to the blackboard and drew a small dot. "What's that?", the teacher asked, puzzled. "It's a period. "—"Well, I see that, but what's exciting about a period?"—"Darned if I know, but this morning my sister said she missed one... Dad had a heart attack, mom fainted, and the guy next door shot himself."
Ethnic humor is particular to a certain ethnic group or culture and may or may not be the same as an ethnic joke. An ethnic joke relies for humorous effect on peculiarities of a particular ethnicity, real or imaginary. Many of them rely on stereotypes about particular ethnicities, often those from different (neighbour) nations or minorities. For example, Finns tell jokes about Swedes and Gypsies. Sometimes they are considered in good taste, meant to poke fun at or about another culture, while other times they are considered offensive or racist. Sometimes the difference between the two judgements is in the nature of the joke, and sometimes the difference is in the perception of those hearing it.
In an attempt to preserve the humor of ethnic jokes without their derogatory nature, on rare occasions such jokes are told with the word ethnic or some variant in place of the nationality of the subject. For example: "Two ethnics are out duck hunting. They hunt and hunt and hunt and still have not killed one duck. Finally, ethnic #1 says to ethnic #2, 'Maybe we'd do better if we threw the dog up higher.'" Another twist is letting people of that same target group enjoy a monopoly on telling jokes about themselves.
Many ethnic jokes appear in several cultures with nothing changed except the group being disparaged. For example, many American jokes about Poles, Canadian jokes about Newfoundlanders, British jokes about the Irish, Brazilian jokes about the Portuguese, and Indian jokes about Sikhs are identical except for the ethnic group which is the subject of the joke.
A traditional British form of ethnic joke starts "An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman..." and may go on to make fun of any of the three by comparison with the other two.
A very special case is Jewish jokes. The humour of them is very specific. Also the form is very unusual in many languages using slang words from the Jewish community. The purpose of these jokes is not discreditation of Jews. Jewish jokes are favourite even among Jews.
Similar to ethnic jokes are "higher education" jokes such as the so-called Aggie jokes which are popular in Texas which poke fun at students who attend Texas A&M University.
- An old Gypsy goes to his local council and says, "My wife has become ill, and we need to come off the road. Can we have a council house?"
- A Nubian crawls across Sahara and sees a magic bottle. He opened the bottle and a djinni came out. As djinn usually do, this one promised three wishes to the man who got him free. The Nubian thought for a moment and answered: "First, I want plenty of water, second, I'd like to be totally white, and third I want plenty of white women of all European nations on top of me." The man was turned into a flush toilet in a ladies' restroom at the EU headquarters.
A: Plant mushrooms on the freeway.
- Q: What was the dirtiest fight ever fought?
A: An Icelander and a seagull fighting on a beach over a rotten fish.
A: Throw a penny/ten kopeck into the back seat.
- A Portuguese was mourning a man beside the coffin when somebody asked him: "Who is the dead man?" To which he answered pointing to the casket: "It's him."
- Jewish: "Listen, Silberstein, how is it possible that you sell nightingale pâté for 20 cents when others sell it for a dollar? Do you mix it?"—"I mix it like everybody else does, I just do it honestly—one nightingale, one horse."
A sexist joke is one that expresses the sexist belief that one gender or sex is somehow superior to the other.
- Q: How do you fix a woman's watch?
- A: You don't. There's a clock on the oven!
- Q: Why does a man have a hole in the end of his penis?
- A: To get oxygen to his brain!
- A: Because she was a woman!
Blonde jokes are jokes about people, generally women, who have blonde hair and are assumed not to be very smart. These jokes are generally considered to be derogatory, but are usually taken with good humor. They are usually variants on traditional ethnic jokes.
- Q: What is it called when you blow into a blonde's ear?
- A: A Refill.
Jokes about animals
Jokes about animals have signs of fable. The animals, which live in the forest, behave like humans. They are depicted with human properties. A fox is usually clever, a bear strong, and a hare astute and cheeky.
- Fox, hare, and bear play cards. Bear says, "If somebody tricks, I will smash his face. His small, red face."
Shaggy dog stories
A shaggy dog story is an extremely long and involved joke with a weak or completely nonexistent punchline. The humor lies in building up the audience's anticipation and then letting them down completely.
Shaggy jokes appear to date from the 1930s, although there are several competing variants for the "original" shaggy dog story. According to one, an advertisement is placed in a newspaper, searching for the shaggiest dog in the world. The teller of the joke then relates the story of the search for the shaggiest dog in extreme and exaggerated detail (flying around the world, climbing mountains, fending off sabre-toothed tigers, etc); a good teller will be able to stretch the story out to over half an hour. When the winning dog is finally presented, the advertiser takes a look at the dog and states: "I don't think he's so shaggy".
You have two cows
A large number of jokes, beginning "You have two cows...", describe what would be done with the cows under a certain political or economic system. The jokes satirize many countries, television shows, religions, and systems, especially bureaucracy, communism, and capitalism.
- Canadianism: You have two cows. Vous avez deux vaches.
- Communism–Reality: You have two cows. Technically, everyone owns all the cows and everyone is equal. If you happen to be in charge of everyone and their cows, you own more of the cows than everyone else because you are more equal than they are.
- Democracy: You have two cows. They outvote you 2-1 to ban all meat and dairy products.
- Dictatorship: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.
- Dyslexia: You have two woks.
- Political Correctness: You are associated with (the concept of "ownership" is a symbol of the phallocentric, war-mongering, intolerant past) two differently aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender.
- Totalitarianism: You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.
Other classes of jokes
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04