DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? by John B. Rosenman

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Okay, folks, here is a test. Leave a comment after you’ve read this post and tell me which of these five jokes are funny and humorous, and which are not. If you want to keep it simple, just write the number of the joke and Yes or No. If you want, you can explain your answer. Hey, here we go.

1. What has four legs and an arm? Answer: A happy pit bull.

2. A family of mice were surprised by a big cat. Father Mouse jumped and said, Bow-wow!” The cat ran away. “What was that, Father?” asked Baby Mouse. “Well, son, that’s why it’s important to learn a second language.” Submitted by BH LEE

3. Want to get people excited? Just put Alka-Seltzer in your mouth and pretend you’re  possessed by the devil.

4. Whoever invented “Knock-Knock” jokes should get a no-bell prize.

5. A man walks into a bar with a small dog under his arm and sits down at the counter, placing the dog on the stool next to him. The bartender says, “Sorry, pal. No dogs allowed.” The man says, “But this is a special dog – he talks!” “Yeah, right,” says the bartender. “Now get out of here before I throw you out.” “No, wait,” says the man. “I’ll prove it.” He turns to the dog and asks, “What do you normally find on top of a house?” “Roof!” says the dog, wagging his tail. “Listen, pal…” says the bartender.” Wait,” says the man, “I’ll ask another question.” He turns to the dog again and asks, “What’s the opposite of soft?” “Ruff!” exclaims the dog. “Quit wasting my time and get out of here,” says the bartender. “One more chance,” pleads the man. Turning to the dog again, he asks, “Who was the greatest baseball player that ever lived?” “Ruth!” barks the dog. “Okay, that’s it!” says the bartender, and physically throws both man and dog out the door and onto the street. Turning to the man, the dogs shrugs and says, “Maybe I should have said Dimaggio?”

What are the correct answers? The point of course is that it’s hard to say because humor is often subjective, and we don’t agree on what’s funny. What’s a knee-snapper to one person is stupid, offensive, or simply pointless to another. What doubles up your Aunt Matilda in helpless mirth leaves your Uncle Walt unfazed. Whatever you do, though, be careful joking about politics or religion. I once pissed off a friend by telling a brief Mitt Romney joke.

What about dirty jokes—do you like them? Say, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman and the one-eyed whore? She… Naw, I better not tell it. Okay, do you know how to tell who’s a virgin in Virginia? (or supply your own state name). The answer: By her out-of-state license plate.

You don’t think the last joke is funny? In addition to it being flat, dumb, and in bad taste, it’s sexist, discriminatory against women. Perhaps you believe that jokes which offend people shouldn’t be published.

Well, I think people should be offended sometimes. Their feathers should be ruffled and even plucked clean off on occasion. I for one love some dirty jokes and those which are often politically incorrect. I love Aristophanes’ classic sexual comedy Lysistrata in which Grecian women go on a sex strike to stop the Peloponnesian War. However, there is a limit. For example, I just checked some jokes online about Jews, Blacks, and Catholics, and they are REALLY offensive, so you won’t see them here.

You see, I do have some taste.
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What about your writing? Your short stories and your novels, your biographies, essays, and poems? How far are you willing to go in using humor? What chances are you willing to take? Do all your jokes have to be “clean”? Perhaps if you write a book which doesn’t offend anyone, which only supports what is safe and acceptable, your book wasn’t worth writing in the first place.

Do you like jokes at your own expense? I do, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited and go too far. I like to poke fun at my unique dancing style, which causes my partners to duck and run for cover. We know that comedians sometimes deride themselves and find humor in their personal and painful experiences. If they came up the hard way in poverty, they may work it into their routines. As a comedian, Jack Benny depended largely on three self-deprecatory jokes: (1), he was always thirty-nine years old, (2) he was a notorious tightwad, and (3) he was a terrible violin player. I believe the last two are false.

We often use humor in satirical works to ridicule and correct human vices and follies. Vices are much worse than follies. They include such sins as greed, hypocrisy, and cruelty. Plus corrupt political and social systems. Think of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Orwell’s Animal Farm. The humor is sometimes biting and laser-sharp, as well as deliciously delicate, capable of eviscerating its targets without mussing their hair. In a presidential debate, Ronald Reagan once used a critical question concerning his advanced age to demolish his opponent. He said, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” When Megyn Kelly recently said Donald Trump called women derogatory names like “fat pig” and “dog,” did he go too far when he said, “Only Rosie O’Donnell”? Bad taste or not, his interruption received the biggest laugh of the first Republican debate.

Have you ever watched the skits on Saturday Night Live which lampoon political and entertainment leaders? C’mon, you know you’ve howled at some of them, ignoring your better (and less interesting) nature. A guilty pleasure is still a pleasure, right?

Many jokes and cracks will offend somebody. Hell, they are meant to. As for you, Dear Reader, use your own judgment but be willing to take chances now and then. And if you are personally offended or attacked, try to live and let live. Above all, remember what Geoffrey Chaucer wrote concerning the brilliant but outrageous Miller’s narrative in The Canterbury Tales. Whatever you do, do not “maken earnest out of game.”

End

 

John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

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15 thoughts on “DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? by John B. Rosenman

  1. Clayton Bye Post author

    I enjoyed all your jokes, John, including the ones buried in text.

    I am fully aware that humour is not used enough in writing. Jokes aside, humour is a complicated formula of clever content, delivery and timing–something that takes time and a lot of hard work to master. This doesn’t mean we should avoid it in our writing, rather it means we should be prepared to engage in some hard work so as to create the right chemistry.

    Clayton

    Reply
  2. John B. Rosenman

    Thanks, Clayton. Yup, the “right chemistry” is essential. Without it the joke or humor falls flat or risks Deflategate. In fiction you can’t emulate Rodney Dangerfield and try to be repeatedly funny in machine gun fashion. And if you’re too subtle, almost no one will get it. Fortunately, with my brilliance, none of that will happen.

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  3. James L. Secor

    Irony, context and playing on our perceptions, however narrow, drive my idea of jokes/joking. Also puns and intellectual jokes. Sometimes, making people reach for it. So. . .1, 3 and 5. 3 only works as a joke, as we are bound by prior information: I had a student who had a seizure. . .no foaming. Those that some might find offensive should be told only to those who find them hilarious because of others’ (mis)perception. As in, don’t tell disability jokes unless you’re in the in-crowd. And people are so-ooooo hedged in by PC. One of my all-time favorites jokes was told my Johnny Depp to whom it was told by, I think, de Niro; it took Depp a long time to figure it out. To wit: A skeleton walks into a bar and asked for a beer and a mop.
    A copyeditor friend of mine did a very unofficial, unscientific “study” of email jokes: they don’t go over well. Even snide, if you will, humor cannot be followed. Unless, I add, you know the individual emailing you.

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  4. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    John I loved your piece about humor in writing. Adding humor is a great mood lifter if the previous scenes have been dark. Writing humor is not easy. My hat is off to you on being able to hone that skill.

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  5. John B. Rosenman

    Thanks for your comments, folks. James, re disability, do you remember the Stevie Wonder commercial where he’s playing tennis and swinging his racket blindly at air? It was funny because he thought it was funny and we could laugh with rather than at him. But yes, you’re right about having to be mindful of disabled people’s feelings. And I love the skeleton joke. He’s Jewish, right?

    Cynthia, you’re right about comic relief being important, and it ain’t easy. Thanks for thinking I can write decent humor. Some of it oozes over into the absurd, which maybe I’ll write about sometime. It’s a special brand of humor I have a weakness for.

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  6. Micki Peluso

    I love reading humorous books and humor is in most of my works. Even when serious, I tend to find something ironic, sardonic or just plain silly. I’ve read most comedians use humor to cover up a sad or abusive life. Robin Williams comes to mind. On a personal level, I first used humor in junior high school when I was teased and bullied, mostly for being taller than other kids. I found that making them laugh with me rather than at me worked well. I taught that trick to my kids and grand-kids.

    Even though I write humorous stories and books, I cannot tell a joke for the life of me and often don’t ‘get’ jokes. I do one-liners such as the night I was in a chat room of mostly women and they were complaining how a certain part of a woman’s anatomy sags with age. Without thinking, I added, “Yeah and those rug burns really hurt.” There was silence and then it hit them.

    I detest slapstick humor and prefer to find write funny situations that are not, in themselves funny at all–but when told in a humorous way, they become hilarious. I just had four humorous stories published in an anthology that usually does inspirational stories. The publisher was about to pull her hair out because none of the writers could write a funny story, which was because the stories weren’t funny, but they could be written to be funny. So there is a knack to writing humor but only because the humor writer sees the humor in things others might not.

    So: #1 leaves me with bloody imagery as does #3; #4 works for me as silly humor
    #2 and #5 are my kind of humor.

    Fantastic post, John!!

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  7. John B. Rosenman

    Micki, I love the joke about the rug burns, and Robin Williams is a perfect example of a brilliant clown who cried behind his greasepaint. Thanks for taking my test! You got all of them right, though there are no wrong answers. As for being teased and bullied, many folks use the gift of laughter to get along.

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  8. Anne Sweazy-Kulju

    I think we all would like to believe we have a good sense of humor. We’d like to…

    Ooooh, don’t like #1 (but then I rescue abused pit bulls; subjective, right?) As for the rest, I agree with Micki. I also write about humorous situations rather than use jokes in my writing. I love it whenever people compliment my writing, naturally. But recently a review/award included this little ditty in the description of the writing in my latest book: “The author has a marvelous handle on subtle humor.” Mostly because of that one line, I think it’s my favorite review of all time! Great piece, John!

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  9. Salvatore Buttaci

    I like Joke #2, probably because it reminds me of my own lack of a second language until I learned Italian during my year in Sicily. As for jokes I don’t care for? Dirty jokes, sacriligeous jokes, ethnic and racial jokes. A very good article, John!

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  10. trish

    John, I’m so glad you wrote about jokes. I love humor, and that’s why I write politically incorrect romantic comedy in my Redneck P.I. series. I have to admit I was a little nervous about offending people when I wrote the first one, because the term ‘redneck’ is seen as derogatory in some people’s minds. However, you only have to listen to the lyrics of country music songs to know that rednecks wear the term as a badge of honor. I love all kinds of jokes, and I’ve found that when I mess something up, it often helps to smooth it over if I make a joke of it at my own expense.

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  11. John B. Rosenman

    Thanks for your kind comments, guys. What a great review, Anne. “A marvelous handle on subtle humor.” Humor is so hard to write. Sal, I can understand about ethnic and racial jokes and slurs, though Lenny Bruce used to use such terms over and over again in his comedy routines until they lost their impact and effect — which was his point. Trish, you’re right about how making a joke of something you mess up can smooth things over. Recently, at a pool party, a really fat friend talked about us being fat, and I said, “Look who’s talking!” Everybody laughed and he hopped right on it, laughing and agreeing with my jab and defusing the laughter. If only most problems could be solved so easily.

    Regarding humor, in my humorous stories I often deal with fantastic situations. In one story, “Karma in a Drainpipe,” a mean teacher dies and comes back as a tiny bit of “garbage” in the kitchen drainpipe of a student, now grown up, whom she used to torment. I think the humor is biting and bitter, as humor often is.

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  12. Kenneth Weene

    Humor is like pornography, I can’t necessarily define it, but I know it when I see it. Or to put it more simply, if I laugh it was funny even if it was also dumb, offensive, or upsetting. And, like most people, I love laughing; that’s one reason I like to look in the mirror. As for jokes 1-5, I’ve always loved #5; I loved it when I was a kid and still do. Of course coming from New England, it was Ted Williams not DiMaggio. So here’s to you Mr. Rosenman; thanks for winging for the fences.

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  13. Yves Johnson

    You make some good points on how some people take jokes. It all depends on your expose, belief system, background, etc. I’m found of one-liners and zingers. I love number 5. I remember that one from my childhood. I love the “missed opportunities” and irony. Thanks.

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  14. John B. Rosenman

    Ken and Yves, I love number 5 too. It was about the first joke I ever heard, and I’ve always liked it. I also still laugh at it. I can also always tell it because it’s clean. Ted Williams? Never heard of him.

    I have to confess I don’t remember jokes well. For a guy who loves them, they fly right out of my head. I remember them for a little while, then poof! I do remember one other joke but while it’s hilarious (at least to me), it’s dirty and obscene, involving a man named Jeb and a goat. Nope, I wasn’t going to tell it. Besides, often the joke’s success depends on oral telling.

    Thanks for your comments. Rodney Dangerfield, rock on!

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  15. Dellani Oakes

    I have a writer buddy who always has a “joke of the day”, so I’ve heard all of the above. To me, most jokes aren’t all that funny. I am more inclined to laugh at a funny story than a joke with a punch line, though I do love puns – the badder the better.

    I use a lot of humor in my writing, particularly in dialogue. My male 30 something characters tend to reflect my sons and son-in-law, who have a very sarcastic and somewhat scathing sense of humor. I’m sure some of the things that I (or they) find funny would offend. If it’s true to the character, I will say it and hope it doesn’t offend too badly. I look at it this way, if a reader gets offended by that sort of joke, s/he won’t enjoy my books much anyway.

    Reply

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