What's funny? What isn't? And why do I never get a laugh when I tell that joke about the moose?

Monday, October 4, 2010

P is for Pets

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
 Groucho Marx

Pets are funny for a couple of reasons: first because they behave like humans, and second because they DON’T behave like humans.

We laugh with recognition when a beloved pet tries to “use” the computer, or shows an “almost human” awareness. On the other hand, it also amuses us to see how little a canary cares about money, or how a cat spills water on electronics. (I'll tell you all about it later.)

I haven’t the statistics on tap, but seems pretty obvious that where many animals were originally domesticated to work for humans, those jobs are mostly done by machines today. Those domesticated animals are mostly kept as pets.

Yes, that’s right, animals were thrown out of work by automation.

The life of the wild animal versus the pet is particularly important to moralists and to folks like the people of PETA.

Wild animals need to hunt for every meal and a safe place to sleep. Pets are well fed and have a warm place to sleep (unless they’re fish, in which case they don’t want a warm place, and may not even sleep—I’m not sure.)

Wild animals are always in fear of whatever animal is higher up on the food chain. Pets don’t have to worry about predators—but on the other hand, they are frequently spay or neutered.

Let’s call it a wash.
After some thought, a woman selected a parrot from the pet store. The pet store owner warned the woman that she was not the parrot’s first owner. He’d been kept for years by a navy man, and had learned some bad habits. Bluntly, the parrot swore, well, like a sailor.

Despite this warning, the woman brought Polly home.

Within an hour, the mail carrier came, delivering the post. The woman brought out Polly to meet the mail man.

“#$@@!” said the parrot.

The postman smiled, and left quickly.

“Now, Polly, that wasn’t nice,” said the woman. “You mustn’t talk like that.”
Later that day, a neighbor appeared at the door to borrow a cup of sugar.

“#$@%!” said the parrot.

The neighbor gasped, dropped her measuring cup, and fled.

“Polly, I don’t want to have to warn you again,” said the woman. “Nice birds don’t speak that way. Now, the pastor is coming to visit this evening…if you don’t mind your language, I’ll have to punish you!”

That evening, the pastor comes by. He rings the doorbell, and the parrot shouts out:
“#&^@!!!” said the parrot.

Well, that was it. The woman apologized to the pastor, grabbed the parrot, shoved it into the freezer and slammed the door shut behind the bird.

After about ten minutes, a timid knocking came on the door of the freezer. The woman opened the freezer door and found the parrot, shivering and dispirited, standing in there.

“I’m sorry I spoke the way I did,” said the parrot.

“Well, you should be,” said the woman.

“If I promise never to speak that way again, will you let me out?” asked the bird.

“Yes,” said the woman.

“Okay,” said the bird. “I promise.” The parrot hopped out of the cage and onto the woman’s shoulder.

The parrot stood silently for a few minutes. Then he cleared his throat.

“I understand why you locked me in the freezer,” said the bird.

“You left me no choice,” said the woman.

“I know,” said the parrot. “I’ve just got one question: What did the chicken do?”

An elderly lady was walking down the beach one day, when she found a bottle. She rubbed the bottle, and a genie emerged.

“Thank you for freeing me,” said the genie. “You know, as a thank you, you get three wishes.”

“Three wishes, really?” said the old woman delightedly (she had apparently read very few fairy tales). “All right, my first wish: I wish I were young and beautiful again.”

The genie clapped his hands, and in a flash, the old woman was once again 23 years old, and she was absolutely ravishing.

“Second,’ said the woman. ‘I wish that I was fabulously wealthy.”

The genie clapped his hands, and in a flash, the woman has become the weathiest woman in the world.

“Third,” says the woman, “I want Tommy-boy, my beloved cat, to be turned into a handsome young man who is wildly in love with me.”

The genie claps his hands, and in a flash the woman’s spoiled Persian has been turned into a tall, handsome young man. The young man grabs the woman in his arms and kisses her passionately. Then, holding her faces inches from her own, he murmers: “Darling! Aren’t you sorry now you had me fixed?”

Friday, September 17, 2010

O is for Old Age

“It seems to me that getting old is like falling down a very deep well in the dark. It’s an exhilarating, if slightly terrifying trip. You might even be able to enjoy yourself, if it weren’t for the screams of the people hitting the bottom in front of you.”

“We mock the things we are to be.” Mel Brooks said that in his persona as the 2000 Year Old Man. (Who must have actually been much older if he remembered living in caves before there was spoken language.)

Old age is a continuing source of humor—primarily of the whistling in the dark variety. “Look at those funny people all bent over and spitting!” And the next thing you know, we’re bent over and spitting.

Old age triggers fear—fear of death, fear of losing our facilities….fear of losing ourselves. And THAT is why we’re constantly telling jokes about it.
Mr. Smith is talking to Mr. Jenkins at his palatial apartment in Miami.

“It’s too bad you couldn’t join us for dinner last night,” Smith says. “We went to this incredible new restaurant. Excellent food, great wine, and very reasonable prices.”

“Oh?” says Mr. Jenkins, “What was the name of the restaurant?”

“It was called…called….Oh, hell! What’s the name of that red flower with thorns?”

“You mean ‘rose’?”

“That’s it!” Smith called into the next room: “Rose! What’s the name of the restaurant we went to last night?”

Frankly, as I continue to lose hair, teeth and brain cells, I think longingly of those societies we’re always told about. You know, where old people are admired and looked up to for their “wisdom.”

I keep wondering if people in those societies dye their hair grey, deliberately walk as bent over as possible, and wear glasses that don’t actually correct their vision. They probably have makeup that leaves their skin blotchy, too.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and they gathered at their home to celebrate with their three children and various grandchildren. The party continued for some time until finally the time came to present the senior Joneses with their gifts.

The oldest son stood up first. “Mom, Dad,” he said. “You know that I’ve suffered a number of business reverses in the last year or so. I just wasn’t able to buy you a gift.”

The younger son stood up next: “Mother, Father,” he said. “All three of our kids are in college at that same time now. We just couldn’t afford to buy you a gift this year.”

The daughter stood up next” “Ma, Pa,” she said. “After 50 years, I knew that there was nothing that you really need or want. So I didn’t bring a gift, only my love.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jones looked at each other. Then Mr. Jones stood up, cleared his throat, and said the following:

“Your mother and I want to thank you for all your kind wishes. And there’s something we thought we’d share with you after all these years. Your mother and I…well, we never actually got married.”

There was startled murmuring from the gathering.

“Yes, it’s true,” insisted Mr. Jones. “Which only goes to prove: not only are you a bunch of bastards, you’re a bunch of CHEAP bastards!”

Not only do I really like that joke, but I always remember the time my father in law told it. My F-I-L is a very nice man with a good sense of humor, and is a decorated war hero who could kill me with his little finger. (Well, maybe not anymore: he’s got arthritis).

But he should NOT tell jokes.

Some time ago, he told the above story at a family gathering (it may even have been to celebrate his anniversary). He told the joke pretty much as written above, except he forgot to include the bit about Mr. and Mrs. Jones never having gotten married.

The result was, he came to the punch line, and proclaimed:

“And Mr. Jones says: ‘You’re all a bunch of cheap bastards!’”

Then he sat back, with a huge grin on his face, surveying the confused faces of his family and waiting for his laugh.

Ahhhh, the Awkward Silence.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

M as in Money

"There is nothing quite as wonderful as money.

There is nothing like the newly minted pound.

Everyone must hanker for the butchness of a banker,

It's accountancy that makes the world go round."

--Eric Idle

There’s nothing particularly funny about money.

Well, except that the portraits are often pretty silly.

And the fact that a penny costs the government more than one cent is worth a grin.

And the idea that in order to make American currency harder to counterfeit they made it look exactly like Monopoly money is frankly hysterical.

IN GENERAL, money isn’t funny.

But the PURSUIT of money is one of the most consistently funny things in the world.

Cash is, after all, nothing more than the bookkeeping tokens of an elaborate bartering system. This way, you don’t have to ask your neighbor if he’s got change for a goat.

Since money is a medium of exchange, the pursuit of money (the root of all evil, as we know) can be a sublimated pursuit of power or sex—and those are pretty funny, too.
A newly married couple has fallen upon hard times. The husband has fallen ill and needs expensive medicine. The wife, although good-hearted and beautiful, has no marketable skills, and her job as a waitress doesn’t bring in nearly enough money for the couple to live on.

So, after many tears and much anger, the wife determines that she will turn to streetwalking to earn the money the family needs for food and medicine.
The wife departs at 8 pm, and returns at 2 am. She rushes to her husband, who embraces her with tears in his eyes.

“Darling, I did it!” says the wife.

“You made money, then?” the husband asks.

“Yes,” says the wife. “I made three hundred and fifty dollars and twenty-five cents!”

The husband stares. “Twenty-five cents?” he demands. “Who gave you twenty-five cents?”

The wife smiles brightly: “EVERYBODY!” she says.

There IS a fictional character who loves money, not for what it can buy, but for its own sake. That character is Walt Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, created by writer/artist Carl Barks in the middle of the last century. Looking for all the world like Donald Duck dressed for a road show production of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the richest duck in a world of anthropomorphic animals.

Now, I never found Scrooge to be the “richly comic character” described by his fans. But his exploits WERE pretty funny, especially as it became clear that Scrooge really didn’t care about WEALTH, he cared about MONEY…he kept huge stacks of the stuff, including his giant money bin. It was several stories tall, full of coins and paper money, and Scrooge would literally dive into, while chanting this litany:

“I like to dive around in my money like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher…and toss it up and let it hit me on the head!”

At one point, someone tried to imitate Scrooge and dive headlong into the cash pile himself. The character ended up—not surprisingly—with a busted noggin. He demanded an explanation from Scrooge, who admitted: “It’s a trick.”

A long time ago in Europe, there lived a wily peddler by the name of Igor. One day, Igor heard of a far away land where spices and herbs were unknown. Why, this place had didn’t even have onions!

Well, this was an opportunity too good to go to waste! Igor gathered all the funds he could, selling his possessions and borrowing from friends and family, and bought an entire wagonload of onions. He took his pack animal and made his way, over many weeks, to the faraway land.

Igor presented himself to the royal palace, and to the king of this drab kingdom. He said to the king, “I have with me a remarkable vegetable—it will improve the taste of almost any food, and although strong, can even be eaten by itself.”

Well, the king was as tired of dull food as everyone else in the kingdom, so Igor was granted access to the royal kitchens. Igor worked an entire day, making stews, salads, sandwiches and other dishes (not all of which began with “s”) with his onions. At the end of the day, he brought all the dishes before the king.

The king was no fool, of course. He insisted that others try the food first. First Igor himself ate a bit of each dish, then the servants, then the nobles, and then the Queen. Each declared the food delicious. (It was lucky that he didn’t give the food to the notoriously picky Prince Louis, or this joke might have a different ending.)

Finally, the king himself took a bite of a simple salad garnished with onion. A smile of joy spread over his face. “This is the most miraculous vegetable of all time! We will reward you!”

And indeed, after taking possession of the wagon-load of onions, the king cast about for the riches of the land. Ultimately, Igor was rewarded with a wagon-load of silver.

Igor returned to his home land in triumph. He repaid his debts, bought a beautiful home for himself and his family, and settled down to a privileged existence.

It wasn’t long before the news of Igor’s fortune reached the ears of another wily peddler named Fritz. Fritz thought there must be a way that he could get a piece of this action, and it occurred to him that, if onions were so valuable, garlic would be even more so. After all, it was smaller, could be carried dried, and didn’t make you cry when you cut it.

So Fritz gathered all the funds he could, selling his possessions and borrowing from friends and family. He bought ten sacks of garlic and made his way to the faraway land.

Like Igor before him, Fritz presented himself to the royal palace and to the king of the faraway kingdom. He said to the king, “I have brought a remarkable vegetable. It, too, improves the taste of almost any food!”

Fritz was granted access to the royal kitchens and prepared several dishes featuring garlic. At the end of the day, he brought the dishes before the king. Once again, the king insisted that others taste the food first, but eventually the king tried garlic. He almost wept in delight. “THIS, he said,” is the most remarkable vegetable of all time!”

So the king cast about for the riches of the land to give Fritz in return for his ten sacks of garlic. After much discussion, the peddler received the most valuable gift they could conceive of: Ten sacks of onions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

L is for Lawyer

Q: What do you do if you’re in the jungle, and you’re attacked by a lion, a hippopotamus and a lawyer, and you’ve only got two bullets in your rifle?

A: Shoot the lawyer twice.


Ahhh, nobody likes lawyers. Oh, we may like individual lawyers (especially if we happen to be, ahem, married to one). But as a class, I think they’re about as maligned as any group in the world.

For one thing, lawyers are perceived as being rich and powerful. They have high status. And, as discussed in previous blog entries, high-status people are ripe for being taken down a peg. The epitome of slapstick may still be a rich man getting a pie in the face.

(Hey, I wonder if throwing pies is simply sublimating the urge to hurl – um, other stuff -- the way our primate relatives do? And why am I wasting thoughts like that in a parenthetical remark when I could stretch it into an entire column?)


A billionaire needs to hire a personal assistant. His search team eventually narrows the applicants down to three choices: a mathematician, an economist and a lawyer. The billionaire decides to conduct the final interview himself. He invites the mathematician into his office and asks:

“How much is two plus two?”

The mathematician whips out his calculator, punches numbers furiously for a good forty-five seconds and announces triumphantly: “Four!”

The billionaire kicks out the mathematician and calls in the economist. He asks her:

“How much is two plus two?”

The economist whips out a book of charts and statistical tables, looks in the index, flips to the proper page and proclaims, “according to our latest surveys, somewhere between three and five!”

The billionaire kicks her out and calls in the lawyer. He asks him:

“How much is two plus two?”

The lawyer closes the office door. He pulls the shades. He takes the phone off the hook and turns up a radio very loudly. He tiptoes up to the billionaire and whispers in his ear:

“How much do you want it to be?”

So there’s the whole position of power thing about lawyers. There’s this, too. The work that they do seems ever more necessary in the 21st century, and the work that they do is ever more opaque to the non-attorney.

Lawyers are taught to look for loopholes. That’s the way they work. It is not enough for something a document to appear to say something—the document has to say something exactly, precisely, and without any possibility of misinterpretation.

(This is why the disclaimers at the bottom of your TV screen are 10 paragraphs long. Every sentence is the result of a lawsuit claiming that something was unclear.)

Lawyers therefore become skilled in what’s called arguing in the alternative—something that makes perfect sense to attorneys, but can cause other people’s head to explode. Because lawyers want to cover every possible permutation, they can write sentences like the following and not crack a smile: “I never borrowed that, it was broken when I got it, and I returned it in perfect working condition.”

No wonder other people can’t stand them!
A doctor, a civil engineer and a lawyer are traveling on vacation when their car breaks down. They are forced to spend the night at a small farm. The farmer informs them that, while there is room for two of the travelers, the third will have to stay in the barn with the pigs and cows. And the barn, the farmer warns, hasn’t been cleaned in quite some time.

The doctor says, “Listen, I’m a doctor. I’m used to blood and excrement, and just about anything unpleasant that the body can produce. I’ll stay in the barn.” So the doctor goes out to the barn.

About two hours later, there’s a knock on the farm door. There’s the doctor, standing there looking terribly unhappy. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but I just can’t stay out there with all those pigs and cows.”

The civil engineer says, “Heck, I build sewers for a living. There isn’t a smell I haven’t dealt with. I’ll stay in the barn.” So the civil engineer goes out to the barn.

About an hour later, there’s a knock on the farm door. There’s the civil engineer standing there, looking terribly unhappy. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but I just can’t stay out there with all those pigs and cows.”

The lawyer says, “Well, you guys have given it a shot, I suppose it’s my turn. I’ll stay in the barn.” So the lawyer goes out to the barn.

About a half hour later, there’s a knock on the farm door. There’s a bunch of pigs and cows standing there.

When my wife the attorney was younger, she made it a practice to keep her passport in her office. Because, hey, you never know when you might have to make a business trip in a hurry—and the attorney with the passport gets to make the trip to some exotic locale.

Sure enough, when she was still quite a fledging attorney, there arose a need for someone to fly to Zurich, Switzerland to witness a transaction. My wife, happily waving her passport, volunteered for the job, and before you can you can say “Transatlantic Flight” was winging her way to the land of cuckoo clocks.

Well, my wife arrived in Zurich, checked into a hotel, and made her way to the office building where she signed off on the multimillion dollar transaction she’d helped negotiate. The whole deal took about 18 hours, including the time my wife spent buying every bar of chocolate within a 5 mile radius to fulfill the orders of her colleagues in the office and her friends and family at home.

Exhausted, my wife booked a flight back to New York the day after she arrived. She soon found herself on the receiving end of a suspicious look from a Swiss Customs Officer.

Here was a young woman—looking much younger than the 25 years on her passport—with dark circles under her eyes and vague expression. Not only that, but her only suitcase was packed with what appeared to be dozens of bars of chocolate.

“I see you’ve only been in Switzerland for a single day,” said the suspicious guard. “What brought you here?”

“Business,” my wife replied shortly.

“Business, eh?” said the Customs Official. “What is your business?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?” said the guard, a note of disbelief in his voice. “Why didn’t the shark eat the lawyer?”

“Professional courtesy!” snapped my wife.

The guard laughed. “I guess you are a lawyer at that!” and waved her through.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

K as in Kangaroo and Koala

We’ve all heard about the baby kangaroo who got into trouble with his mother. He kept eating crackers in bed…


Of course the word “kangaroo” is funny: it’s got a K in it! Neil Simon had this to say about the K sound in “The Sunshine Boys”:

"Words with ‘k’ in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland . . . Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there's chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny."

Not only is Kangaroo funny, but so is Koala and Kookaburra. Most of the animals in and around Australia look pretty funny, regardless of how they’re named. I think it’s because they evolved separately from the standard Asian/European/North American models.

But all those “k”s in their names? That’s just kookoo!


The Koala Bear is the creation of somebody with a sense of humor. It isn’t a bear, of course, nor is it as cute and cuddly as it appears.

For the most part, it’s a slow and stupid beast. Unless, of course, someone approaches it as it hands there on a eucalyptus tree. Get too close, and the koala will lash out with inches long claws. Or sink its teeth into your arm—teeth which, although evolved to shred leaves, do a damned good job on flesh. And then, to add insult to injury, it will urinate on you with a particularly strong smelling substance that (despite the koala’s diet) smells less like eucalyptus than it does like, well, urine.

Now, that’s comedy.


Stolen for a book title, but still worth repeating:

One day, a koala bear sits down in a small outdoor café. He orders a large hamburger and fries, which he devours with obvious pleasure. When the waiter brings the bill however, the koala whips out a pistol and fires. The waiter falls dead.

The café manager comes rushing out and demands, “what’s the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

The animal responds, “I’m a koala bear. Look it up in the dictionary” and departs.

The manger goes to the dictionary and looks up Koala Bear in the dictionary, and there he finds the following entry: “Koala Bear: Eats shoots and leaves.”


Monday, August 16, 2010

J as in Jail


A friend will bail you out of jail at three in the morning. A true friend will be sitting next to you saying, “Boy, that was fun!”

Jail’s another topic that isn’t particularly funny: generally somone’s in jail because they deserve it (in which case they are bad people) or they don’t (in which case it’s a sad or unjust situation). Either way, it isn’t really something to laugh at.
On the other hand, confinement is certain to raise tensions—and as has been observed, raising the stakes has the potential to make something much funnier.

Waldo always had an artistic streak, and was always good with his hands. That’s why his fake $10 bills were so good. It took the Treasury department the better part of a year to track him down. But catch him they did, and Waldo was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

In prison, Waldo learned woodworking skills, and became an excellent cabinet maker and general carpenter. His work was in great demand among his fellow prisoners, and even the guards had him working for them. After a year or so, word of his skill reached the warden, who summoned Waldo into his office.

“Waldo,” he said, “I’ve seen your work, and I’d like you to do some work for me. My wife is having the kitchen redesigned, and we’d like you to build a couple of new cabinets, and maybe squeeze in a couple of extra counters near the stove.”

“No way!” said Waldo.

“But why not?” objected the warden

“Do you think I’m crazy?” said Waldo. “Counter fitting is why I’m in here in the first place!”


Jail’s are also the source of much black comedy. Below is a literal example of “gallows humor” that I first heard from Groucho Marx:

The engineer had been convicted of murder in a small Western town. The townspeople erected a rickety gallows overnight outside the jail cell as the prisoner watched.

The next day, the condemned man was lead up the thirteen shaky steps to his doom. He stood on the wobbly platform as the noose was put around his neck.

“Have you any last words?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes,” said the prisoner. “I don’t think this damn thing is safe!”


The following joke is unique, to my knowledge, in that it has four different punch lines:

The new chaplain of a jail is being shown around the facility. At lights out, voices start singing out from the cells.

“Forty-five!” says one voice. All of the prisoners laugh uproariously.

“Seventy-two!” yells another. Again, there are gales of laughter.

The chaplain is baffled. He turns to the warden. “What’s going on?” he demands.

“Oh, it’s simple,” replies the warden. “All the prisoners have been in jail for so long that they all know the same jokes. So they’ve numbered them all. Instead of
telling the whole joke, they just yell the number. And everybody laughs.”

“That’s amazing,” says the chaplain. “Do you mind if I try?”

“Go ahead!” says the warden.

The chaplain yells: “Thirty-two!”

The cells erupt in appreciative laughter, which eventually dies down. Except for one cell, where the occupant is doubled over with laughter. It goes on and on.

“I don’t get it,” says the chaplain. “’Why is he still laughing?’

“Oh,” the warden. “I guess he never heard that joke before.”
The chaplain yells: “Thirty-two!”

There is total silence.

“Why aren’t they laughing?” demands the chaplain.

“Heck,” says the warden. “You told it wrong!”


The chaplain yells: “Thirty-two!”

There is total silence.

“Why aren’t they laughing?” demands the chaplain.

“Heck,” says the warden. “I guess they didn’t expect to hear that kind of a joke from a man of God!”


The chaplain yells: “Thirty-two!”

There is total silence.

Why aren’t they laughing?” demands the chaplain.

“Heck,” says the warden. “If you can’t do accents, you shouldn’t tell dialect jokes!”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I is for Intelligence


The Theory of Relativity? From this Einstein makes a living?
There ARE smart jokes, you know. Nowhere near as many as there are dumb jokes, but they do exist. They’re often not laugh out loud funny—we smile with appreciation at the cleverness of our protagonist, but the jokes rarely generate a true guffaw.
I’ve seen this story set in a lot of locations—but for the purposes of this story, we’ll place it in Germany, back in the early 60s, when it was divided into democratic Western Germany (yay!) and Communist Eastern Germany (boo!)

It happened that there was a poor man in Eastern Germany who had found employment in Western Germany. So every morning, the man would cross from East Berlin to West, and every evening, he would return from West Berlin to East. And every day he would be pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure.

Eventually, a guard became suspicious. Sure, people were paid better in West Berlin, but this man was showing signs of prosperity. He was getting rounder! He was even wearing better clothes.

Something was going on. The guard took to stopping the man on his way home. He searched the man, searched his clothes, and then searched the manure. Nothing. Every day for nearly 20 years, the guard would search the man, his clothes and the manure. Even with the aid of a microscope, he found nothing.

Eventually, the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall came down, and the guard retired. A few months later, the guard was in a bar having a beer. He looked up to see his old nemesis entering the bar. He called the man over and bought him a drink.

“Listen,” he said, “The Cold War is over now, and we’re all Germans together. You can tell me the truth. You were stealing something, weren’t you?”

“That’s right,” admitted the man.

“I knew it!” said the old guard. “After all this time, tell me: What were you stealing.”

The man grinned. “Wheelbarrows!”

Somewhat more common are the jokes that exploit the intelligence of the protagonist—but only to prove that deep down, he’s no brighter than the rest of us. Nerd jokes fall into this category, but usually if the protagonist of the joke is any kind of scientist, you can bet the laugh is going to be on him:
At the town’s most popular ice cream parlor, the owner noticed that a fellow would come in every Thursday evening and order TWO ice cream sundaes. The man would carefully place one at an empty place at his table, and eat the other as he watched the first one melt. After a month or so, the owner couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Listen,” he told the man. “I’ve watched you come in every Thursday and order an ice cream sundae you never eat. What gives?”

“Well,” the customer explained. “I’m a physicist. And I know that, according to quantum mechanics, there is a small but measurable chance that a beautiful woman will spontaneously generate in the chair next to me. I figure that, if that woman likes ice cream, she’ll appreciate the ice cream sundae. And then I might be able to talk to her.”

“But look,” said the owner, “there are dozens of beautiful women in here. Why don’t you buy one of THEM an ice cream sundae—then maybe SHE would talk to you.”

“Sure,” says the physicist. “But what are the chances of THAT happening?”

Most often, thought, smart jokes actually reflect the idea that the smart people are in really pretty dumb. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons, the protagonists have high intelligence but low wisdom. Or, to put it a bit more ethnically: They’re lacking a yidishe kopf.
The family’s son was a dolt. There was no doubt about it. No matter how life slapped him in the face, he never gained an ounce of sense. Finally, the desperate family sent the son to Harvard, in the hopes that the great University could knock some sense into his head.

At the end of four years, the son finally returned.

“So tell me, my son,” says his father. “Have you learned?”

“Yes, father,” he said. “I have learned.”

The father goes into the next room and takes off his wedding ring. He holds it in his clenched fist, and goes back to his son. “Tell me, my son,” he says. “What do I have in my hand?”

His son ponders. “Well,” he says. “Let’s see. I can tell by my studies of anatomy that you’re holding something round.”

His father is quite impressed by this. “Go on,” he says.

The son continues. “Furthermore, from my studies of geometry, I can tell that it has a hole in the middle.”

His father is beside himself with joy. “Yes!”

“Therefore,” concludes the son, “I deduce that you are holding a wagon wheel.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

H as in Heaven and Hell

This is the eighth of 26 columns I will be writing in August. It’s a kind of challenge to myself, to see if I can still meet a daily deadline. It’s been a long time since my CSN days!

Heaven for the climate, hell for the conversation.
- Mark Twain

I suppose if I really wanted to, I could get in a great deal of trouble trying to be funny about Heaven and Hell.

It is pretty safe to point out that the standard versions of Heaven as portrayed in the popular media seem pretty dull—I mean, harp playing choruses of chubby babies? I would pay good money to avoid that.

Similarly, the Devil has been turned into a comic opera personality that nobody is really afraid of. And as for Hell itself—any spelunker with a tube of sunscreen is in pretty good shape.

Of course, these have nothing to do with the “real” Heaven and Hell of the various Western religions. I guess any approach to the Afterlife is bound to make people uncomfortable: which is why there are so many jokes about it.
A minister, a social worker and a lawyer die at about the same time, and find themselves in Heaven. They’re greeted by the Admitting Angel, who turns to the minister first.

“We’re very happy to have you with us,” says the Angel. He hands the minister a plain white robe and a silver halo, and shows him to a small, neatly appointed cottage where the minister is to stay.

“And you, too, are welcome,” the Angel says to the social worker. He hands the social worker a plain white robe and a silver halo, and shows her her own cottage where she is to stay.

“And you, too, are most welcome,” says the Angel to the lawyer. The Angel gives the lawyer a glistening white robe of the purest silk and a glowing golden halo. The Angel leads the lawyer to a luxurious 25 room mansion, with swimming pool, tennis court and gloriously tended garden.

“Listen,” says the lawyer, “I’m not complaining, but you gave the minister and social worker such plain accommodations, and you’re treating me like a king. What gives?”

“Well,” says the Angel, “ministers and social workers we got loads of. But you’re the first lawyer we’ve had up here in years!”

In one of his last novels, Robert Heinlein (no fan of organized religion, apparently) brings in Jehovah as a teeth-grating cliché of a little old Jewish man. Jehovah is accused of making it too hard to get into heaven. He responds that as far as HE is concerned, 12.5 percent of mankind getting into heaven is just fine. He never promised it would be easy!

A fellow from Chicago dies and goes to Hell. Knowing how tough Chicagoans are supposed to be, the Devil decides to take a personal interest in breaking the man’s spirit.

“First thing we’ll do is make things a little HOT for you,” chuckles the Devil. He turns the thermostat in Hell up a couple of notches. Before long the temperature has risen to well over 120 degrees.

The Devil pops in to check out his new visitor. The guy has taken off his jacket and loosened his tie. “Boy,” he says. “This is just like a spring afternoon, with the hot air blowin’ off the lake.”

The Devil turns up the thermostat again, and hurries back to his victim. The new guy has rolled up his sleeves. “Now this is real summer weather!” he yells. “All I need is a beach chair!”

At last, the Devil has had enough. He decides to change tactics. Instead of turning up Hell’s thermostat, he turns it all the way down. The fires of Hell go out. Icicles form everywhere. Snow begins to fall. From the next room, a joyous cry is heard from the new guy.

The Devil hurries down the hall, and spies the new guy leaping up and down in ecstasy, bellowing at the top of his lungs: “The Cubs have won the World Series! The Cubs have won the World Series!”

(Yes, another baseball joke. Sue me.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

G as in Gorilla

This is the seventh of 26 columns I will be writing in August. It’s a kind of challenge to myself, to see if I can still meet a daily deadline. It’s been a long time since my CSN days!

Q: Where does a 1200 pound gorilla sit?
A: Anywhere it wants to!


For decades, I have been fascinated by gorillas. (Some folks say that there’s a family resemblance, but I think I’ve got somewhat more hair.) (Except on top.)

Monkeys aren’t all that interesting: they wander around in gangs and throw crap at each other—acting for all the world like a typical bunch of teenage boys.

But gorillas, on the other hand, are a little more sedate. They’re far more likely to sit around, picking fleas off each other and having sex. Unless, of course, something makes them angry, in which case they become a murderous, raging mob.

Rather like the typical viewers of FOX News.
Q: Why do gorillas have such big noses?
A: Because they’ve got such big fingers!

Koko was a gorilla taught to use American Sign Language by scientists. There was a hotly debated question about whether animals could really “use language,” whatever that means. Koko pretty much settled the issue when she learned to curse.

Even the great apes can’t be toilet trained, so many of the gorillas studied in the US wear, well, diapers. The ASL sign for “soiled” or “dirty” is (as modified for Koko in any case) is to tap one’s chin with the back of one’s hand. (Rather like an Italian American salute, only rotate 90 degrees).

One day, a visitor came into Koko’s lab, only to accidentally stand on the gorilla’s doll. Koko was infuriated, especially when the visitor didn’t move. She finally signed (as translated by one of her trainers): “Get off of dolly, you dirty man.”

(There’s also film of Koko, one evening after everyone had gone home, swinging in a bored manner from her favorite tire swing, and idly tapping her chin. She was spending a lonely evening at home cursing to herself: “Dirty. Dirty. Dirty. Dirty. Dirty….”)
I don’t think much of this joke myself, but it seems to be the most popular gorilla joke on the Internet:

One day, a man comes home from work to find a gorilla perched in the tree outside his house. Naturally, he calls animal control.

Within the hour, an animal trainer arrives in a big, white-panel truck. He unloads his equipment, including a long stick, a pit bull, a net, and a shotgun.

“What’s all that stuff for?” demands the man.

“It’s simple,” the trainer explains. “I climb the tree and poke the gorilla with the stick. This will tickle the gorilla until it laughs and loses its grip. When it falls to the ground, the pit bull will grab the gorilla where it counts. While the gorilla is thus immobilized, I jump down from the tree, throw the net over the great ape and the problem is solved.”

“That makes sense,” says the man. “But what’s the gun for?”

“That’s for you,” says the trainer. “If I should fall out of the tree first—SHOOT THE DOG!”

Friday, August 6, 2010

F as in Fat

This is the sixth in the series of 26 I will be doing in August. It’s a challenge to myself to see if I can keep to a daily deadline. It’s been a long time since my CSN days!

Ogg tell you: Ogg’s mate so fat, when she sit around cave, she sit AROUND cave!
- Ogg, the World’s First Standup Comic

(and, not coincidentally, World’s First Divorced Man)


Having passed 300 pounds going the wrong way, I am allowed to tell fat jokes. (See the previous blog entry about Ethnic Jokes). Besides, fat people are one of those minority groups you’re still allowed to tell jokes about. Like Episcopalians. Or Blondes. Or insurance salesmen. Or blonde Episcopalian insurance salesmen.

Listen, I know a guy who’s so fat that when a waiter shows him a menu, he says, “Yes!”
A good part about being overweight is lack of exercise and overeating—but there are genetic and other components. On the other hand, it is to the insurance companies’ advantage to classify as many people as possible as overweight, because then they can charge higher premiums.

I exercise regularly on the Wii Fit—which includes an electronic foot pad which doubles as a scale. Somebody loaded an elementary Body Mass Index program onto the system, and after asking for your height, the Wii weighs. It runs the numbers against its tables.

There is nothing in the WORLD so infuriating as hearing the Wiii’s cheerful little voice chirp out, “You’re Obese!”

(Thank you for the news flash, Captain Obvious)

I knew a woman who was so fat, she had her own area code. People ran around her for exercise.

I read recently that overweight people are more vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease and arterial disease. I also read that oversized clothing is more expensive, and that airlines are thinking of charging extra to their heftier passengers.

It’s really galvanized me into action: I’m going to stop reading.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

E as in Elephant

(This is the fifth entry of 26 I’ll be writing in August. It’s a challenge to myself: to see if I can actually keep a daily deadline anymore. It’s been a long time since the old CSN days!)

Q: Why do ducks have flat feet?
A: To stomp out burning forest fires.

Q: Why do elephants have flat feet?
A: To stomp out burning ducks!

Q: What’s big and grey and stomps out burning ducks?
A: Smokey the Elephant.

Q: What’s Smokey the Elephant’s middle name?
A: “The”


Yes, it’s the return of the elephant joke! Why? Well, to paraphrase Monty Python’s Flying Circus “It’s not easy to pad these things out to 500 words, you know.”

My family took a tour of the Tufts campus a few weeks back. (Somebody in my house is looking at colleges.) The guide, who described herself as a “rising senior” – even though she seemed to have both feet on the ground – spent some time telling us about the school athletic mascot: Jumbo the Elephant.

(Tufts is apparently a Division 3A athletic school. I believe this means that women are allowed on the football team, but only as wide receivers).

The guide seemed a bit embarrassed at having “the only mascot in Webster’s dictionary.” Or perhaps it was having to admit that Tufts players used to stroke the stuffed Jumbo before every game. (The elephant was donated by PT Barnum, who I think was trying to find any place that would accept a stuffed elephant. There’s a university born every minute.)

After a few decades of “stroking the elephant”, there was a fire at Tufts, and Jumbo was burned. For a few years, the team would rub the urn containing Jumbo’s ashes—which may actually be worse than stroking a stuffed elephant. Eventually, the school built a statue of Jumbo, and this marble elephant receives the attention originally lavished on the real Jumbo.

Unfortunately, Jumbo was an African elephant, and the statue is of an Indian elephant. Ooops!


Q: What’s the difference between an African elephant and an Indian elephant?
A: An African elephant comes from Africa, and an Indian elephant comes from India, of course!

(YOU thought it was going to have something to do with athletics or competency at mathematics, didn’t you? For shame!)

Q: What do you give a seasick elephant?
A: Lots of room.

Q: What do you get when you cross an elephant with a kangaroo?
A: Giant holes all over Australia!


It was a particularly dull day in the jungle, so the ants challenged the elephants to a game of soccer. It was a hotly contested game, tied at 0 – 0 in the 88th minute, when the ant striker broke away from his defender and ran towards the goal. Desperate, the elephant came up from behind and stomped the ant flat.

This drew an immediate red card, of course, and the ref berated the elephant: “You call that sportsmanship? What in the world were you thinking, squashing your opponent?”

“I wasn’t trying to squash him,” protested the elephant, “I was trying to trip him!”

One of the lasting myths about elephants is that they’re frightened by mice. A lot of folks think its ridiculous, but the folks on Mythbusters actually ran an experiment a few years back to discover the truth of the matter.

Guess what? Elephants ARE afraid of mice. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpTSA_25wGE. And I mean, spinster leaping on top of a chair and swatting it with a broom scared of mice.

This seemed to surprise the Mythbusters a lot more than it did me. I don’t remember the source but somebody (maybe T. H. White?) pointed that men react to bugs just about the way elephants react to mice—and the size differential is about the same.

(I know a really dirty joke about an elephant and a mouse. I can’t post it here, but email me and I’ll tell it to you.)

Q: Why did the elephant cross the road?
A: The chicken was on strike!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

D is for Dog

Q; What do you get when you cross a Malamute with a Pointer?
A: I suppose it’s a Moot Point, but it doesn’t really matter.

Though I am a cat person by temperament, I am not one of those people who put down dogs. It’s traditional to claim that cats are free agents who walk where they will, dogs are slavish servants, eager to obey our every wish.

Let’s be fair: you can’t train a cat because cats are basically stupid. The average cat has a brain size of a walnut. (My vet insists indignantly that it’s closer to a Brazil nut, but she’s being charitable.) Dogs, by contrast, are actually smart enough to be trained.

There are basically two problems with dogs: they require much more care than a cat; and almost every dog is basically nuts.

To the first point: Dogs need regular schedules—they’ve got to be fed regularly, walked regularly and played with regularly. If you miss a dog’s scheduled walk by half an hour, you’ll know it—usually on your rug. Owning a dog is basically like having a hyperactive, furry child who will never, ever grow up.

To the second point, dogs are crazy because mankind has forced them into all sorts of unnatural sizes and shapes. A dog should be the size of a small wolf or a large fox—about the size of a Labrador Retriever, say. But that wasn’t good enough for man!

We’ve been growing all sorts of mutants: overly affectionate Goliaths like Great Danes who think that they’re lap dogs, and try desperately to prove it by climbing into your lap or psychotic pygmy dogs that yap hysterically at a world that’s somehow bigger than it’s supposed to be.

Add to all that the tendency among breeders to breed for looks as opposed to brains are health, and you end up with, well, Californians, I guess. (Good grief, a running gag!)

Upon approaching a country store, a man read a sign on the door that said, “DANGER! BEWARE OF DOG!” So it was with some trepidation that he opened the door and entered.

The only dog in sight was weary old hound dog lying on a rug. It looked up briefly when the man entered, wagged its tail twice, and fell back to sleep. It snored.

The man approached the store keeper. “Is that the only dog in here?” he asked.

“Yep!” answered the storekeeper.

“He doesn’t look dangerous to me,” said the man.

“He ain’t,” answered the store keeper.

“Well, then, why the sign?”

“Before I hung it up, people kept tripping over him!”


There’s a reasonably new theory being bruited around about the origin of dogs as a separate species. It had long been supposed that man had somehow isolated wolves, tamed them, and eventually the tamest of the animals evolved into dogs.

Not quite, according to those who favor the new theory. In fact, just about exactly backward. Early man—like modern man—generated a lot of trash. They used to dump their garbage just outside the cave (just like frat boys today)

Wild wolves were torn between the desire for a pretty easy free meal and their fear of man. Those who could overcome that fear could get some free eats.

Eventually, some of THOSE wolves realized that there was warmth and protection in the cave, even if it did mean hanging out with those two legged beasts.

From there, it was up to man to look down and notice—hey, look! There are dogs here!

Here’s what’s probably the most famous of all talking dog jokes. We’ve probably all heard it, but I could hardly write a humorous piece about dogs without retelling it:

A guy walks into a bar in San Francisco with a mutt on a leash. The bartender tells him that dogs are not allowed in the bar.

“But this is a talking dog!” the guy insists.

“Ridiculous!” says the bartender.

“I’ll prove it,” says the dog’s owner. He turns to the dog. “What’s on top of a house?”

“Roof!” says the dog.

“What’s the opposite of smooth?”

“Ruff!” says the dog.

“And who was the greatest baseball player of all time?”

“Ruth!” says the dog.

“That’s it!” says the bartender. “Out you go!” and he kicks out both owner and dog.

The pair walks silently down the street for a few minutes. “What the hell,” says the dog, “I don’t care if we are in Frisco, I’m not saying ‘Barry Bonds’!”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

C is for California

(This is the third entry of 26 I’ll be writing in August. It’s a challenge to myself: to see if I can actually keep a daily deadline anymore. It’s been a long time since the old CSN days! )

I hate California.

I’ve only been there twice, but I hate California.

The people there are so smug and self-important. They act as though California was the only place that mattered, that the opinion of California people is the only thing that matters, that California is the most important place on earth.

Everybody KNOWS it’s New York.


A Nevadan, a Texan and a Californian are out riding on the range. The Texan pulls out a bottle of whiskey, takes a couple of gulps, throws the bottle in the air and shoots it.

“What are you doing?” demands the Californian. “That was a perfectly good bottle of whiskey!”

“Hell,” says the Texan. “In Texas there’s plenty of whiskey and bottles are cheap.”

The trio rides on for a bit, and then the Californian opens a bottle of champagne. He takes a couple of swallows, throws the bottle up in the air and shoots it.

“What was that about?” says the Nevadan.

“Hell,” says the Californian. “In California there’s plenty of champagne and bottles are cheap.”

They ride on a bit further and the Nevadan pulls out a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He takes a couple of swallows and throws it up in the air. He catches the bottle, finishes the beer and shoots the Californian.

“What’s going on?” demands the Texan.

“Hell,” says the Nevadan. “In Nevada we’ve got lots of Californians, but bottles cost a nickel!”

I’ve never quite understood why anyone would want to live in California—between the man-made pollution and the nature-made earthquakes, residents take their lives in their hands every day—and that’s without even getting on the highway.

I guess it’s true what Will Rogers said: When, during the Great Depression, hordes of Okies deserted Oklahoma for California, the average intelligence of both states went up.


Q: Why does California have so many actors, and New Jersey have so many toxic waste dumps?

A: New Jersey got first pick.

Monday, August 2, 2010

B is for Baseball

(This is the second entry of 26 I’ll be writing in August. It’s a challenge to myself: to see if I can actually keep a daily deadline anymore. It’s been a long time since the old CSN days!)

Q: What do you do with an elephant with three balls?
A: Walk him and pitch to the giraffe.
(I’ve always liked this joke, because it even makes sense in a baseball context. After all, a giraffe must have a huge strike zone.)


In the 1930s and 40s, Babe Ruth was royalty. The Sultan of Swat. The King of Swing. The most idolized and recognized man in America.

During World War II, Americans and Japanese fought each other savagely throughout the islands of the Pacific. But the battles would mostly going on during the day. At night, the ground troops would dig into their fox holes and wait. And watch.

Eventually, frustrations would grow to the boiling point. Americans would scream their rage out into the jungle by insulting the Japanese deified Emperor: “To Hell with Hirohito!”

Infuriated Japanese soldiers responded, "To hell with Babe Ruth!"


At least the Mets are trying to improve their hitting. Last week, they spent half a million bucks on a new pitching machine.

Unfortunately, yesterday the machine beat them 5 – 1.


Once upon a time, my son was a Little League baseball player. I went to almost all of his games, and cheered like mad for his team, and booed the other team lustily.

The umpiring at these games was—to be charitable—uneven, especially in the calling of balls and strikes. Not only wasn’t the umpiring very good, but it was terribly inconsistent. At first, I would scream and yell at the calls that went against my team, especially those that went against my kid.

But eventually it got through my thick head that the umpires were no more major leaguers than my son was. They were mostly teen agers and retirees, volunteering out of a love of the game or picking up maybe 25 bucks a game. They were doing the best they could.

A few weeks after I’d had this epiphany, I found myself at a game, sitting next to my buddy Ron, a former college athlete turned banker. Ron’s son was a teammate of my kid, and Ron had lost none of his competitive fire even though he was now sitting in the bleachers.

The home plate umpire was having a particularly tough time during this game—his strike zone had the approximate shape of an amoeba, and changed that shape seemingly between pitches. When Ron’s son was called out on a strike just slightly over his head, Ron stood up and let the umpire have it with both barrels.

“Ron,” I said to him, when he’d vented his spleen, “how would you feel if there was a guy standing behind your chair in the office? And every time you hung up the phone, you heard him bellowing: “You call that a loan?”


Mets second baseman Luis Castillo knows how badly he’s been playing. In fact, he’s been so depressed he tried to commit suicide the other day. The despondent player threw himself in front of a bus.

The damn thing went right between his legs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A is for Actor

(This is the first entry of 26 I’ll be writing in August. It’s a challenge to myself: to see if I can actually keep a daily deadline anymore. It’s been a long time since the old CSN days!)

This story has been attributed to many people. I believe it comes from the actor Edmund Kean…but I don’t have any great evidence one way or another.

The great tragedian Kean was on his deathbed being attended by his friend and family. An old friend leaned down to Kean and said gently, “Edmund, is dying very hard?”

Kean is said to have answered his friend with a wan smile: “Dying,” he said, “is easy. Comedy is hard!”


Several years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about Kevin Kline. (Has anybody seen that new movie of his yet?)

Kline is, as you may or may not know, married to actress Phoebe Cates. She won my unending affection when she told the interviewer that she had made it her personal mission in life to keep Mr. Kline’s hat size relatively modest.

Ms. Cates spoke of two specific strategies she employed. The first was that, whenever the couple went out to eat, she would make sure that Mr. Kline was seated with his back to any mirror in the room. If she didn’t she said, Kevin would spend the whole meal making faces at himself in the mirror.

The second strategy, she said, was to steal his Oscar periodically.


Any stage prop that actually functions is known as a “practical” prop. If there are real flowers in a vase rather than plastic, those are “practical flowers”. If actors are really playing darts instead of just pretending, it’s a “practical dart board.” And so forth.

Two actors meet in the street. The first one says, “Say, Bill, I haven’t seen you in ages! How is everything?”

“Just great,” says Bill enthusiastically. “Thanks for asking, Jim.”

“So, are you working?” asks Jim.

“Sure am,” says Bill proudly.

“It must be a great play,” says Jim.

“Actually,” says Bill. “it’s pretty damn stupid. We get hissed almost every night.”

“Well, at least you have a good part, right?” says Jim.

“Nah,” says Bill. “I’ve only got about 10 lines and I get killed off before the third act.”

“Oh, then it must be a good cast and director, then,” says Jim.

“A bunch of talentless hacks and prima donnas, every last one of them,” says Bill.

“Well then, why are you so happy?”

“Because,” says Bill, “in scene three, there’s a practical cake!”

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spider's Game Initial Tally

Well, fellows and girls, the Spider’s Game contest has come to a close—or has petered out, anyway. There were some remarkably silly entries—I’m proud of you!

Here’s a tally of the entries, as of July 31, 2010.

Dr. Jay: 31 (plus five tentatively disallowed)
Mittleman: 20 (plus two tentatively disallowed)
JMeltzer: 12 (plus seven tentatively disallowed)
Jerry: 12
Alex: 8
Bensburg: 8
Risa: 5 (plus one tentatively disallowed)
M Bowen: 2
Katie: 1
David Frankel: 1

Please check your entries below, to make sure that you were credited with all your entries.

Right now, the following are in the running for worst (best) entry:

A face that launched a thousand ships is destroyed.
Bottom was disassembled.
A vegetable juice manufacturer is deviated.
A Banjo player is despicable
A dog with a hairlip is disembarked.

If you’d like to advocate for any of the above (or nominate another entry) feel free to do so.

You folks left a number of turns unstoned.

• A Freedom Fighter is deliberated
• A Norwegian escort is dilapidated
• A hair stylist is departed
• A guide is detoured
• A banker is disinterested
• A tennis player is disadvantaged
• A polemicist is distracted
• An electrician is discharged
• A simple machinist is disinclined (plainly)
• A female impersonator is decamped
• A cowboy is deranged
• An actor is defamed
• A civil attorney is distorted
• A prospector is declaimed

And on and on.

Tell you what. I’m gonna give y’all another 72 hours (to 11:59 PM on August 3 EDT) to post as many new entries as you can, with no restrictions. We’ll have a final total then.

The Game So Far


A lexicographer is demeaned.
An exorcist is dispossessed.
An auto-body repairman is defended.
A journalist is depressed.
A racist if denigrated.
An East Asia expert is disoriented.
A distiller is dispirited.
A bride is dismissed.
A firefighter is distinguished.
A camp counselor is debunked.
A transplant surgeon is disorganized.
A relief pitcher is disclosed.
A child molester is disabused.
A podiatrist is defeated.
A melancholy Shakespearean prince is disdained.
a Shakespeare scholar is disbarred.
A fisherman is debated.
A detective is detailed.
A gravedigger is disheveled.
A judge who ordered busing is disintegrated.
An actor is displayed.
A Giants outfielder is dismayed.
A batter is distanced.
A Cowardly Lion is discouraged.
A face that launched a thousand ships is destroyed.
A public defender is displeased.
An Italian pimp is disputed.
A celebrity whose planned honor ceremony is canceled due to scandal is distributed.
A computer geek is detected.
A train engineer is distracted* (not really the right word)
A magician is districted. *
A prize bull is disseminated. * (duplicate of earlier entry)
A babysitter is distended.*
A fast-food worker in charge of serving the people waiting for their drinks is disciplined.*

A jockey is destabilized.
Tony the Tiger is deserialized.* (I don’t believe ‘deserialize’ is a word’)
Bottom was disassembled.
An Earl is discounted.
Pregnant women are disseminated.
A Swedish auto manufacturer is devolved.
At the risk of being gruesome: A Cornellian is disgorged.
A racist politicians is denigrated. * (Duplicates Dr. Jay’s entry)
A medieval Irish scholar is distained.
An abbot is deprioritized.
A Hartford politician is disconnected.
A Yankee outfielder is dismantled.
A weaver is dematerialized.
A shoemaker is dissuaded.
A falsely attributed Shakespearean play is defoliated.
An Internet journalist is decompressed.
A girl scout is dispatched.
A restroom attendant is discommoded.
An Irishman is declared.
A herald is descried. (should probably be “decried”)
A wordgamer is deboned and demoted.
An advocate for adopting the metric system is deprogrammed. (I had to have this one explained to me)

A weatherman is disgusted.
An event planner is dysfunctional. * (posted two or more entries in a row)
An incumbent Congressional election loser is dismembered.
A bankrupt company is discorporated.
A GPS is displaced (and especially so when the driver does not follow directions). * (posted two or more entries in a row)
A censored pamphleteer is distracted. * (posted two or more entries in a row)
A lost chiropractor is dislocated.* (posted two or more entries in a row)
Prince Rainier of Monaco was disGraced. * (posted two or more entries in a row)
Tattoo is deplaned.
A particle physicist losing his European fellowship is discerned.
A remake of "Maltese Falcon" with a new cast is disastorous.
A sloppy church musician is disorganized.
A crashed Olympic racer is deluged.
A kid spared his mother's awful cooking is delivered. * (duplicates Jerry’s entry)
Tattoo, after given food in the Fantasy Island cafeteria line, is deserving.
A malfunctioning word verification blogspot system is disparshed.
A Tin Man is disheartened.

A lawyer is debriefed, of course!
A statistician is demeaned.
A skunk is distinct.
A dressmaker is depleated.
A lazy person is diseased.
A vegetable juice manufacturer is deviated.
A priest with the New York City Transit Authority receives disPennStation.
A civil attorney is distorted.
A vintner is deported
A farmer is distilled.
A diplomat is disconsolate.
A surgeon is delivered.

An illusionist is disappeared.
A private investigator is dislocated.
A bouncer at a club that serves alcohol is discarded.
A team player is disconcerted.
A tailor is dispatched, then.
A band that only plays music that other artists have already made popular is discovered.
A comic book artist who works between the penciller and the colorist is disinclined
A dog with a hairlip is disembarked.

A bridge expert is defenestrated.
A goose's butcher is dissipated.
A poll watcher is devoted.
A handbag maker is dispersed.
A cruciverbalist is dissolved.
A castle architect is demoted.
A Banjo player is despicable.
A dry cleaner is disdained,

An entomologist is debugged.
A model is deposed.* (was originally a plural, but she’s sleeping with the host)
A model-maker is deformed.
A logician is deposited
a puzzle is dissolved* (Duplicates Bensburg’s effort)

A pessimist is decanted.
A wildlife biologist is denatured.

A Factory worker is dismayed

A calculus professor is disintegrated.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Truth, Justice and the Comic Way!

There are times when I'm proud of nerds.

Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church, has made quite a name for himself by speaking out against the evils of the world--especially homosexuality. He likes to lead protests at funerals.

He is, to put it mildly, not a very nice man.

Phelps and his crew started protesting outside the San Diego Comic Convention--not a bad choice from their point of view, since its attended not only by easy targets like science fiction fans, but increasingly by Hollywood types as well.

Trouble is--the nerds were on their home turf, and were ready to counterpunch.

Folks like Fred Phelps are ripe targets for parody and satire--and very few rabble-rousers can stand up to humor.

Phelp's (in)famous signs such as "God Hates Fags" were met with hand made signs reading "God Hates Borg" and "God Hates Kittens".

(There was a fellow in a Star Trek Federation costume holding a sign that read "God Hates Jedi", a sad example of inter-faith conflict in an otherwise unified effort).

A chap dressed as Bender, the robot from "Futurama", held a sign with a more general sentiment "Kill All Humans", which was doubtless a bit extreme, even for Phelps.

Many signs were even sillier--"Odin Loves You", "All Glory to the Hypno-Toad", and my favorite meta-message: A sign with the question "Is this thing on?"

You can see more about the event here.

Do you suppose we could hire these folks to follow Phelps around?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The (D)evolution of Harpo Marx

Nothing kills a joke faster than explaining it. (Of course, explaining a joke stretches it out, so you have the twin experiences of a joke becoming less funny and lasting longer at the same time. But I digress.)

One can make a case that, since a good part of humor is based on surprise, to explain a joke is to rob it of its spontaneity. More generally, most good jokes rely on a certain rhythm, and any explanation is going to louse that up.

Thus, the experience of Harpo Marx—who went from elemental sprite to slightly retarded man-child in the space of a dozen or so movies.

This blog entry proceeds from the assumption that you have at least a passing familiarity with the Marx Brothers. If you don’t, I am not sure I want to associate with you, even via the Internet. Please watch several of their movies immediately.

For the rest of us, a quick review: The Marx Brothers were a comedy team of three – no, four –well, five really—brothers who emerged from Vaudeville to become arguably the funniest comedians of the 20th century. They only made about a dozen movies together—most of them in the late 1920s through early 1940s.

There was Groucho, he of the fake moustache, predatory lope, rapid fire delivery and outrageous puns. There was Chico, with his absurd fake Italian accent, maddening stubbornness and puns that made Groucho’s look good. There was Zeppo, the handsome straight man (who was actually the smartest and funniest one in real life.)

And there was Harpo. Ahhh, Harpo. No words can describe him, because he used no words. In turns manic and cherubic, Harpo was a silent force of nature. Movies started to talk just in time to make his silence golden.

Harpo was—maybe literally—magical. He paid only nodding acknowledgement to the laws of physics. He wore a tattered old overcoat out of which he could pull almost anything he wanted or needed. He was an early progenitor of magical realism.

At least, that’s how he started. But Hollywood, in its infinite drive to pasteurize everything, neutered the poor fellow.

It was done for the best of reasons—at least by Hollywood standards. After a couple of early successes, the Marx Brothers faded in popularity for a while. A very smart producer at MGM realized that very few people could take the Marx Brothers straight….they were TOO crazy, TOO anarchic. Dare I say it? TOO FUNNY. Not a lot of people can take whiskey straight, and not a lot of people can take their comedy straight.

So this very smart producer proceeded to make the Marx Brothers more sympathetic. The Marxes, who once attacked anyone and everyone equally, were suddenly protecting a rather sappy MGM hero and heroine. Where once they’d run roughshod over every authority figure under the son, now were being pushed around by second banana comics in uniforms.

And Harpo? Well, the directors started explaining his tricks. It wasn’t quite the kiss of death, but it was close.

For example: In an early film, a bum approaches Harpo and asks for a dime for a cup of coffee. Harpo, smiling, reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out a steaming cup of coffee which he hands to the puzzled bum.

By contrast, in a later movie, Harpo has to divvy up a large salami. He walks over to a barrel which conveniently has a hatchet on it and hacks off a piece of luncheon meat.

Get the picture? Harpo goes from having whatever he has in his pocket just because to finding what he needs. The joke is explained, and the magic is gone.

(Smiliarly, Harpo changes over the years from a fellow is chooses not to talk to a fellow who cannot talk. Weakening the character, making him more sympathetic. But still….)

This is not to say that the later Marx Brothers movies aren’t worth watching. Even Love Happy has more laughs than, say Hot Tub Time Machine. But there’s no question the Marx Brothers lost something more than Zeppo when they left Paramount.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ethnic Jokes

Q: What is an Ethnic seven course meal?
A: A serving of Ethnic food and a six-pack.

You've got to be very careful about ethnic jokes. They re-inforce stereotypes and foster misunderstanding among people.

The trouble is--dammit, sometimes they're funny!

Often the jokes not meant to be hurtful--the people who tell them are often simply thoughtless. And, of course, if you're a member of the ethnic group, you're "allowed" to tell that type of joke. That's why black comedians can use the "N" word, why Jewish comedians
can tell jokes about how cheap and cowardly they are, why Irish comedians can tell jokes about their drunken families, etc. etc. ad nausium.

People ethnic sterotypes as a kind of shorthand. When you say "A Pole walks into a bar" it's a signal that it's going to be a joke about a stupid person. If the guy walking into the bar is Italian, it's going to be a joke about gangsters, and so on.

Because I really don't want to offend anybody, I try to tell ethnic jokes about "Ethnics" or sometimes "Aliens". (Also because I don't want to get beaten up...see my earlier entry about "Your Dentist") .

The first ethnic joke I think I heard was about Poles. "Pollack jokes" had great currancy in the 1950s and 1960s. Poles, according to the jokes, were stupid and liked to drink. Also, Polish women were particularly hairy.

Q: How many Pollacks does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Four. One to hold the light bulb, and three to turn the ladder around.

How do you like that? A Polish joke AND a light bulb joke, both at the same time?

Like light bulb jokes--or elephant jokes for that matter--the ethnic joke also benefits from a cumulative effect--if one is funny, two is funnier and so on. There must be a point of diminishing returns on such thing, but I suspect it's a matter of individual taste.

I think that "cheap" ethnic jokes probably predate Polish jokes. In a lot of the world, these are Jewish jokes, but in my neighborhood, they (and in most of New York, I think) they were "Scotch" jokes. (No, they weren't about whiskey.)

Here's one that HAS to take place in Scotland. It's a little off color, but bear with me:

A Scotsman, in full Highland outfit (including kilt) comes marching proudly down the hill and walks stiffly into a drug store.

He marches up to the druggist behind the counter, reaches into a pocket and pulls out a prophylactic. "I'm afraid this has developed a leak," he says. "Can ye patch it?"

The druggist looks at it, and says: "I suppose it can be patched, but why not just buy a new one?"

The Scotsman considers this. "I'll have to get back to you on that." He turns on his heel and leaves the store.

The next day, the Scotsman once again comes marching proudly down the hill and into the drug store. He marches up to the druggist behind the counter and says, "I've consulted with the Regiment, and we've voted to have it replaced!"

Although Ethnic jokes can often involve cheapness, cowardice or drunkenness, I suppose most Ethnic jokes are about how stupid a given ethnic group is. (Interestingly, stupid ethnic jokes are rarely told about Asians or Jews) In the US, stupid jokes actually are applied to individual states: Garrison Keillor likes to tell Iowa jokes, and of course everybody picks on New Jersey.

Q: How does a New Jersey native recite the alphabet?
A: Frickin' A! Frickin' B! Frickin' C!

(Had to clean that one up a bit....)

Of course, such jokes are tidied up for kids, which explains the emergence of "moron" or "idiot" jokes.

Q: Why did the moron throw the clock out the window?
A: He wanted to see time fly.

Since both "moron" and "idiot" are clinical terms, so it's possible that I'm being politically incorrect merely mentioning them.


For grown-ups, moron jokes have morphed into "blonde" jokes. We're allowed to make fun of blondes because we know that they're actually at an advantage in the real world....it's all jealousy, really.

A brunette, a redhead and a blonde are on the run from the police, and hide on a farm. With cops hot on their tail, they each climb into a burlap sack.

The cop pokes the first sack, where the brunette is hiding. "Meow! Meow" says the brunette. The cop figures it's a cat, and puts the bag down.

He goes to the second sack, where the redhead is hiding. "Oink! Oink!" says the redhead. "The cop figures it's a pig, and puts the bag down.

The cope pokes the third sack, where the blonde is hiding. "Potato! Potato!" says the blonde.

Finally, sometimes professions have specialized "moron" jokes. In the world of singing, blonde jokes are told about sopranos.

In the instrumental world, they're told about banjo players, or more often, about violists.

The conductor returns from lunch to find the principal violist in a furious fist-fight with one of the violinists.

"Break it up!" bellows the conductor. The cello section finally manages to separate the two.

"What's going on?" demands the conductor.

"This sonofabitch loosened one of my pegs, and now my viola is out of tune!" snarls the violist.

"It was just a joke," mutters the violinist.

"Well, it wasn't very nice," begins the conductor.

"You don't understand," howls the violist, "He WON'T TELL ME WHICH ONE IT IS!!!"

Anybody else know of any "stupid" professions?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Able with A Cane

A few months ago, I had to use a cane for a while.

It was nothing serious, but I had to use a cane for a while.

(Oh, okay. I had hurt my back. Which meant I had to lever myself out of my armchair, which hurt my right hip. And then, because I had to favor my right hip, I wrenched my left knee. And from there....I HAD TO USE A CANE, OKAY?)


I learned a number of interesting things during this time walking with a cane.

1) When you walk up a flight of stairs while using a cane, your pants fall down.

I don't know exactly why, but some unique configuration of physics and inertia combine, when one is struggling up a flight of steps, to pull your trousers down towards your ankles.

This is tremendously embarrassing--not to say revealing. But it does explain why elderly men always pull their pants up until the waistband reaches their armpits. It's so their pants don't fall down while walking up a flight of steps.

2) It is nearly impossible to pull your pants up with one hand.

Go on, try it. Stand up, adjust your trousers so that they’re somewhere around your hips—or perhaps just a bit further south. Now, put one hand on top of your head so you’re not tempted to cheat. Using JUST THE OTHER HAND, try to pull your pants up around your waist.

Can’t do it, can you?

(Not only that, but look at the spectacle you’ve made of yourself. I hope no one was watching.)

3) It is walking up a flight of stairs, with a cane, with your pants falling down around your ankles, that you find out who your friends really are.

Paul Murphy is NOT my friend.

On the other hand, a very nice man named Raul IS. I met him on the steps of the New York Public Library.

Friday, June 11, 2010

At Long Last....the Moose Joke!

So what exactly IS the moose joke? And why doesn't it get a laugh?

In answer to literally several requests (mostly from Jon M.) I'll explore this burning issue, which illuminates several points about humor.

Once upon a time, back when Radio Was King, there was a wonderful comic by the name of Jack Benny. If you don't know Jack Benny, please stop reading, do an Internet search and listen to three or four of his radio programs. It's okay. We'll wait.

Jack Benny was a master comedian, even though he very rarely told jokes. In fact, his dialogue usually consisted of "Hmmm...." "But...." "You don't say?" and (when he got really excited) "Yipe!"

In fact, Jack was -- on the surface at least -- more a traditional straight man than a comic. EXCEPT that he had the greatest timing on the planet. As one of his contemporaries said, "Jack didn't say funny things. Jack said things funny."

In any case, Jack was also a very friendly fellow, and among his legion of friends were many comics and comic writers. One of them was a playwright and scriptwriter by the name of Norman Krasna. (Krasna is probably best known today as the scriptwriter for the movie White Christmas.)

"Hey, Kras," Benny said to him one day, "I thought of a great joke for my radio show: I need you like a moose needs a hat rack." And he waited.

"Well," Krasna said after a moment's thought. "It's funny. But it won't get a laugh on the radio."

"Why not?" Benny demanded.

Krasna explained that it was a "visual joke". The audience would have to think about the joke and draw a picture in its head before the joke would register.

It would take too long, he said, and the radio show would grind to a halt.

Benny disagreed. "The joke is funny," he said, "and I'm going to use it."

It should be noted that in addition to impeccable timing, Benny was known for his comic sense. Usually, if Benny thought a joke was funny, it was funny.

Not this time. The following Sunday during his regular radio broadcast, Benny turned to one of his co-stars and snapped, "I need you like a moose needs a hat rack!"

For one of the few times in his career, Jack Benny encountered The Awkward Silence. After a few moments (which must have seemed like an eternity) the show rumbled on.

A few days later, Krasna ran into Benny. "I told you so," he said.

No, Benny insisted, Krasna was still wrong. Benny had been standing too far away from the microphone. Or the he'd told the joke too slowly. Or SOMETHING. Benny would tell the joke the following week and get a huge laugh.

Uh-uh. The next show, Benny told the joke again, using every bit of his considerable comic talent. Nada. Nothing. Zippo. Crickets.

Krasna and Benny met again. Again, Krasna waited for capitulation. Again, Benny was stubborn. He was going to give the joke another chance. What Krasna didn't realize was that Benny had something else in mind, too.

That Sunday, for the third week in a row (which qualifies it as a running gag), Benny told the hat rack joke to dead silence.

Then he stepped out of character, turned to the audience and said OVER THE AIR: "I can't understand why that doesn't get a laugh. Three weeks I've been doing it and it's never gotten a laugh. Norman Krasna LOVED it!"

As a practical joke, it was virtually perfect. To Krasna, he was acknowledging his defeat on national radio. But as far as everyone else was concerned, it was Norman Krasna who had championed this painfully unfunny joke...and Krasna had no way to respond.

It didn't help that the national press took up the Jack Benny version, writing that Jack had kept telling the joke as a favor to his buddy Krasna. And when Benny cast Mel Blanc as "Norman Krasna" on a subsequent broadcast and had "Krasna" respond to the hat rack joke with a raucous peal of Woody Woodpecker's laughter.

Or that the hat rack joke was now got laughs every time Benny used it on the air (which he did for the rest of that season).

Lessons learned?

Visual jokes don't work in a live medium.


Don't mess with Jack Benny


Don't forget, Spider's Game continues on from the previous post.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Contest #2: Spider's Game

Q: If a priest is defrocked, what happens to a lawyer who is fired?
A: A lawyer is debriefed, of course!

That's the format for a punning game created by Spider Robinson. Spider is a pretty good science fiction writer with a REALLY good sense of humor. (See the previous blog entry "God is an Iron")

The game I call "Spider's Game" first appeared in one of his novels (Callahan's Lady, I believe). His characters reel off whole sequence of delightfully awful puns.

Now, I haven't got the book in front of me, but here are some other examples:

A statistician is demeaned.

A skunk is distinct.

A dressmaker is depleated.

A lazy person is diseased.

And two spectacularly bad puns:

A vegetable juice manufacturer is deviated.

A priest with the New York City Transit Authority receives disPennStation.

Well, that's the basis of our new contest: Create as many entries to Spider's Game as possible. There will be two prizes awarded this time around, one for the most valid entries, and one for the single worst (you know, best) pun.

Here are the rules (such as they are):

1) All entries are to be in the form "A(n) __________ is __________" All the descriptive words are to start with the prefixes "dis" or "de" and have to be real words.

2) Entries have to be a pun, rather than a real world example.

3) Only ONE ENTRY AT A TIME. Someone else has to post an entry before you can post a second entry. This is to encourage frequent posting, to prevent one person from hogging all the obvious entries, and to force return visits .

4) The contest will continue until the end of June 2010, or until there have been no new posts for 72 hours, whichever is later.

Friends and relatives are encouraged to enter, as are complete strangers. Decisions of Fearless Leader are (as usual) arbitrary and final.

Read, set, GO!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bits of Business

I'm sorry that this post is a little late. I hadn't intended that the Memorial Day weekend be a vacation for this blog...just lucky I guess.

Some business and observations that have piled up lately:

1) The winner of the Awkward Silence's Limerick Contest (which ended at the end of May) is the only person to enter: Dr J! Congratulations, DJ! You have shamed all the rest of the readers of this blog by writing...well, any limericks at all.

There is a prize for winning the first ever Awkward Silence contest!

From now on, the official award for all future contests will be called:
"The Dr J Award for Extreme Cleverness"!

That's right, Dr J will be immortalized in all future contests. That certainly worth waiting for, isn't it? (Hell, what do you expect when you win without any competition?)

2) Tipper and Al Gore are splitting up. I am trying my best not to descend into the gossip-fueled rubbernecking of this particular emotional train wreck. (Except to note that during the famous lip lock at the 2000 Democratic Convention, Tipper seemed a bit less than thrilled...)

However, it does remind me of a joke, which I suspect is actually a pretty valid analogy:

An elderly couple appear in divorce court, asking a judge to officially end their marriage. The judge looks over the documents, and then looks at the couple.

"I'm shocked to see people your age here at divorce court," says the judge. "Just how old are you, anyway?"

"I'm ninety-one," says the old man.

"I'm eighty-nine," responds the old woman.

"That's really amazing," says the judge. "And how long have you been married?"

"Seventy-one years," says the old man.

"Seventy-two," corrects the old woman.

"That's right," says the old man, "seventy-two years."

"You've been married for seventy-two years and you want a divorce NOW?" says the judge. "For Heaven's sake, why?"

"Because, Your Honor," says the old woman, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ALREADY!"

3) Time for me to start plugging Lunatic Fringe, New Jersey's Premiere Improv Comedy Troupe. As many of you know, I'm a founding member of the group, arguably New Jersey's oldest improv comedy group. (Not only have we been around for almost 14 years, but our average age is somewhere between 45 and death!)

Improv is a bizarre form of stream-of-consciousness comedy. I'll write more about it in a future post, but let's just say our tagline is "Comedy Without A Script and Without a Net."

Lunatic Fringe is wrapping up or 13th season with our final appearance of the spring at Pianos Bar and Grill in Bloomfield, New Jersey on Saturday, June 12. Tickets are only $12, and well worth it. Make your reservations at (973) 429-1527

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

True Lazar Tales #2

Every once in a while, the Gods of Humor smile on you. When the forces of the Cosmic Ha come together. When the Universal Straight-Man echoes the Ultimate Question in your ear.

It doesn’t happen very often, so when it does, you’ve got to savor it.

I had one such experience more than 20 years ago, but I still cherish it.

The Time: 1988

The Place: A fancy hotel on Long Island. Indoor pool, bowling alley, spa, the works.

The Occasion: A corporate retreat for a Custom Magazine Publisher that will remain nameless.

It was a roundtable meeting, as several dozen journalists and editors gathered to discuss the future of magazine publishing (As it turned out, there wasn't one. But that’s another story). One of my colleagues announced that he had to leave the meeting to conduct a previously scheduled interview over the phone.

“My cell phone’s out of power,” he said. “Does anybody know where there are any pay phones.”

“On the main floor,” I volunteered. (I was more observant in those days.) ”There’s a whole bank of them right outside the bowling alley.”

My colleague looked a little concerned.

This was the moment when the cosmic forces aligned—though my colleague had no notion.

“This is an important interview,” he said. “Are you sure it’s quiet enough?”

“Quiet?” I said. “You can hear a pin drop.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard forty people all hiss at once. It’s tremendously satisfying.