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

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!”