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

Friday, May 20, 2011

V is for Viola

Q: What’s the difference between an onion and a viola?
A: Nobody cries when you cut up a viola.


Violists join a whole bunch of different musicians that are supposed to be stupid, incompetent, etc.: Oboes, banjos and sopranos immediately come to mind as the butt of often interchangeable musician jokes.

I assume every profession has it’s mockable subspecialties. I’d guess that in construction, there are some gigs (say, riveting) which are made fun of. (“Did you hear about the riveter who...”) One could make up a whole list of subspecialties that people make fun of. I hereby declare that cupcake icers, real estate attorneys and software debuggers are now to be made fun of by people in related professions.

Part of it, doubtless, is that oboes, banjoes and violas ARE notoriously difficult to play and to keep in tune. Listening to someone practice these instruments is particularly painful—especially if the one doing the practicing is a tyro, or the person listening has a trained ear for music.

I believe it’s more than that, though: these instruments are ALMOST, but not exactly like more popular instruments: clarinets, guitars and violins respectively. They’re familiar, but somehow OTHER. This familiar alieness—if you’ll excuse the oxymoron—makes them an object of derision.

That would explain why different nationalities always tell jokes about their neighbors. Heck, individual STATES tell jokes about their neighbors—New Yorkers tell New Jersey jokes, Jerseyites tell the same jokes about people from Philadelphia and so on. (I don’t know if these jokes necessarily travel in a westerly direction…who do Hawaiians make fun of?)

Did you know that folks from Newfoundland are particularly stupid and unsophisticated? You would if you lived in Canada! (“Did you hear the one about the Newfie who brought a roll of toilet paper to the crap game?”)


A violist in the second section of the second-rate Tri-Valley symphony orchestra was walking along the beach one day when he found a bottle buried in the sand. He bent down, retrieved the bottle and brushed the sand from it. Immediately a genie issued forth, and roared: “I am the Genie of the Lamp! For releasing me, I grant you three wishes!”

The violist thought for a moment and said, “Well, to be honest, I work as hard as I can, but I’ve gone as far as my talent can take me. I wish I were a better musician.”

The Genie clapped his hands, and the violist suddenly found himself the principal violist of the Tri-Valley Symphony.

The violist was happy for a while, but soon grew discontented. He took out the bottle—which had conveniently been secreted in his viola case, and rubbed it again. “I am the Genie of the Lamp!” roared the Genie in his expository way. “You have two wishes left!”

The violist said, “The Tri-Valley Symphony is too small for me. I wish I was a better musician.

The Genie clapped his hands, and the violist finds himself as the principle violist of the New York Philharmonic—arguably one of the greatest orchestras in the world.

For a few weeks, the violist is happy. But again, ambition gnaws at him, and he takes out the magic bottle. He rubs the bottle and the Genie issues forth, roaring: “I am the Genie of the Lamp! You have one wish left!”

The violist says: “I wish I was a better musician.” The Genie claps his hands….

And the violist finds himself sitting in the second violin section of the Tri-Valley Symphony Orchestra.


There are several different sites devoted to jokes about violists. This proves that either violas are inherently funny, or some people have WAY too much time on their hands.

In any case, my favorite site is known simply as “Viola Jokes”. The following jokes come from that site.

Q: What's the definition of "perfect pitch?"

A: Throwing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim.

Q: What’s the difference between a viola and a trampoline?

A: You take off your shoes before jumping on a trampoline.

Q: Why did the violist stand for hours in the snow outside his own home?

A: He couldn’t find the key and didn’t know when to come in.


The fellow who created the Viola joke lists actually presented a paper on Viola jokes.

He says that there are six different types of violist jokes:

1. Jokes disparaging the viola itself.
2. Jokes disparaging viola players.
3. Jokes which offer a general disparagement, which can be easily understood outside musical circles.
4. Jokes which usually can only be understood by among musicians.
5. Reverse jokes which get revenge on musicians telling viola jokes.
6. Narrative viola jokes

He also provides a number of possible reasons for the propagation of Violist jokes—which jokes he claims peaked in the early 1990s. Far be it from me to criticize someone when I’m borrowing his material (ahem), but it is entirely conceivable that he should have quit when he was ahead.

The latest wave of crimes in New York City is especially heinous: Drive by viola recitals.

Q: Did you hear the one about the violist who played in tune and in tempo?
A: Neither has anyone else!

Q: Why are the Beatles like the viola section of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra?
A: Because neither group has played together since 1970.

Q: A violist and a conductor are standing in the middle of the road. Which one do you run over first?
A: The conductor, of course. Business before pleasure.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

U is for Ugly

(Good Lord, where did the month go?)

Bessie Braddock (to Winston Churchill): “Winston, you're drunk.”
Churchill: “Bessie, you're ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober.”


These days, it’s not considered “polite” to laugh at ugliness, especially ugly people. If we look back at laughter through the ages, though, ugliness was frequently an object of laughter.

During the middle ages, a hunchback was viewed as the height of comedy, for example. Jesters were frequently disfigured in some way—and Punch and Judy are just plain horrible to look at.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so perhaps is ugliness. I think it’s a fear reaction, myself.


Cyrano De Bergerac was a real person: a poet, soldier, and arguably one of the world’s first science fiction writers. Oddly enough, despite his reputation, he WASN’T particularly ugly, though he did he have a SORT of big nose.

It was the playwright Edmund Rostand who made the fictional Cyrano the hugely ugly, big-nosed character we all know and love. (One wonders exactly what Rostand had against the real-life Cyrano…)

Rostand’s play is surprisingly problematical these days—I can’t think of a film or stage production that hasn’t had it’s flaws. But Cyrano’s list of insults remains a highlight, regardless of the production.

In case you don’t recall: a truculent soldier tells Cyrano that his “nose is big!” Cyrano’s reaction is “is that the best you can do?” He proceeds to create a score of insults he COULD have offered:

“For example, thus: AGGRESSIVE: I assert that if that nose were mine, I'd have it amputated on the spot.

PRACTICAL: How do you drink with such a nose? You must have had a cup made especially.

DESCRIPTIVE: 'Tis a rock, a crag, a cape! A cape? Say rather, a peninsula!

INQUISITIVE: What is that recepticle? A razor case or a portfolio?

KINDLY: Ah, do you love the little birds so much that when they come to see you, you give them this to perch on.

CAUTIOUS: Take care! A weight like that might make you top-heavy.

ELOQUENT: When it blows, the typhoon howls, and the clouds darken!

DRAMATIC: When it bleeds, the Red Sea.

SIMPLE: When do they unveil the monument?

MILITARY: Beware, a secret weapon.

ENTERPRISING: What a sign for some perfumer!

RESPECTFUL: Sir, I recognize in you a man of parts. A man of... prominence!

LITERARY: Was this the nose that launched a thousand ships?
These, my dear sir, are things you might have said, had you some tinge of letters or of wit to color your discourse. But wit? Not so, you never had an atom. And of letters, you need but three to write you down: A, S, S. Ass!


Steve Martin’s excellent film Roxanne does a fine job of updating Cyrano for the 20th century (if not the 21st) and even manages to give the story a happy ending! Like Cyrano, Charlie Bailes—in this incarnation a fire chief in a small town—decides to out-insult his tormenters…and produces 20 insults about his enormous proboscis. Some of them translate more or less directly from the Rostand version, while others are a bit racier than might have been permitted a couple of hundred years ago. (I think specifically of the observation “a man who can satisfy two women at once!”)

By the way, at one point, Charlie asks his crowd of admirers how many insults he’s come up with. A voice in the crowd shouts out “Fourteen!” so Charlie has to do another six. Actually, he’d done 18 or 19 insults by then, and only owed a couple more. Some friends, Charlie has!


Then, of course there are the “Yo’ Mama” jokes. We’ve discussed these earlier, as “Your Dentist” jokes, in deference to sensitive feelings. But here are a couple of dozen in the original format—thanks to a “Yo’ Mama” web site:

Yo mama's so ugly, they filmed "Gorillas in the Mist" in her shower.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she joined an ugly contest, they said "Sorry, no professionals."

Yo mama's so ugly, when she looks in the mirror, the reflection ducks.

Yo mama's so ugly, it looks like she's been bobbing for french fries.

Yo mama's so ugly, we put her in the kennel when we go on vacation.

Yo mama's so ugly, her shadow quit.

Yo mama's so ugly, Rice Krispies won't talk to her.

Yo mama's so ugly, her mama had to tie a steak around her neck to get the dog to play with her.

Yo mama's so ugly, she makes blind children cry.

Yo mama's so ugly, I took her to a haunted house and she came out with a job application.

Yo mama's so ugly, even the tide won't take her out.

Yo mama's so ugly, people go as her for Halloween.

Yo mama's so ugly, Medusa is jealous.

Yo mama's so ugly, she practices birth control by leaving the lights on.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she got in the tub, the water jumped out.

Yo mama's so ugly, she has to trick or treat over the phone.

Yo mama's so ugly, she makes onions cry.

Yo mama's so ugly, she threw a boomerang and it wouldn't even come back.

Yo mama's so ugly, Yo father takes her to work just so he doesn't have to kiss her good-bye.

Yo mama's so ugly, when she was born, the doctor slapped her and her parents.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

T is for Traveling Salesman

Ahh, the traveling salesman joke. One of the great dirty jokes of all time. We all know it.

Or do we?

Here’s the set-up:

A traveling salesman is driving through the mountains. The country is desolate, it’s getting dark, and suddenly the salesman car breaks down.

The salesman sees a farm in the distance. He makes his way up the overgrown path up to the house and knocks on the door.

The door is opened by a wizened old farmer.

“Excuse me,” says the salesman, “but my car broke down. I wonder if I could spend the night here.”

“Okay,” says the farmer. “But we’re short of beds around here. You’ll have to share the bed with my beautiful daughter….”


Okay, THEN what happens? It’s obviously something dirty, but what? I can’t actually think of…or find on the Web…a joke that I’d nominate as the “original” traveling salesman joke. There’s this one...


The salesman agrees and as evening falls, he climbs into bed with the farmer’s daughter. She is, indeed, beautiful. About 20 years old, and with a figure that would do justice to a centerfold.

The farmer’s daughter places a pillow between herself and the salesman, explaining that she’d promised her father that she would keep a pillow between the salesman and herself. Nothing happens during the night.

The next day, as the farmer is waiting for a mechanic to fix his car, he spots the farmer’s daughter feeding chickens on the other side of a fence. He walks over to the fence, and thanks the daughter for her hospitality.

“Oh, it was nothing,” says the farmer’s daughter, smiling and throwing the salesman a wink.

The salesman smiles back and says he’s got half a mind to climb over the fence and kiss her.

The farmer’s daughter says, “Hey, if you can’t climb over a pillow, how are you gonna climb over a fence?”


Not bad, as these jokes go—but this can’t be the original: It’s not dirty, and the salesman’s too passive. No, for the joke to propagate the way it has, it has to be a better joke than that one. Does anyone have any ideas?

There’s the joke about the TWO traveling salesmen, which bears repeating:


So here’s a pair of traveling salesmen, making their way through the mountains, when their car breaks down. They make their way to the single farmhouse far in the distance.

They knock, and the door is answered by a middle-aged, but still handsome woman.

“Excuse me,” says the first salesman, “but our car broke down, and we were wondering if we could spend the night.”

“Sure,” replies the woman. And there we draw the curtain.

Curtain rises again at the home offices, where the first salesman receives a suspiciously legal-looking document. With some trepidation, he opens the letter and reads it. He then calls the second salesman on the phone.

“Say, Joe,” says the first salesman. “You remember that time about nine months ago we spent in the farmhouse? Did you sleep with that lady farmer?”

“Well, yes,” says Joe.

“Did you by any chance use MY name when you were with her?”

“Well, yes,” says Joe. “You know how it is…”

“And did you give her MY phone number and address?”

“Well, yeah,” says Joe. “I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble there, pal…”

“Not at all,” says the first salesman. “She just left me $10 million in her will.”


The mere idea of the traveling salesman joke is so ubiquitous, it’s spawned its own meta jokes. To wit:


A traveling salesman gets stuck in a snow bank during a blizzard. He spots a farmhouse, makes his way to it, and knocks on the door.

When an old farmer answers, the travelling salesman asks if he can spend the night.

“Sure,” says the old man. “I can put you up for the night, but I haven’t got a daughter for you to sleep with, like in all the jokes.”

“Oh,” says the saleman. “How far is it to the next house?”


Or, alternately:


A traveling salesman gets stuck in a snow bank during a blizzard. He spots a farmhouse, makes his way to it, and knocks on the door.

When an old farmer answers, the traveling salesman asks if he can spend the night.

“Sure,” says the old man, “but we’re short of beds, and you’ll have to share one with my three handsome sons.”

“Oy!” moans the salesman. “Am I in the wrong joke!”

Which leads rather nicely to the only travelling saleswoman joke I’ve heard. It was actually a favorite joke of my late mother’s, but the woman had a pretty damned off-color sense of humor, so I can’t actually write the joke up in this blog.

Once again, anybody who wants to hear the dirty joke, just drop me an email, and I’ll mail it to you privately.

Not every traveling salesman joke is dirty. The following joke—well, it is dirty, it’s just not off-color:


A traveling vacuum cleaner salesman stops at a run-down looking house and knocks on the door. A woman answers, and the salesman starts his spiel.

“I’m sorry,” says the woman, “but I really don’t have the money to spare for a vacuum cleaner.”

“Ma’am,” says the salesman, just let me show you what this little baby can do!” The salesman proceeds to empty out his briefcase onto the floor: The suitcase contains dirt, dust, cigarette ashes, and the contents of a well-used cat box.

“What are you doing?” shrieks the woman, “are you crazy?”

“Don’t worry ma’am,” says the salesman. “My little Super-Suck vacuum cleaner here will get up every bit of this muck, or I’ll eat it off the floor myself!”

“That’s very interesting,” says the woman, and leaves the room.

“Where are you going?” the salesman demands.

“To get you a spoon,” the woman replies. “They turned off the power yesterday!”


I actually sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door myself, back when I was in my early 20s. Well, anyway, I TRIED to sell vacuum cleaners. I never actually sold one—in part because the company had a rigorously enforced script each salesperson had to use regardless of the circumstance.

Too, you had to “Ask the Question.” No matter what sentence came out of your mouth, you had to finish by asking the victim…er…customer…if they would by the vacuum. “If I could show you how this machine could save you $50 a year, would you buy it?” makes a certain amount of sense.

However: “Excuse me, if I could use your bathroom, would you buy this vacuum cleaner?” not so much…

I don’t actually recall whether I quit that job or was fired…but I do remember that they owed me money and refused to pay me. I had to send my mommy in to collect. (Oh, SHUT UP!)

Then there's the following joke. I have a warning about this joke: It seems to be one of those jokes that requires specialized knowledge. I THINK I know what it’s about, but still…


A traveling salesman has had a particularly good trip, and has a huge commission check burning a hole in his pockets. He determines that he will, at long last, realize his dream of completing his collection of mint condition Mercury dimes.

He finds his way to a nearby small town that has only a single coin dealer, goes in the shop and asks if the shopkeeper has a 1916D Mercury dime. The shopkeeper does have one—and one only. He goes into the back, and retrieves from his safe a spectacular, toned 1916D Mercury dime. He shows the fabulous coin to the salesman, and they both marvel at the rainbow colors that radiate off the coin.

The salesman is impressed, but asks the shopkeeper if he has a dime that is not toned. The owner says he has another one, hurries to the back of the store and dips the dime so that it is a nice, blazing white. He shows it to the salesman, who is very pleased.

“You know what?” says the travelling salesman. “I’ve had a really good week. I’ll take them both.”


Apparently, a “toned” coin is one that has become discolored due to its age, while a “white” coin is one which retains the original color of its minting. Toned coins can actually turn a beautiful array of rainbow colors. Some collectors actually seek out toned coins, while others prefer the starker, white, sort.

NOW do you get it? Hysterical, isn’t it?

On the other hand, I kinda like this one. At least it’s a little off-color, a quality that all good traveling salesman jokes should possess:


There was a traveling salesman who applied for a job a new firm which sold—oddly enough—vacuum cleaners. After an interview which lasted about half an hour, the vice president of the firm shook his head.

“Well, your qualifications are excellent: you know the merchandise, you’ve got the gift of gab, and your old firm recommends you unreservedly. But…well, there’s no easy way to put this: I don’t know if I can hire you because you keep winking!”

“It’s not a wink,” objected the salesman, “it’s a twitch. And anyway, if I take two aspirin, I’ll stop winking.”

“Well, maybe,” says the vice president. “Show me.”

So the salesman reaches into his coat pocket. He pulls out a package of condoms, which he puts on the table. He reaches in again, and pulls out another package. This happens four more times before the salesman finally pulls out a small bottle of aspirin. He opens it, swallows two pills, and puts the bottle away.

“Wait a minute,” says the vice president. “We’re not hiring any sex maniac around here!”

“What are you talking about,” demands the salesman. “I’m not a sex maniac!”

“Then what’s with all the condoms?” asks the vice president.

“Oh,” says the salesman. “That’s what happens when you walk into a drugstore, winking, and ask for aspirin.”


We’ll close this survey of Traveling Salesman jokes with the following. It certainly doesn’t have to a traveling salesman in this joke, but that’s how I heard it and I kinda like this story:


A traveling salesman was driving down a back country road. Doing about 30 miles an hour. He notices a cloud of dust behind him, closing fast. He sees that it’s a three-legged chicken running down the road. The darned thing actually passes him!

Well, the salesman floors it—getting up to 40….50….60 miles a hour, but he just can’t pass the chicken! Finally after several miles, he sees the chicken run up a farm lane and into a barn behind a farmhouse.

The salesman follows the chicken up the lane, knocks on the door, and greets the farmer who answers the door.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” says the salesman. “But I just saw a three-legged chicken run up your lane. The damn thing was doing better than 60 miles an hour!”

“Oh, yeah,” says the farmer, “we’ve been breeding those chickens for years. We figure everybody wants a drumstick, and this way there are more drumsticks to go around!”

“That’s amazing!” says the salesman. “How do they taste?”

“Don’t know,” says the farmer. “We’ve never caught one!”

Friday, February 11, 2011

S is for Slapstick

“To me, comedy is if you fall into an open sewer and die. To me, tragedy is if I cut my finger.”

--Mel Brooks (as the 2000 Year Old Man)


Slapstick, many people believe, is the oldest form of comedy, and the closest to being universal. Slapstick is fast, violent humor. You know, everything from a pie in the face to (as Mr. Brooks says) falling in an open manhole.

I’m not going to fall into the trap of using a dictionary definition—it makes one sound like the valedictorian at a bad high school graduation. (“According to Websters, ‘puberty’ is that time when…”). You know what slapstick is: fast, physical comedy that borders on violence. Pratfalls, kicks in the pants. Pies in the face. That sort of thing.

Charlie Chaplin was a master of this sort of comedy, so were Laurel and Hardy and Harpo Marx. I’m not sure who would be the champion of slapstick today—perhaps Jim Carey? Good slapstick involves timing and physical control, not something today’s comics are known for.

Slapstick is, to some degree, a matter of taste. Those with sensitive natures wince at the violence of slapstick, even if it’s clear that no real damage has been done. As a gross generalization, men seem to have a greater appreciation of slapstick than do women (“The Great Three Stooges Debate”). I suppose women would say it’s because men have no imagination…


Monty Python’s Flying Circus, comics more known for wordplay and bizarre flights of fancy than for slapstick, nevertheless created one of my favorite examinations of the slapstick comedy in a skit that I’ve always thought of as “The Comedy Lecture.”

The piece never appeared on their TV show (in fact, I suspect it was written by one or more of the cast during their college days) but it was performed during their live shows, and was filmed during their appearances at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s on Youtube here and is definitely worth five minutes of your time.


Hey, did you know where the phrase “slapstick” comes from? It was a tool of early comedians: Two pieces of wood (such as barrel staves) tied together at one end. When slapped against a piece of furniture—or an actor—the slapstick made a “crack!” that punctuated a joke. Think of it as an ancient rimshot (with a little violence added).

Some folks say the slapstick was created by the comedia del arte. But those are the folks who think that the comedia del arte invented everything…


It’s not easy to come across slapstick in written form. The closest I can come is probably “The Sick Note”—a song that I’ve often heard referred to as “Dear Boss.”

I first heard it performed by the Clancy Brothers (link here), but the authorship is claimed by a fellow by the name of Pat Cooksey.

Anyway, you might want to listen to the song first, or even read along.

Dear Boss I write this note to you to tell you of my plight
For at the time of writing I am not a pretty sight
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly grey
And I write this note to say why Paddy's not at work today.

Whilst working on the fourteenth floor, some bricks I had to clear
To throw them down from such a height was not a good idea
The foreman wasn't very pleased, the bloody awkward sod
He said I had to cart them down the ladders in my hod.

Now clearing all these bricks by hand, it was so very slow
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see
That a barrel full of building bricks was heavier than me.

And so when I untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead
I shot up like a rocket till to my dismay I found
That half way up I met the bloody barrel coming down.

Well the barrel broke my shoulder, as to the ground it sped
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with my head
I clung on tightly, numb with shock, from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half the bricks, fourteen floors below.

Now when these bricks had fallen from the barrel to the floor
I then outweighed the barrel and so started down once more
Still clinging tightly to the rope, my body racked with pain
When half way down, I met the bloody barrel once again.

The force of this collision, half way up the office block
Caused multiple abrasions and a nasty state of shock
Still clinging tightly to the rope I fell towards the ground
And I landed on the broken bricks the barrel scattered round.

I lay there groaning on the ground I thought I'd passed the worst
But the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst
A shower of bricks rained down on me, I hadn't got a hope
As I lay there bleeding on the ground, I let go the bloody rope.

The barrel then being heavier then started down once more
And landed right across me as I lay upon the floor
It broke three ribs, and my left arm, and I can only say
That I hope you'll understand why Paddy's not at work today.

(The Mythbusters tested this song on one episode. It took some monkeying—it’s harder to break the bottom of a barrel than one might think—but the physics basically works!)

Friday, February 4, 2011

R is for a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Minister

“A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender says: “What is this, some kind of a joke?”



Ah, yes. The rabbi, the priest and the minister. A triumvirate in any number of jokes. The set-up’s got all sorts of humor tropes implicit in it.

First of all, there’s the Rule of Three. I’ve written about this before: The first instance sets up the situation, the second establishes the pattern, and the third breaks that pattern. The disparity between expectation and reality is what creates the laugh.


A rabbi a priest and a minister were fishing together in a rowboat on Sunday afternoon. They started talking about the Bible, and about the miracles. They all agreed that while God could pass miracles, it was unlikely that they occurred as often as the Bible said they did.

“On the other hand,” said the minister, “I have no trouble believing that Jesus walked on water.”

“Absolutely,” said the priest, “no doubt about that one.”

The rabbi expressed his skepticism politely, but his two friends insisted. “It’s true,” said the minister. “I’ll prove it!” With that, the minister hopped out of the rowboat and walked to shore barely getting his feet wet.

The rabbi sat in slack-jawed amazement, even as the priest followed his colleague, jumped over the side, and likewise walked to shore.

“Amazing!” exclaimed the rabbi. He gathered himself, leaped out of the rowboat, and disappeared as the water closed over his head.

On shore, the priest turned to the minister and said: “You think we should have showed him where the rocks are?”


In addition to the Rule of Three, these jokes tend to have the whole religious/mysticism thing going for them—they often involve death or the rituals surrounding death. That means we’ve got the whole ‘Whistling in the Dark’ grim humor going, too. Not to mention the contrast between the clergy’s holy functions and their wholly human personae…


A local atheist, a wealthy man, has remained on friendly terms with all the local clergy. When the atheist dies, the rabbi, priest and minister learn to their surprise, that his entire fortune has been divided equally among the three of them—with the understanding that EACH must put $10,000 in the atheist’s open coffin before it lowered in the ground.

At the memorial service, the minister approaches the coffin, mutters a prayer, and puts $10,000 in the coffin.

As the body is being moved to the hearse, the priest approaches the coffin, crosses himself and places $10,000 in the coffin.

Right before the body is being placed in its grave, the rabbi approaches the coffin, grabs the $20,000 and places a check for $30,000 in the coffin.


Another joke is similar in spirit…


A rabbi, a priest and a minister are sitting about (NOT in a rowboat) talking about donations. It quickly becomes evident that not all of the contributions from their respective congregations make their way to charity. The trio begin to discuss how the money is distributed.

“Well,” says the minister, “Once a week I take all the donations we receive into the back room. I draw a circle on the floor. I stand in the middle of the circle and throw the donations up in the air. Whatever lands outside the circle, goes for God’s work. Whatever lands inside the circle I keep for myself.”

“That’s remarkable,” says the priest. “I, too, take all the donations we receive into the back room once a week. Like you, I draw a circle on the floor and throw all the donations up in the air. However, whatever lands inside the circle, goes for God’s work, and whatever lands outside the circle I keep for myself.”

“Now, this is an amazing coincidence,” says the rabbi. “Like the two of you, I take all the donations we receive into the back room once a week. I too, draw a circle on the floor, stand in the center, and throw all the donations up in the air. And whatever God wants, he keeps!”


Anyone ELSE find it a little off-putting that the rabbi is the butt of all three of those jokes? Or that two of them involve Jews and money? Oh, well. I don’t particularly want to delve too deeply into those issues.

Here’s one more with the rabbi bringing up the rear as it were.


A rabbi, a priest and a minister are walking along a deserted road on a hot day. They come to a stream. Since there’s no one around, the trio decides to go skinny dipping. They stash their clothing in a stand of trees, and make their way to the stream. No sooner do the three of them start splashing about than the minister spies a whole crowd of people from the town making its way down the road.

Trapped, the trio stare helplessly at one another. At last, the minister takes a deep breath, covers his privates with his hands, and dashes from the stream, through the crowd, and down the road to where the clothes are stashed.

The priest looks at the rabbi, takes a deep breath, covers his privates with his hands, and dashes from the stream, through the crowd and down the road to where the clothes are stashed.

Alone, the rabbi takes a deep breath, covers his head with his hands, dashes from the stream, through the crowd and down the road where the clothes are stashed.

His friends, already dressed, are waiting for the rabbi when he arrives among the trees, and help him into his clothes. While the rabbi is adjusting his yarmulke, the minister says, “We saw you make your run—you’re pretty fast!! But tell us, why didn’t you cover your privates?”

“I don’t know how it is where YOU work,” replied the rabbi, “but my congregation would recognize my face.”


Hey, at least this time the rabbi isn’t the – ahem – butt of the joke.

There are also a whole bunch of jokes which drop the minister entirely. The rabbi and priest jokes mostly compare and contrast celibacy and the laws of kosher. Those jokes are pretty funny, too. Perhaps we’ll delve into them on another occasion….unless you’d like to post some of them yourselves.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Q is for Quietus

I haven’t posted in a while: 2010 was a bad, bad year, and this blog was a minor casualty.

It all went downhill after my 50th birthday in April—which as actually pretty cool. I suffered from minor but persistent health problems, as well as major but persistent professional problems, and I had to say goodbye to a couple of people I really wasn’t ready to say goodbye to.

Anyway, despite the implication in Hamlet’s soliloquy (and my own dim memories of 11th grade English) ‘quietus’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘goodbye’ or ‘exit’. It also means “a final settlement” or “the end of an argument.” To wit:
Ray Bradbury, SF author par excellence tells the following story:

“A horrible little boy came up to me one day and said: ‘You know your book The Martian Chronicles?’

I said: ‘Yes’?

He said, ‘You know where you have Deimos [one of the Martian moons] rising in the East?’

I said, ‘Yes.’

He said, ‘Nope.’

So I hit him.


Now THAT, friends, is quietus.

The cutting remark that leaves no room for a snappy comeback. The sharp observation that completely ends the argument. The conversational climax that leaves no room for a coda. These bring quietus.

Quietus is the sort of thing that leaves no room for response. And, of course, that results in an Awkward Silence.

Lawyers are lectured at some length on the importance of recognizing WHEN an argument is over…that is, when to stop asking questions. She Whom It Would Be Well Advised to Consult Before Making Any Major Decisions tells the following story about a lawyer who should have realized when to shut up:

The defense attorney had the witness on the ropes: “So you claim that my client grabbed the victim, shook him violently, and bit his nose clean off?”

“That’s right,” said the witness.

“Did you actually see my client grab the victim?” demanded the attorney.

“No,” said the witness.

“Did you see my client shake the victim?” roared the attorney.

“No, I didn’t” said the witness.

“Did you in fact see my client bite of the victim’s nose?” shrieked the attorney.

“No, I did not,” said the witness.

Now a smart attorney would have known to stop there. Quietus. End of argument. But the attorney pressed his luck:

“If all that is true,” demanded the attorney, “then how do you know my client bit the victim’s nose off at all?”

“Because,” snapped the witness, “I saw him spit it out!”


And then there is the following. It was voted the funniest joke in the world (no, really) as part of the LaughLab project and appears to have been created in a slightly different form by Spike Milligan for The Goon Show.

Two hunters are out in the woods, when suddenly one of them grabs his chest, groans, and collapses. His buddy whips out his cell phone and dials 9-1-1.

“Hello,” says a crisp, competent voice on the other end.

“Listen,” says the hunter. “It’s my friend. He’s dead! What can I do?”

“Calm down,” says the operator. “I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s really dead.”

There is a pause. Then a gunshot is heard. The hunter comes back to the phone.

“Okay,” he says. “Now what?”