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

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!”