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.