When I was a cub reporter at The Macon Telegraph back in the early 1990s, copy editor Randy Waters once gave me a backhanded compliment that has stuck with me:
“Lance, you’re the funniest guy I know who can’t tell a joke.”
Randy was right. I’ve never been good at remembering jokes, but as a middle-aged father of three, I am gaining proficiency in the stock-and-trade of dads everywhere… the dreaded Dad Joke.
To help me in this pursuit, my own father gave me three joke books for Christmas, which I have already begun to study intently, much to my family’s chagrin.
Growing up in church gave me an appreciation for emotional storytelling and the use of humor.
Good preachers have a knack for remembering and telling jokes, both from the pulpit and in social settings. One of the first jokes I ever remember my childhood pastor, Bro. Billy Mauldin, telling went something like this:
A man goes to prison, and the first night while he’s laying in bed contemplating his situation, he hears someone yell out, “44!” Uproarious laughter erupts from the other prisoners.
He thought that was pretty odd. Then he heard someone else yell out, “72!” That was followed by even more laughter.
“What’s going on?” he asked his cellmate.
“Well, we’ve all heard every joke so many times, we’ve given them each a number to make it easier.”
“Oh,” the new prisoner said. “Can I try?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
So he yells out “102!” and the place is dead quiet, save for a few groans. Confused, he looks at his cellmate who is just shaking his head.
“Hey, what happened?”
“Well, some people can tell a joke, and some people can’t.”
I puzzled over that joke for a while. Like most kids, I was a literal thinker. I thought it was funny because what made the prisoners laugh was the way the joke teller pronounced the numbers. I didn’t get it until I was in my teens, much older than I should have been to understand a joke as basic as this one.
I don’t remember jokes very well, but this one has stayed with me. It’s both a meta joke — a joke about a joke — a proverb. The truth is, some people can’t tell jokes. Spend two minutes with a comedian you’ve never heard before on YouTube, and you will see what I mean.
Humor is something I’ve always appreciated and tried to bring to my conversations. I hope this year to prove Randy wrong… not by being unfunny but by adding joke-telling to my humor repertoire.
But then again, some people can tell a joke, and some people can’t.
What’s your favorite joke? Leave a comment below to share. You can credit the source or rely on the old adage that originality is the ability to forget where you heard it. Clean jokes only, please. This is a family blog.