This Joke's on Me

When Lisbeth Salander is 70 years old, she goes to a doctor for her annual checkup. The doctor says, “You’re in good shape, but your tattoo’s draggin’.”

(Rim shot)

I made this joke up. Maybe you didn’t have to be told that. It is not a very good joke, but it is my own. If I had a joke meter attached to this blog, I’d be curious to know how many of you find it funny. On second thought…

I have long wondered who makes up the jokes that our friends tell us under the rubric, “Have you heard this one?”

Challenger seconds after it blew up
Remember when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up back in January, 1986? Within one day this joke sloshed across the country like a wave in a bathtub.

Setup.  NASA changed its official soft drink to Coca Cola.
Q.        Why?
A.        It couldn’t get 7-up.

I remember being amazed at the speed with which that dark joke made its way around the 3,794,083 square miles of the United States. It was internet speed at a time when the internet was not in the game.

Why so fast? Was the joke spontaneously thought up by thousands of people all at the same time? Unlikely. The fact is that it is a “good” joke in the sense that it works, and good jokes, like good news, travel fast. But who started it? And where?

I have made a lot of jokes in my day, but these have been quips that came to mind during a conversation. For example, a friend was recently comparing the U.S. Congress to a bunch of Neanderthals. 

I said, “You’re giving Neanderthals a bad name.”

The Neanderthal joke is really a crack. It is very context dependent. You had to be there to enjoy it. Cracks are written on water. NASA jokes are written on 3 x 5 cards.

For a joke to be more than a crack its context has to be obvious like mother-in-law jokes, or bad marriage jokes like Henny Youngman’s, Take my wifeplease.

That is too bad in a way because some cracks are really memorable. I remember once being on safari in Tanzania. For some reason the long drives from one campsite to another engender a pun mania among the passengers in one’s land cruiser. I heard one of the best one liner cracks I’ve ever heard in a land cruiser. Margot Jones made it.

She said, “Anyone who thinks that a Cape Buffalo is harmless is an oxymoron.”

Now that deserves to be heard around the country in one day flat. It never will be.  Which brings me to my final point.

There is an Academy Award for Best Film. There ought to be an Academy Award for Best Joke.  I can see categories like:

Best Joke on a 3 x 5 card.
Best crack.
Best pun.
Best comeback.

Here is my candidate for best comeback. It comes from Algonquin Round Table lore. The Round Table—they dubbed themselves the “Vicious Circle”—met in New York City’s Algonquin Hotel for lunch for ten years between 1919 and 1929 where they traded jokes, puns and cracks that, through their various newspaper and radio outlets, sloshed around the country.

One of the Round Tablers comes into the lunchroom and runs his hand over the bald pate of one of the members already seated.

He says, “Hmm. That’s as smooth as my wife’s bottom.”

Without missing a beat the bald-headed member runs his own hand over his own scalp and replies, “You know. You are absolutely right.”

They don’t make comebacks like that anymore.