Some Cliched Jokes And Why They’re Supposed To Be Funny (Or Never Were)
COMEDY! Now that I’ve got your attention, we’re gonna talk about…Well…Comedy…Um. Yeah. Anyway, as you may know, I am (Technically) a comedian. Note, I did not saysuccessful comedian. Technically, I am an internet comedian, otherwise referred to as “the lowest known form of life”. Nevertheless, I am taking it upon myself to take you through ten jokes which are totally played out and explain why they’re funny, why they’re supposed to befunny or, most likely, why they really aren’t.
“…And what’s the deal with airline food?”
Ah the airline food joke. The stereotypical last refuge of the hack standup comedian. You’ve probably seen this joke used more frequently for ironic purposes than as an actual joke itself. You all know the bit, there’s a comedian on the stage and the characters on some sitcom are watching him tell unfunny jokes, then he pulls out “And what’s the deal with airline food?”. It’s the quintessential cliched observational humour joke, the kind of thing you expect Jay Leno to come out with.
In fact, this joke is so famous amongst the comedy circles for sucking out loud and basically summarising everything wrong with hack observational comedians, you’ll frequently see it used (Again, ironically) in response to an example of an unfunny joke or standup routine – particularly on the internet.
But honestly, have you ever wondered, what are the comedians who originally started making this joke even getting at? Well to start off with, let’s name the guilty. It was Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld. He made this joke famous. Now, admittedly, when he told it, it was pretty funny. But that’s just because he’s Jerry Seinfeld.
The reality is, it’s a pretty lame joke even if it hadn’t become such a cliche. “The deal with airline food” is that it sucks. That’s literally the entire premise of the joke. This is an example of failed observational humour. The idea behind observational humour is, really, to notice something absurd and/or something we can all relate to but might not think about. Airline food…Yes, it sucks. We know.
Now yes, I know, technically this is just the setup to the joke and you’re supposed to go on and recount a story about how much airline food sucks or something. But answer me this. Is there a single person who is going to hear this story that isn’t going to be able to guess the punchline before it even starts.
NO! Because the punchline always boils down to “Airline Food sucks”. There’s no payoff to this joke! Speaking of which…
“You ever noticed that a white guy does X and a black guy does Y?”
Oh god, now we’re into the dregs. This my friends is the quintessential racial joke. Almost every hack comedian with a racial theme to their comedy will make a joke using this exact formula – and it’s (For some reason I cannot possibly fathom at all, no way no how) especially common if the comedian in question is black.
An example of this joke being mocked which you’ve probably seen is when, on The Simpsons, Homer watches a black comedian on TV pantomime how white guys and black guys drive. The black guys drive like they’re in a movie, the white guys drive like dorks making “dee-de-dee” noises. Similarly, Homer himself tells a very poor example of this joke in the episode where Mr. Burns is trying to make himself popular:
“You see, white people have names like Lenny, and black people have names like Carl!”
The sad part is, that’s about as funny as these jokes get. The problem here is the joke is playing off a pretty well-known stereotype – black people are cool, white people are dweebs. And yes, there’s an element of truth in it.
But the fact is, it’s just not that rich a vein for comedy. I think at this stage, just about every contrasting stereotypical mannerism of white people and black people has been hauled onto a stage by some hack comedian standing in front of a faux-brick wall. Oh don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great racial comedy still to be harvested, but this formula is just dull.
There’s plenty of ways to make fun of white people without resorting to this tired old joke. Look at Deon Cole, one of Conan O’Brien’s crack team of scribes, for an example of innovation in this field.
“Did you know Rap Music used to have a C at the beginning?”
Okay, now this joke is just straight up dumb. This is obviously just idiots trying to be clever and take the piss out of rap music, but it just comes across as idiotic. We get it, Rap Music is divisive. Could you honestly not come up with a funnier way to express that? I mean, seriously.
All you have to do is read out the lyrics to most rap songs in a deadpan voice, with no rhythm, and it’s automatically funnier than this.
Also, Empire State of Mind is one of the greatest songs ever recorded and 8 Mile is a fantastic music-themed motion picture. So FUCK YOU rap haters.
“How do you get Pikachu on a bus? Poke ‘im on!”
Oh haha, very funny. This is possibly the lamest pun in the history of the universe. Unfortunately, it’s spread like wildfire. It’s a corruption of the same humour found in the favourite joke of maths students the world over:
“Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine!”
Now that joke’s legitimately funny. And so is the Pikachu Joke…At first. But unlike the Seven Joke, the Pikachu Joke has no staying power. Once you’ve heard it, it stops being funny, and it becomes more unfunny the more you hear it. The problem? People tell it all the time. It’s a safe bet no comedian would ever bother pulling this out on stage, but unfortunately non-comedians use it at every opportunity.
The Seven Joke enjoys the same ubiquitous status, but is somehow timeless. Much like South Park’s “Funniest Joke In History” candidate:
“Would you like some fish sticks, sir? What? You would? What are you, some kind of gay fish?”
Get it? Fish sticks sounds like fish dicks!
…It’s funnier out loud.
“So a bear walks into a bar…”
There are a lot of jokes which start in a similar manner. The infamous “A priest, a rabbi and a Scot” (And variations thereof) have ascended to the heights of “most overused premise for a joke ever”. Everyone has made up a joke using this premise. And almost all of those jokes involve either a bar, a genie, or god. And the punchline is always the third guy coming out better than the other two.
But there’s another version of this joke, which usually goes a lot like this:
“A bear walks into a pub holding a newspaper. He saunters up to the bar and takes a seat whilst the other patrons, terrified at the sight of him, edge slowly towards the door. He lays his paper on the bar and orders a beer and a packet of crisps (Chips to you Yankee Doodle Dandies) and the terrified barman charges him £10. The bear sighs, lays down his money and begins reading his paper. Tentatively, the barman observes ‘we don’t get many bears in here…’ to which the bear sighs, laying down his paper, before replying ‘Well at these prices I’m not surprised!”
This version of the “people walking into a bar” joke is infinitely funny and has unlimited scope for re-purposing. Family Guy ably showed it being used as a joke on a sitcom. The great thing about this version of the joke is that the humour is one, seemingly innocuous, detail and not really the “elephant (Well, bear) in the room” which you expect it to be.
Another great version goes thusly:
“A man walks into a bar and sits down, ordering his drink. He sits there, drinking it, then he suddenly hears it…A small, squeaky voice telling him how good he looks and what a great guy he is. He looks around for the source of the voice and is surprised to discover it appears to be coming from the bowl of peanuts. Unnerved, he heads to the toilet to splash some water on his face. Once there, he hears a gruff voice hurling abuse at him. To his (Semi) amazement, the voice is coming from the hand dryer. He heads back to the bar and the barman asks him if he’s okay. He reports these oddities to the barman who responds, easily ‘Ah, yes, well…The hand dryer is out of order, but the peanuts are complimentary.’”
Technically, that’s just a cheap double pun. But the execution is what sells it. All that buildup really bulks up the payoff. So, next time you wanna make a “some guy walks into a” joke, use the premise for something a bit cleverer than “these two kinds of people are idiots and this other kind of person is smart”.
“Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!”
It’s a crying shame that so few people get this joke. Because it’s actually really really funny. When I was first told it, it was framed as “the first joke ever told” and had an additional punchline tacked on – “I guess people used to be a lot easier to please”.
But this joke is actually exactly the kind of humour which is popular these days. The problem is, it became so ubiquitous so fast most people stopped thinking about why it might be funny and began fixating on the fact that it’s supposed to be un-funny.
So, would you like to know why this joke is so funny?
Because of course that’s why the chicken crossed the road. What other answer is there to that question? Millions, literally millions, of idiots have spent years trying to re-write this punchline to “make it funny again” (“to get away from the KFC”, “because he saw a black guy coming” – seriously, someone’s made that one, “because Oprah told it to”, “because the duck did it first and it wanted to fit in” ). It’s not necessary!
The joke is, the person asking is asking a stupid question and your inability to supply the simple answer makes you looks silly. Here’s the reason so few people got it: it’s on the listener! “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is one of the earliest and best examples of making the audience the butt of the joke in an entirely good natured way, as opposed to, say, this next gem.
Not being a moron, I couldn’t tell you, however, mumblemumblemumble.