Ruining the #Joke

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Well, time for my second mean post in about a month.

I unfriended someone on Facebook last weekend. He kept coming onto my posts and ruining jokes by asking dumb questions, explaining the joke, or trying to change the joke’s premise so he could leapfrog off my sense of humor. That’s literally the only thing for which I have no tolerance. I don’t care if you make differing, or even objectively stupid, sociopolitical statements. People are doing the best they can in a complex world with little time on their hands to properly research. Talking with each other helps us learn (if we’re open to it). But there’s no excuse for ruining a joke. We’re all just trying to have fun, and ruining a joke kills that fun. There’s a science to comedy, but this is intended to be a short, simple, and one-sided analysis, focusing on common audience errors. Let’s start with a very basic, if antiquated, joke.

The Joke: A horse walks into a bar. Bartender asks, “Why the long face?”

Asking Dumb Questions

Do not respond: “How did the horse fit through the front door? Why didn’t they throw it out? Why did the bartender try to speak with a horse? Horses don’t speak.”

None of these questions are relevant. You shouldn’t care how we got to this point. Just roll with the joke.

Explaining the Joke

Do not respond: “That’s because horses have long faces, but having a long face is a way of saying someone is sad, and so the bartender thinks the horse is sad, but it’s really just a pun, and ….”

Explaining the joke is just your insecure way of telling everyone you were clever enough to get the joke. No one’s impressed, but they’re usually disappointed. Explaining a joke ruins it. Everyone stops in their tracks and doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Subverting the Premise

Do not respond: “But the horse didn’t have a long face. He had a short face, which is funny because horses don’t have short faces.”

It’s okay to continue the joke with a chain of responses that build on it. That can be very useful because the initial telling of the joke shouldn’t ramble on too much. Sometimes the original joke must leave out some funny stuff because you don’t want to say too much, especially if it results in internal conflict within the joke. However, what this response does is completely changes the premise, which invalidates everything that came before it in the chain. Even if the chain at that point consists of only the original joke, invalidating it removes the humor, making your task of replacing that humor insurmountable. In other words, whatever you say will probably fail anyway because you’ve killed the vibe. If you don’t like the premise of the joke or legitimately think you can do better with your own, walk away and post your own joke on your wall. However, if you don’t understand why your redirection is going to running the original joke, don’t be surprised if what you think is funny turns out not to be.

None of these responses make you funny, and all of them ruin the joke. I know you want to be a part of something, but sometimes you’re just a spectator. Try to be satisfied by the fact that you got a good laugh. Even remarkably funny people know when to sit one out.

Bonus Point #1: The Geneva Convention

Much like the “horse in a bar” joke above, it’s never funny to say, “That line was so horrible it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention.” Some lines, even if they’re still somehow relevant decades after their creation, have worn themselves out. Unfortunately, that’s something you sometimes must learn through trial and error. It’s okay to bomb, but don’t go running in circles through known minefields.

Bonus Point #2: In-person Jokes

I was with some friends before the pandemic. I told them two of my favorite jokes, but one of them required a set up. I asked a friend a question, but because he knew he was about to be the butt of the joke, he refused to answer, bringing the entire joke to a standstill. Because everyone knew the joke was coming, it was already going to be a tough sell, but by refusing to answer and forcing me to turn to a less insecure friend and repeat the question made it even tougher to get a good laugh.

Don’t do that either. For Shatner’s sake, just roll with it.

I am a comedy god!

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