What’s the best thing about words? With April Fools’ Day looming, my best answer is they can be used to create jokes, which are essentially short stories. There are so many categories …
Adam: Knock, knock. Eve: Who’s there? Adam: Eden. Eve: Eden who? Adam: Eden that apple was a rotten idea.
The first joke! Everyone likes knock-knocks, with their tortured, twisted word play. (Fortification who? Fortification we usually go to Cape Cod. Sam and Janet who? Sam and Janet evening.)
Absurdities make us laugh — remember elephant jokes? How do you get four elephants into a Volkswagen? Two in the front and two in the back. How do you make an elephant fly? You begin with a 48-inch zipper.
A persistent category concerns screwing in a light bulb. How many real estate people does it take? Ten, but we’ll consider 8. Surrealists? Two: one to hold the giraffe and one to put the clocks in the bathtub. Telemarketers? Just one, but he has to do it while you’re having dinner.
And we got good mileage out of the homonym-filled “What do you call somebody … ” Hanging on the wall? Art. Rolling in the leaves? Russell. A girl with one short leg? Eileen. (And Bob and Irene and Matt.)
Kingsley Amis said, “If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.” I agree, especially when it comes to humor. Political correctness has put an arrow through the kidneys of American humor; many jokes need to be about specific types of people. Fill in the blank: This _____ guy is desperately looking for a parking space; there’s an important meeting in two minutes. “Oh, God,” he prays, “if you find me a spot I’ll never drink whiskey or beer again.” Right in front of him a space appears. He says, “Never mind, God, I found one.”
A _____ woman is walking with her two grandsons. “How cute,” someone says. “How old are they?” “The doctor is 5, the lawyer is 7.”
Two _____ are sitting on the porch one night. One says, “So which is closer, the moon or Florida?” “Duh, can you see Florida?”
Incidentally, how many _____ to change that light bulb? Three: one to hold the bulb and two to turn the ladder. We need our modifiers back!
I’d better stick with animals, another popular category. Grasshopper walks into a bar. Bartender: That’s funny, we serve a drink named after you. Grasshopper: Why would you serve a drink named Fred?
Guy walks into a bar with a duck on his head. Bartender: Where did you get the jackass? Guy: It’s not a jackass, it’s a duck. Bartender: I was talking to the duck.
Turtle gets mugged by two snails. Cops: Can you describe the incident? Turtle: Gee, it happened so fast.
Funny is often about misdirection — words or questions misinterpreted. Guy: I keep seeing spots in front of my eyes. Friend: Ever see a doctor? Guy: No, just spots.
Woman: Fire department? Hurry, my house is on fire. Fireman: OK, how do we get there? Woman: Don’t you still have those big red trucks?
Guy in lumberyard: I need 10 two-by-fours. Yardman: How long do you want them? Guy: Oh, a long time, they’re for my house.
Say something foolish tomorrow and brighten somebody’s day. And don’t call me Shirley.
Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at [email protected]