Today I’ve tried to be funny. It’s the 39th anniversary of John McEnroe’s epic meltdown in his first round game against Tom Gullikson at Wimbledon in 1981. During his outburst, provoked by a line call, he yelled the immortal ‘you cannot be serious’ at the umpire. So to honour his command, I’ve written a joke. It was either that or get a perm and wear a headband.
Jokes are top folklore. Take
my mother-in-law, the 2005 documentary, The Aristocrats where the titular joke is retold by around 90 comedians and it never gets stale. Amongst other things, it’s an excellent study of folklore transmission and narrative. The other things however are not for the faint of heart. Despite being very funny. I say, I say, I say Not only have I never written a joke, I actively avoid telling them. My delivery sucks, I invariably fuck up the punchline and then blush when nobody laughs. I know my limits. So I did some research. I found out that Jerry Seinfeld has traditions like always using the same pen, writing long hand, and only writing on yellow paper, which didn’t help much. Then I saw the advice to first time joke writers of subverting the second line of a proverb. So I looked through my book of proverbs, noting down various set ups: You can lead a horse to water, Dog Days bright and clear, Early to bed, early to rise. But the closest I got to subversion was A bird in the hand is likely to crap on your wrist. You see, not even a snigger.
By this time I was very much in danger of taking all of this far too seriously, so I fell back to a default knock knock position. I had a thought. Tried it on a friend. When I asked him how he felt it went, he said: I’m trying to forget it ever happened. You’ve been warned.
Ladies and Gentleman, coming to you live from The Everyday Lore Project, please welcome to the stage, Liiiiiiiizaaaaaa Fraaaaaank!
Me: Knock Knock
You: Who’s there?
You: Folklore who?
Me: Faux claws look terrible on a werewolf.
I’ll get me coat.
Now if I could just work out how many folklorists it takes to change a lightbulb…
Rhodes, C. (2001) One For Sorrow… A Book of Old-Fashioned Lore, London, Michael O’Mara Books Limited