joke telling…an art to be shared across the generations
I do jokes. Not professionally, since, technically, I don’t get paid. I just perform at family gatherings where sometimes I have to chum the audience with a few one-liners to get the hilarity level up and bubbling. I only fathered daughters who can seem, at times, indifferent to the appeal of my dad-humor. I can only hope it has passed to the next generation in the person of my youngest grandson, Zeno—my last hope to carry on the family gag-gene. I pried his face off a ‘screen’ he had been glommed onto for the last hour and forced him to listen to a joke. He was either polite enough or smart enough to laugh at the story. But that was just passive reception. I wanted more. I had the whole lore of storytelling to pass onto him. So, the next day I called him at home.
“Zeno,” I told him, “I wonder if you realize what a gift I gave you with that joke about the pig with the wooden leg.”
Silence at the other end. The click of screen button. “Uh-huh, grampa.”
“Listen, I don’t hand those jokes to everyone. They are precious, carefully crafted works of art.”
“So, I want to be sure you remember the joke and most importantly the set-up.”
“See, when my brothers and I get going we often share the same jokes, but in deference to each other’s craft we will ask, ‘Okay, so what’s your set-up on that one?’ Actually, there’s different ways to get to a punchline—the wording and the timing has to be just right. You can drag out the story too long. Or start laughing before the end. Messes it up. So, in the interest of introducing you to the fine art of storytelling, I’m gonna ask you to repeat the joke I told you last night.”
I can hear my daughter in background saying something to the kid before he sighs and basically repeats all the elements of the joke in order. I make sure to slather on the positive reinforcement for his recall before I proceed to school him on some fine points of my particular set-up for that story.
After we hang up I’m left feeling sad. We can only try to pass on hard-earned skills and insight to the next generation but sometimes the seed falls on hard ground. I hope that the gospel of good humor will sprout somewhere along my family line. BTW I’d tell you the joke but that’s not the point. This is serious. This is about the business of joke-telling and family traditions. Ha!
Okay, here’s the gag:
A reporter for the local rag was driving down a country road when he noticed a pig in a farm yard with a wooden leg. There must be a good story, here, he thought and stopped to talk to the farmer.
“Why that pig, son,” the farmer said, “is a hero in these parts. Last winter when our house caught on fire, the pig woke us all up and when we got outside, we realized that gamma was still inside. That pig ran in and dragged granny out by the sleeve of her night gown. Saved her life he did.”
“But why the wooden leg?” the reporter asked.
“Tell him about the tractor,” the wife said,
“Oh, yeah. Last spring, plowing the back 40, my tractor tipped over and pinned me under water in the run-off creek. That pig stuck his snout under my chin and kept me from drowning until help arrived. Saved my life.”
“Yeah, but why does it have a wooden leg?”
“Why son,” the farmer said, “a pig like that, you don’t want to eat all at once.”