So I only just today got this Far Side comic


Like my subject line says. I’ve seen this particular Far Side now and then for thirty-plus years. It was only today, when I saw it bundled with other historical strips under the History Shmistory label, that I realized Gary Larson’s joke. This now takes, by far, the record between me seeing and me getting the joke. It was previously held by another Far Side strip, the famous “I think you misunderstood … I’m Al Tilly, the bum” incident.

In a career counseling office. The counselor tells a seated bearded man holding a ten-gallon hat, 'Well, Mr Cody, according to our questionnaire, you would probably excel in sales, advertising, slaughtering a few thousand buffalo, or market research'.
So “Al Tilley, the Bum”. It was this scene at a castle rampart and the guard has thrown his spear at this hobo, and missed, and the hobo says, “I think you misunderstood” and it was like twelve years later that I twigged to how the joke was the guard thought he’d said he was Atilla the Hun. But the scene was funny already even without the name confusion, right? Anyway, nobody ask why the door sign implies they’re outside the career counseling office, OK? It’s a comic strip convention and once you notice this you’ll never enjoy a setting again, ever.

In my defense — and this applies to the Al Tilly the bum incident too — part of my slowness was that it wasn’t obvious I was missing a joke. Imagine if the caption read, “Well, Mr Smith, … ” instead. It’s a fine enough non-sequitur joke that someone might be good in sales or market research or buffalo-slaughtering. Larson played fair, of course. If the identity of the person seeking a career didn’t matter, he’d have been named Smith or Jones or even not addressed by name. The beard and ten-gallon hat were also cues, although it’s not like comic strip characters won’t have long beards or quirky fashion choices either.

I suppose it’s all a reminder that you can tell any joke you like, but you can’t control what joke the audience hears.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

5 thoughts on “So I only just today got this Far Side comic”

    1. Yeah. Still, I find something really interesting in there being jokes that are misunderstood, but whose misunderstanding is an acceptable joke. It’s only some misunderstandings that work like that. It seems like an accidental thing, too, apart from when the writer is punning or setting up a dramatic irony. Someday we’ll see a theory of humor which explains that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Given how long it took me to get to here, no, I’m not sure of that. But my sense is that Gary Larson just didn’t go in for having that density of background jokes. Julie Larson, with The Dinette Set, sure, but those background jokes often confused readers.

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