“You know, in British English, the world `left` is spelled `lieut`.”
Reference: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.
“You know, in British English, the world `left` is spelled `lieut`.”
Reference: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.
Reference: A Guide to Seabirds on the Ocean Routes, Gerald Tuck.
Renowned playwright Christopher Shinn recently twitterwrought this:
Last week’s dreams would do pretty well for that: “Suspension Ping-Pong” is a viable play title. And “The Insincere Seagull” swings too. But last night’s? That was one that just didn’t have any disturbing elements, really. There was just a lot of shuffling up and down cramped stairwells and a lot of confusion on my part about why I was involved in the process of picking a comedic weather reporter. It also featured overnight news polka artist and all-purpose comedian Barry Mitchell explaining to me that a joke he’d used when he got into the business of comic weather reporting was a good one. “The kind American audiences like, that’s funny but that the more they think about it makes less sense”.
I remember that in the dream I also found the joke amusing, but all that’s left of it is the punch line “dog whistles”. (I mean literally the thing used to get dogs’ attention, not the thing where you insist someone’s crazy for hearing a racist comment when you say something racist.) Probably I thought too much about the joke. I had no idea why I was part of any of this. But I haven’t known why I was part of anything I was part of since my undergrad commencement. And that I knew was going to on whether I was part of it or not, but if I was part of it, I would hear a speech by Senator Bill Bradley. I guess that’s what I needed back then. So even not having any idea why I was there in the dream wasn’t disturbing. It was just what I’d have expected.
As I say, though, there’s not any disturbing elements in this dream. Just shuffling around stairs and pondering what kinds of jokes really sell.
If I did anything on my mathematics blog this past week it was look at some comic strips, and yes, it includes that Todd the Dinosaur comic that you’re all sure I made up. It was a slow week.
Slow enough, indeed, that I don’t have a humorous picture or a Star Trek screen grab to share here and make the page look at least a bit more full. I’ve been busy kicking myself because of a joke I had thought of last Thursday that I meant to put into that “On This Date” article, and then forgot to in the time it took me to go downstairs to my computer. And then remembered when I went out for something or other, and forgot when I got home. The farther I got from my computer, the more powerfully I remembered the joke. It just didn’t get in there. You can go and check. I’m not saying this was a great joke, the linchpin that would tie the whole piece together. It would just have added a bit of a smile late in the bit, and I forgot to include it and it won’t make sense out of that context. So now I have to wait until it’s been long enough I can do an “On This Date” piece again without obviously repeating myself. I bet I forget the joke then, too. I need to write it down.
So among the bonus content that’s put on the back of my Peanuts Page-A-Day calendar, instead of the Sunday strips and pages for Sunday as a day on the calendar that I would think was the main content, was this:
Groaners: World’s Best Bad Jokes And Puns
A man walking with his friend says, “I’m a walking economy.”
His friend replies, “How so?”
“My hairline is in recession, my stomach is a victim of inflation, and both of these together are putting me into a deep depression.”
And I’m stuck wondering: who’s the joke supposed to appeal to? Never mind why it’s supposed to make me feel better about the price of the calendar and it not having Sundays. I get a kid finding it funny that older men might lose their hair and get fat, since that really is no end of merriment. But then the language throws you off. To a teen? Isn’t the hoary old joke structure too old-fashioned to amuse someone of that age? To a young adult? Why would they be buying a comic strip page-a-day calendar? To a middling adult like me? The time that joke would’ve amused me is long since passed, and the joke structure would need someone at least as skilled at delivery as a minor Muppet to work at all. To an actual adult like my parents? They’ve never gotten in a page-a-day calendar past the 12th of January. Why are they going to the effort to put a joke like that on the back of the calendar page? They could be putting trivia about the day that nobody will see until they next day when they tear today’s page off the calendar, instead.
So back on the 17th of March, 1994, the newspaper-syndicated humorist Dave Barry was reading something on Usenet, which was becoming a thing back then, and he wanted to write back to his friend who was there, and as is the fashion, he wrote a snarky little thing that used a couple of the words you can’t use as a newspaper-syndicated humorist, and made prominent use of the name “Mister Chuckletrousers”, which he’d recently picked up on a trip to Britain from a headline he didn’t understand. And after finishing his little reply he realized that instead of replying to the author, he’d replied to the post, putting it out for everyone in the newsgroup to see.
The newsgroup, where he’d been lurking, was alt.fan.dave_barry.
This was rather an exciting time to be in alt.fan.dave_barry, as you might imagine, as it set off a lot of debate about whether this was actually Dave Barry or just someone pretending to be him, and what the “Mister Chuckletrousers” thing could possibly mean, and, well, if it was him then what did it mean that the guy the group was gathered round to talk about was actually there in the group listening? Which doesn’t sound like anything today, but back in 1994, you only got direct contact with people you were a fan of by the traditional methods, like, their being minor characters on a Star Trek series and your going to a convention and paying money to get their autograph.
Anyway, somehow, the guy Dave Barry was responding to didn’t see it, and asked if someone could send him a copy of the post, and the newsgroup displayed an electrifying energy and complete lack of common sense and a few days later the guy asked that people please stop as he had received 2,038 copies and didn’t need any more.
Over the coming weeks there’d be confirmation that the Chuckletrousers Incident really did happen and really did involve Dave Barry: a guy who shared his ISP said it was him (and who could doubt that?), a mention of Chuckletrousers came up in his columns, and then, the number 2,038 started getting mentioned when the text needed some arbitrary number to be included. Eventually Dave Barry himself described the incident for his book Dave Barry In Cyberspace, which is the sort of late-90s explain-the-Internet book that’s fascinating because it captures a bunch of the memes and obsessions of the Internet of the summer of 1997. Both Chuckletrousers and 2,038 still turn up in Dave Barry’s writings, a little joke sent out to a community of people who witnessed flaming Pop-Tarts (which is what the Internet did back before the Mentos and Diet Coke thing was discovered) that has long since left behind alt.fan.dave_barry.
I also delurked on alt.fan.dave_barry in the middle of March, 1994, but nobody noticed at the time.
I also meant to write this in mid-February, because my brain insists on thinking this all happened shortly after Valentine’s Day that year, but it didn’t, so I didn’t, after I checked.
Over on my mathematics blog is another review of comic strips that touch mathematics themes, including one joke that I didn’t get at the time and a commenter had to explain to me. If you’re not so interested in that, then, Working Daze has over the past couple weeks continued with its mock history, bringing the strip closer to the present and to comics that people who aren’t steeped in the field’s lore are more likely to recognize.
Finally, Peter Maresca’s Origins of the Sunday Comics last week had a bit of a novelty, a bit of W W Denslow-illustrated, L Frank Baum-written adventure of Dorothy in Oz. It’s hard to explain quite how big Oz was, when it originally came out; I’ve heard it argued that the worldwide fame of Harry Potter is the only thing that comes close, and that seems plausible enough. This is a bit of that enormous early influence. I’m sorry the text is hard to read, but I haven’t any control over that. If you hold the cursor over the middle of the comic, once it’s loaded, you should get an icon of a magnifying glass that lets you zoom in so it’s at least a little less awfully compressed, but it could still be better.
I had a reputation as a calendar-giver, based on something like fourteen years in a row going by in which I figure that a calendar just the appropriate gift to give about three-quarters of the people I want to gift with something or other, mostly calendars. I’m not one of those johnny-come-latelies who’s gotten into giving out calendars because all the cool kids are. I gave them out because I have a deep belief that the people I care most deeply about could use a little more warning about just when this year April is expected to start and end.
What’s got me thinking about this is I was in one of those odd little shops, that only exists in malls in November and December, that sells calendars and special editions of the board game Sorry, and it had a calendar of animals telling jokes. Not one of those page-a-day calendars where someone had worked up 365 jokes that could be matched with photographs of animals, or even one of those chintzy ones where they combine Saturday and Sunday and only give you approximately 313 of them. It was a monthly calendar. One of the jokes, coming from a pig, asked what you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons. Answer: pork chops.
The calendar fascinates me. Who’s the person who wants a calendar which will, for not less than 28 days running, taunt you with the question “what do you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons” and the answer “pork chops”? The first day, sure, you smile as broadly as anyone ever would. The second day, maybe a bit of a grin. The third, it registers as a kind of cute picture of a pig, I guess, with some text creeping around it. The fourth, you start to wonder what color belt the pig’s got to. The fifth, it’s now a question of how the pig would even tie the belt? Or would he have someone to do the belt-tying for him? Is it a him? Are boy or girl pigs more likely to take carate lessons? The sixth, you realize you spent all day yesterday treating the problem of pig karate as if it were serious and probably drove right past the turn for home three times before getting it right.
Oh, sure, you can give the calendar to a little kid who’s too young to be driving and that avoids the issue on the sixth, but that just means whoever’s responsible for the kid is going to have to answer whether the pig in the picture wanted to take karate lessons and, if so, was it just for the fun of it or was it because of bullies in the farmyard. Maybe it is. Then you’re going to have to explain why the farmer puts up with bullies, and that’s going to lead to questions about whether they’re doing it to impress the cows, and the question of why they aren’t called cowies, and you don’t really have a good answer to that. The English language is able to attach a diminutive ending to any word that’s got an ending, so why should it step briskly back from a cowie? Before long you’d be peeking ahead to the next month hoping it’s something blissfully simple like a sheep making a pun on “ewe” but then someone has to explain why that isn’t pronounced “eewiee” and that’s exactly what you were hoping to not explain.
If this had been a joke-a-day calendar I’d understand, since by the time you’d got to being haunted by the implications of the pork chop joke you’d have had four or five other gags about fish schools or owls asking who’s there and cow astronomers discovering the Milky Way to crowd them out of your mind. But this presentation just sits on you and makes you think about it and keep on thinking about it.
On the other hand, the joke isn’t going to be there more than 31 days, unless you lose so much interest in continuing to live that you never advance the calendar again, in which case the karate pig probably isn’t the real issue. So maybe it’s for people who want to be haunted by these kinds of problems but not indefinitely.
[ I offer here another piece from Robert Benchley’s Of All Things, as I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t have the time to prepare something wholly my own. Please don’t tell Mr Benchley. But this offers a neat send-up of the sorts of cute little kid anecdotes that I assume still line the pages of magazines I don’t read because I think they carry items like what this parodies. ]
LITTLE Bobby, aged five, saying his prayers, had come to that most critical of diplomatic crises : the naming of relatives to be blessed.
“Why don’t I ask God to bless Aunt Mabel?” he queried, looking up with a roguish twinkle in his blue eyes.
“But you do, Bobby,” answered his mother.
“So I do,” was his prompt reply.
LITTLE Willy, aged seven, was asked by his teacher to define the word “confuse.”
“ ` Confuse’ is what my daddy says when he looks at his watch,” said Willy. The teacher never asked that question again. At least, not of Willy.
LITTLE Gertrude, aged three, was saying her prayers. “Is God everywhere ?” she asked.
“Yes, dear, everywhere,” answered her mother.
“Everywhere?” she persisted.
“Yes, dear, everywhere,” repeated her mother, all unsuspecting.
“Then He must be like Uncle Ned,” said the
“Why, Gertrude, what makes you say that?”
“Because I heard Daddy say that Uncle Ned was everywhere,” was the astounding reply.
It’s a trifle warm out, which you can tell because it’s not safe to pick your trifles up by your bare hands anymore. You need at least two layers of oven mitts and then to just leave them where they are. It’s hot enough that I just got a letter from Discover offering me $7,500 more in credit if I put the card in the freezer already please. The garage has melted, and I just saw a cumulus cloud burst into flame. It’s hot enough that I phoned myself from back in January and found it’s actually warmed up three degrees back then, so now (back then) I’ll be able to have skipped buying the long underwear I needed last winter. So as you gather, it’s been warm enough to leave logic itself half-baked.
I’m told statistics are all the rage among bloggers, because this way they can put in numbers where text might go, and that makes everything better. So, here goes.
According to WordPress this little humor blog got 441 views in June, the most it’s managed since it began at the start of February. It also had 227 unique visitors, again the most since it started. Also apparently 214 pages were just looked at by themselves, or maybe each other, to account for the gap there. Or I’m being viewed by people in other dimensions, which would be kind of flattering considering all the dimensions they have to look at.
My top five most popular posts for the past 30 days have been:
In June, the countries which sent the most visitors to me were the United States (336), Canada (20), and Brazil (8). The countries that sent only one visitor my way included Poland, the Czech Republic, the United Republic of Tanzania, Bulgaria, Spain, Iraq, Moldova, Ireland, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Denmark, and Italy. I have not been to any of those nations. My parents honeymooned in Spain.
So, all you people who’ve done that joke where you’re hanging out with a rhinoceros, maybe getting something at a White Castle or something, and you tell him he has something on his nose? And he keeps trying to wipe it off, but the thing you’re talking about is his horn, so obviously he can’t wipe it off however many napkins he grabs, and he finally goes into the bathroom to wash it off and sees? Yeah, real funny, guys. You know because of you there’s no way of telling a rhinoceros when he has got something on his nose? Why, the one I had lunch with today even took one of my jalapeno cheese burgers as payment for the inconvenience. So, good one all around.
I happend to be reading F J Levy’s Tudor Historical Thought, because I want whatever computer tries to predict my reading habits over in the university library to explode already. Levy writes a bit about how the tradition of chronicling had declined in the 15th and 16th centuries, with records that were kept turning to more conversational or chatty or simply oddball items, rather than things of historic import. He quoted one, no doubt because he knew it’d amuse the reader too, though he also pointed out the chronicler didn’t attempt to interpret it as a portent of anything, even though it’d seem to be rich with potential meaning:
1509, the 24. of Awgust, the 1. of Henry the Eighth, ther came a grete swarme of bees, and light on the bole undar the wetharcoke of S. Nicholas steple in Caleys, at xi. of the cloke, and at tyll iij. in the aftarnone.
I suppose I’m more inclined to chuckle at this because I have a circle of friends who find a sudden interjection of bees into the conversation to be funny. A sudden surprise can provoke a laugh — that’s part of what makes shock humor exist at all — and I must agree the word “bees” has a bit of a smile to it, a bit of childhood glee, at least when you’re not afraid the referent is coming after you. At some point it becomes a kind of in-joke: one laughs at “bees” because one is expected to laugh at “bees”, and it’d be rude to do otherwise.
Of course, one laughs at jokes because that’s the correct thing to do in response to a joke; so, if familiarity and friendship and fatigue have turned the word “bees” into something you laugh at, has that sufficed to create a joke?
I’m also curious whether the chronicler meant that the ball was unusually lighted, or whether he meant the bees alighted on the ball.