Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"In Memoriam"

You know those jokes, like, for example, it’s the day after Lincoln’s assassination, and it’s like,

“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

And you hear the words,

“Too soon”?

Years later, you find yourself chuckling, and it’s like, “Oh yeah – the ‘Lincoln’ joke” –  and you know the moratorium is over.  Unless they just shot Garfield; then you have to wait again.  You think, “Now?”, and they shoot McKinley.  Somewhere after McKinley and before JFK, it seems permissible to laugh about Lincoln.  If you remember or care.  It was, by then, three assassinations ago. 

Well, sir and madam, just like there are jokes that are admittedly “Too soon”, there are other jokes – tons of them – that are, at this particular moment in history, “Too late.” 

Jokes that have exceeded their “Sell-By” dates and for one reason or another – chronological timing, altering mores, political correctness, or if you’re, “I hate that!” –  (in air quotes) “Political Correctness”  whatever the reason, you cannot tell them anymore.

What happens to those jokes? 

They go straight to the “Joke Cemetery” and they are planted in the ground.
No flowers.  No visits.  But put your ear down real close and you’ll hear,

“We used to be funny.”

I confronted a benign example of this phenomenon recently, when I told my daughter Anna about this New Yorker-style cartoon-joke I had made up but had submitted nowhere.

A man lies on the pavement under a new Prius, his upturned head all that is visible.  He turns to the car’s distraught driver and he says,

“These hybrids are quiet.”

My daughter responds, in a constructive although patronizing inflection:

“Dad.  That one needs to be retired.”

She was right.

It was too late for that joke.  Call the undertakers.  Hand me a shovel.

There are a lot of “Too late” jokes like that – dead and buried for various reasons.  (Courageous Confession:  Every one of the following jokes originally made me laugh real hard.  Not equally hard.  But some of them, I would just plutz.  Meaning, I totally “lost it.”)

(Personal Side Note:  I was never an enthusiast of ethnic humor.  “Jewish Jokes”?  I did not find them offensive, per se; they just didn’t seem to fit.  I am not cheap, and am a terrible businessman.  I started to feel like… you know those “Family Heritage” programs? – “I thought I was German but it turns out I’m Chinese”? – it was either, those “Jew Jokes” were harmlessly passé or I am less Jewish than I thought I was.)

Random Sampling from the “Dead Jokes Depository”:

“I stepped onto a scale the other day.  A card came out.  It said, ‘Come back alone.’”

“Fat” jokes.  Even when the comedian tells them on himself –

“Joke Cemetery” for them.  Along with “Short” jokes, “Bald” jokes and stuttering impressions.  Any bodily distinction – “R.I.P.”  (“Fart” jokes remain a “Gray Area.”)

One section along – 1950’s “Wife Humor.”

“My wife wanted me to take her someplace she had never been before.  So I took her to the kitchen.”

“Say ‘Good night’, Gracie” – those jokes are “adios.  (Etched nostalgically into the “Bad Cook” jokes’ headstone:  “They loved us in Vegas.”)

Myself, I was particularly partial to this “Female Driver” joke:

“My wife backed the car out of the garage this morning.  Which would have been fine, except she’d backed the car into the garage the night before.”

Totally sexist?  Absolutely.  Still, the image of a car barreling backwards through a garage wall… from a “Pure Comedy” standpoint… what?  Still not funny?

I am swimming against the tide here.  Not that I’m taking a stand here.  Merely a sociological investigation.

Last one – which I have mentioned before because it is one of my favorites.  You cannot tell it anymore, not because of questionable taste but because of its forgotten context.

Mrs. Schwartz and Mrs. Shapiro are perambulating the thoroughfare in Miami Beach, Florida.

MRS. SCHWARTZ:  “I’ve been to Europe three times.”

MRS. SHAPIRO:  “That’s nothing.  I was born there.”

Where is that glorious anachronism today?  Cremated and scattered to the winds.  And don’t even think about “updating” it.

“I’ve been to El Salvador three times.”

“That’s nothing.  I was born there”?

Utterly incomprehensible. 

Those jokes and countless others of their ilk:

“Yiscadal v’yiscadash…”  (Hebraic prayer for the “Departed”.)

“In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, between the punch lines, row on row.”

It is simply the way it is.  Which is interesting to remember next time a joke does not tickle your fancy?  Not funny?  Perhaps.  Or maybe it’s past its window of (mirthatorial) opportunity.

It’s a delicate enterprise, this comedy business.

At the optimal moment – “Those hybrids are quiet.”? –    


Now it’s pushing up the daisies.

Having never enjoyed its shot.


Good ol' Ed said...

Too real?

Horton said...

Maple Leafs, NHL celebrate 100 years of history with 'The Next Century Game'


Brief but interesting piece on your Leafs.