Monday, June 4, 2018

"Origin Of A Joke Format"

Baby Golda was crying inconsolably.

Anna said, “Dad.  Tell her a joke.”

I turned to the squalling infant and said,

“The doctor gave me six months to live.  I told him I couldn’t pay the bill.  He gave me another six months.”

And would you believe it?

She just kept on crying.

“Hold on a second.”

What’s wrong?

“I think my brain is messed up.”


“I thought you already wrote this last Friday.”

I did.

“Oh, good.  Then yourbrain is messed up.”

An easily provable charge, but not in this case.  I reprise that Friday “Post Opening” because I noticed that, with its creation, I had paid homage – a polite euphemism for “stolen” – a joke format I truly appreciate, originally introduced to me by comedian Stanley Myron Handleman.  

I shall now reveal that inspirational joke.

“So first, you pilfer his format, then steal his entire joke?”

As a tribute to his lasting effect on me.

“Oh, then it’s okay.”

Was that sarcastic?


I’m deciding to move on.

“Is that was they call in court pleading ‘Nolo contendere’?”

I don’t know Latin.

“Yes, you do.”

Moving… on!  (My “Inner Voice” can be such a nuisance!)


Stanley Myron Handleman was a tall, deadpan comedian, sporting large horn-rimmed glasses and a tweed workman’s “cloth cap”, specializing in what I call “It” comedy.

“It” comedy involves a joke or anecdote where the punchline is not a switch on the listener’s expectations – verbal or narrative – but is instead what the situation literally predicts.

e.g. – a bawling baby you tell an old joke to who does notabruptly stop crying and say, “He gave him another six months.  Iget it” but instead keeps making a racket.

Why do I like “It” comedy? Because its unanticipated payoff… the joke, in a way, is actually on the listener, for expecting anything other than what, in that particular circumstance, would reasonably occur.  The “comedic surprise” is no surprise at all. 

This “no-joke” joke approach succeeds because we are so attuned to the comedic “twist”, that, for meat least, a joke with no“twist” feels refreshingly liberating.

And my first experience with that unconventional joke style was hearing Stanley Myron Handleman.

Handleman was riffing on the idea that if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room they would eventually come up with the entire works of William Shakespeare.

The following is my approximation of that joke. 

“I wanted to test that theory out.  Because I wasn’t sure I believed it.  So I gathered together an infinite number of monkeys and I put them in a room – it was a really big room – and then I went away for a while, you know, to see what the monkeys would do.  And when I came back later and looked in the room…

“… They were just fooling around.”

You see?  

That’s “It” comedy.

I love “It” comedy. But I may possibly be in the minority.

It’s not like Stanley Myron Handleman ever played any stadiums.
Bonus Addition( for personal comparison.)

Bob Newhart, a highly gifted comedian in his own right, used the same setup for telling a joke of his own. 

“So I put them all in a room, and when I came back, I picked up a sheet of paper one of the monkeys was writing on, and it read,

“To be or not to be.  That is the… gniginoggin…”

That’s funny too. (You may actually think it’s funnier.) But it’s not “It” comedy.  It’s the mathematical “close-but-no-cigar” comedy of a man who used to be an accountant.  Which was precisely what Bob Newhart previously did for a living.

Handleman’s joke is more real.

The fact is most monkeys can’t even hold a pencil.

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