CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For years I've been embarrassed over being incapable of telling a joke out loud without botching the punch line. Turns out I was simply ahead of my time. I was telling anti-jokes and didn't know it. Seems I'm not defective after all. I'm a specialist.
I'd never even heard of anti-jokes until my teenage daughter recently began rattling off one after another, which she was reading on Twitter.
"What's green and has wheels?"
"I dunno. What?"
"Grass. I lied about the wheels. What did the farmer say when he lost his tractor?"
"I have no idea. What?
"Where's my tractor?"
It was, in a way, like being transported back through time to when, at age 5, Celeste learned her first joke. ("Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.") So amused was she by this joke that she honed the telling of it to perfection by telling it a few hundred times in rapid succession. In a single day.
I would've sworn that joke could never be funny again. And then she told me the anti-version.
"Why is 6 afraid of 7?" Celeste asked.
Before I could reply, she said, "It isn't. Numbers are not sentient and thus are incapable of feeling fear."
Most anti-jokes are spin-offs of familiar old jokes, except the punch lines are altered in such an absurd way that the revised is often more funny (I think) than the original.
"A duck walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'What'll it be?' But the duck doesn't say anything because it's a duck."
"A man walks into a bar. Except it was a metal bar, like a pole, and it hurt."
Or (my favorite):
"A dyslexic man walks into a bra."
I come by my appreciation of anti-jokes likely because of something that happened ages ago, on a road trip to the Ozarks for a family reunion. While on our way there, Dad told a long, drawn-out joke about a polar bear that had no punch line whatsoever. We thought it was awful. Gave him a hard time about it.
But once we were at the reunion, my brother and I were soon begging Dad to tell his polar bear joke. When he got to the end of it, Kurt and I were laughing hysterically. Some relatives joined us, either pretending to get the joke or unable to resist laughing too, while the rest stared at us like we'd lost our minds.
All week long, as the crowd changed, Dad would be asked to retell his joke. More would be in on it every time, laughing so hard there were tears. And confusion.
Some of these anti-jokes strike that same chord in me -- funny for no reason at all. Others are wrong in a way that makes me uncomfortable, and even though I don't want to laugh, sometimes I just can't help myself. For instance,
"Why did Suzie drop her ice cream?"
"Because she got hit by a bus."
It wasn't that joke, but the one that immediately followed that got me.
Bar jokes are rampant, especially ones involving animals.
"A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, 'Why the long face?' The horse says, 'I just lost my job.'"
"A horse walks into a bar. Several people get up and leave as they spot the potential danger in the situation."
Poetry is also occasionally rewritten into anti-joke form. For instance:
"Roses are red. Violets are blue. Some poems rhyme. This one doesn't."
"Roses are gray. Violets are gray. I'm a dog."
The beauty of anti-jokes are is that if you mess them up, no one knows the difference.
So if you're one of the many who has long avoided telling jokes for fear of ruining the punch line, your time has come.
We plan to meet at the bra.
Reach Karin Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.