The death of joke-telling

Be­fore the In­ter­net, jokes were told faceto-face, but not any­more; now they go viral via e-mail.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Mary sch­nei­der Check out Mary on Face­book at www.face­book.com/mary.sch­nei­der. writer. Reader re­sponse can be di­rected to star2@thes­tar.com.my.

I’M TER­RI­BLE at re­mem­ber­ing jokes. If some­one tells me a joke in the morn­ing, and even if it’s the most hi­lar­i­ous thing I’ve ever heard, I will have for­got­ten most or all of it by night­fall. And there’s noth­ing worse than try­ing to tell a din­ner-time joke that you can only half re­mem­ber.

A typ­i­cal retelling with me of­ten goes some­thing like this: “Have you heard the one about the Malaysian who de­cided to go sky­div­ing? Just as he was about to jump out of the plane, he turned to the in­struc­tor and said, ‘What will hap­pen if …’ Wait a minute, he wasn’t Malaysian, he was Scot­tish. And I think it was scuba-div­ing. What the heck! More mashed pota­toes?”

None­the­less, I do have one joke that I have mem­o­rised and can re­gur­gi­tate when­ever nec­es­sary.

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The driver says, “Ugh, that’s the ugli­est baby I’ve ever seen.”

The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fum­ing. She says to a man next to her, “The driver just in­sulted me.” The man says, “You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your mon­key for you.”

Peo­ple just don’t seem to tell jokes any more. There used to be a time when there was a “teller of jokes” at most so­cial gath­er­ings – some­one who could be counted on to re­cite their reper­toire of funny lines to liven things up. And it didn’t mat­ter if a few bad jokes were thrown into the mix, be­cause they were usu­ally met with feigned groans from the lis­ten­ers, adding to the fun.

I sus­pect the ad­vent of the In­ter­net fore­shad­owed the de­cline in the num­ber of peo­ple telling jokes. In pre-In­ter­net days, jokes usu­ally trav­elled by word of mouth. If some­one told you a funny story, you would be more in­clined to make an ef­fort to try and re­mem­ber it so you could tell it to some­one else later on.

How­ever, as soon as peo­ple be­gan get­ting con­nected to the In­ter­net, jokes started go­ing viral via e-mails. It was no longer nec­es­sary to re­mem­ber a joke to retell it face-to-face to some­one in the real world.

All you had to do was press the “For­ward” but­ton. At the same time, an en­tire ar­ray of jokes be­came avail­able as web­sites, which were noth­ing more than joke repos­i­to­ries, be­gan spring­ing up all over cy­ber­land. These sites en­cour­aged more peo­ple to copy their favourites, paste them into an e-mail and send them to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one in their ad­dress book.

Al­most as soon as I’d set up my first e-mail ac­count, a joke ar­rived in my In­box. “That’s nice,” I thought. “It’s al­ways good to start the day off with a laugh.” But a few months later, my In­box was full of jokes. It seemed that most ra­tio­nal peo­ple, folks who weren’t es­pe­cially adept at telling jokes face-to-face, were flood­ing my e-mail ac­count with un­so­licited gags.

Some­times, I would re­ceive the same joke from up to 10 dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Not funny at all. And some peo­ple with ex­cep­tion­ally bad mem­o­ries would for­ward the same joke two or three times over an ex­tended pe­riod.

The law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns quickly set in and I be­gan to delete many jokes un­read. It got to the stage where I would down­load my e-mail and find my­self say­ing: “Not an­other bloody joke. I’m fed up with jokes. If I see an­other joke in my In­box, I’m go­ing to scream.”

Over time, the jokes pe­tered out, pos­si­bly be­cause most peo­ple re­alised that they’d read ev­ery­thing be­fore, and it didn’t merit a re-run. Or it could be that more and more peo­ple be­gan shar­ing their fun­nies on so­cial me­dia sites like Face­book, there­fore by­pass­ing e-mail al­to­gether.

These days, I sel­dom re­ceive jokes via e-mail, but when I do, I en­joy them – show­ing that you re­ally can have too much of a good thing.

Now that I have your un­di­vided at­ten­tion, let me close with an­other joke. And in case you haven’t read a blonde joke be­fore, blon­des are of­ten de­picted as lack­ing in grey mat­ter. Not that I sub­scribe to this stereo­type, mind you.

A young blonde fears her hus­band is hav­ing an af­fair. She goes to a gun shop and buys a hand­gun. The next day she finds him in bed with a red­head. She grabs the gun and holds it to her own head. The hus­band jumps off the bed and starts beg­ging and plead­ing with her not to shoot her­self. Hys­ter­i­cally, the blonde re­sponds to the hus­band: “Shut up, you’re next.”

In hind­sight, per­haps I should have deleted that one.

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