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There are 10 types of people in the world…

There’s an old joke, popular with nerds like me:

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world:
Those who know binary, and those who do not.

Very true, but hardly helpful if you don’t know binary. The joke depends on the fact that in binary notation, “10” is actually 2 in the more normal decimal numbering.

I won’t try to teach binary numbers here. It’s actually pretty cool; you can count to a thousand on your fingers, impress your friends. There’s a good Wikipedia article here.

In the human world, it seems to me that there are two ways we can age.
1. We can turn inward, mourning our lost youth, focusing on our own increasing decrepitude, fearful of our impending demise.
2. We can accept the facts, turn outward, help those around us to enjoy their own salad days.

It’s a matter of how one looks at the world, and sad to say that after a lifetime of habits, far too many of us just go on doing what we’ve always done.

As we learnt in a previous blog post, “the one necessary ingredient in every successful joke is a sudden alteration in point of view”.

I see altering our point of view as often as possible the key to learning and developing in the world, rather than growing stale and selfish.

So humour keeps our minds flexible, our outlooks open, our lives joyful. Who do you want to be late in life? The sour old codger sitting glum in the corner, or the happy chap with an audience of children listening to jokes that are new and fresh – at least to them.

Of course, after a certain point it’s not the aches of the body that limit your enjoyment of the world so much as the limitations of the mind:

I went to dinner with my parents, who are getting on a bit, and after the main course, the women went into the kitchen to fetch dessert.

I said, “Dad, that’s a new perfume Mum is wearing, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said, “she got a bottle of some new brand.”

“I really like it,” I said. “I might get some for the wife. What’s it called?”

Dad thought for a bit, scratched his head, and asked, “What’s the name of that flower you give to someone you love, the one that is usually red that has thorns?”

“Oh, you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Dad said. Then he called to the kitchen, “Rose, what’s the name of that perfume you’re wearing?”

Copy and Paste

Many years ago, a celebrated Australian merchant banker published a book of jokes he’d compiled from email contributions. Released just before Christmas, it sold by the hundreds of thousands, and the “author” must have made a small fortune from the work of others.

I always thought this a little unfair. Sure, the jokes were good, but what merit is there in just having people send in their best jokes and printing them up in a collection as your own work?

I’ll admit straight up that few of the jokes on this site are my own original work. There’s a poem I wrote years ago that I’m rather proud of, but even that is based on an old story about Lionel Murphy in a lift.

And just how do you find out the copyright holder of some ancient riddle or knock-knock joke? There are some jokes that were old when I was in primary school knocking around here. They can be found in thousands of joke collections, and I’ll bet none of them are original.

That old classic, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” has its own Wikipedia entry, which sources it to 1847, though does not suggest it is original even then, and is a joke that everybody above the age of three is assumed to know.

There may be jokes which are new and original. I don’t know of any, but they may exist.

And what about a joke is original, anyway?

The humour? Most jokes rely upon a setting that can be found in many similar examples. Or in books and plays and operas going back centuries. Give me a joke and I’ll find the same situation, the same punchline, from your grandfather’s days.

Some puns, I’ll grant you, are obviously made up on the spot. I know several characters who can unleash pun after pun on any given subject, each one worse than the last. Get a few of these chaps – they are nearly always men of a certain age – together, and you will have an event you will never forget. At least until your ribs mend.

I can tinker with a joke, reframing it, changing words and names, modifying it to make it funnier. Does that give me copyright? In theory, it is the expression of a thought that is original work, and I can blithely lift jokes from other sites, modify them just enough to have a difference in wording, and present them as my own work.

Fooling nobody.

Let me give you an example. Here’s a joke I just put up, about two old geezers each thinking themselves still young and fresh, and here’s the source, which I am quite sure is not original in itself. (No, it’s not. a quick google of the punchline and the word “dentist” gives me nearly two thousand results!) I cut and pasted the original, changed the characters around, tidied it up, added some details, but it is still recognisably the exact same joke.

My input here is in selection. The internet is full of jokes. I could gather ten thousand in a day, by simply cutting and pasting from other sites. But most of them, at least to my eyes, are lame, full of loose grammar, unfunny, or just poorly worded.

And the few good ones appear time after time. I’ve got just over a hundred jokes on this site at time of writing, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t doubled up on any of them. Ask me the same question in a year, but…

Give me a page of (say) twenty-five jokes or riddles or knock-knocks, and I’ll discard twenty of them as not worth my effort. A couple I’ll have already included, and there may be one or two that strike me as funny. And, for this site, capable of eliciting a groan.

It strikes me that someone going through this site may have the same reaction – only a handful are worth the time to click through.

Well, sorry, but that’s the way it is. This site is made up of my choice of jokes that I found funny or eye-rollingly bad. Every one of them.

They may be freely republished, using the same chain of logic that led me to publish them here. It would be nice if any republication included a link, but I cannot insist upon it, as I very rarely do it myself.

There’s one caveat, and it’s the same one I observe. Don’t just cut and paste pages and pages of these jokes, word for word. Where’s the personal input in that?

If I were to take the book of jokes I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, scan the text in, repackage it as my own work, and try to make money off it, I would fully expect Penguin Books to take me to court, and I would expect to lose and pay damages, even though every single one of the jokes it contains has come from somewhere else and been copied many times since then.

So fee free to copy these jokes, tell them to friends and family, put them up on your Facebook page or blog. They are part of our shared culture and I can lay very little claim to them. I wouldn’t want to.

Just don’t copy the whole site and pass it off as your own, okay?

What makes a good bad joke?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been mining the internet for fool’s gold. And discovering that there’s an awful lot – I use the word “awful” advisedly – of fool’s dross along the way.

Here’s a sample of dross:
So yesterday I bought a gravy boat, then later went to Sushi Train. Gotta say, the food industry is really going places.

Well, there’s a theme going. Transport, food, wordplay, but despite the promise, it doesn’t really go anywhere. And, I hesitate to mention it, but the food industry is going places in real life. Pizza delivery, UberEats, semi-trailers full of beef or milk or bread. It’s all around us.

So where’s the surprise? It’s lame, it’s desperation pun, it’s not going on this site.

The very next item – and I’m drilling down on a Facebook group called “DadJokes” here – is a nice little nugget.
Won my first cage fight today… the budgie didn’t know what hit him.

This is a good one-liner. It’s the last half that pulls it together, with the concept of a double incongruity: that someone could seriously think that a birdcage could be included in the “cage fight” category, and that a budgie would be anything like an even match.

Yes, I know it starts to break down if I analyse it too much, but the zinger is delivered in one word – “budgie” – and it’s a subtle punch in that the listener has to put two and two together to get the joke.

One minor criticism is that the payoff comes too early. For maximum effect, the punchline must come as late as possible:
Won my first cage fight today… that was one surprised budgie!

Humour is often a matter of individual taste. One man’s sideslapper is another’s blank stare, and it’s easy to stray into offensive territory. The sort of jokes you tell your mates down the pub after a few sherberts are probably not going to go down well at the church social. And versa vice, as they say in Vegas.

But there are certain rules and traditions. Isaac Asimov, in his Treasury of Humour, gives a pretty good rundown on the principles of humour. He says, “the one necessary ingredient in every successful joke is a sudden alteration in point of view” and for good measure, “the change in point of view should come, with as little warning as possible, in the last sentence.”

The one necessary ingredient in every successful joke is a sudden alteration in point of view. The change in point of view should come, with as little warning as possible, in the last sentence.

I urge all to read Asimov’s book. It is far from a dry treatise on the engineering of humour. He writes in an entertaining fashion and uses hundreds of examples to illustrate his points.

I won’t say I have a master’s understanding of humour, but like art, I know what makes me laugh. Or groan.

In separating gold from dross to include here, I’m using my own intuition as well as my own understanding of the basic principles of humour. My intention is to pull out as many good bad jokes as I can, maybe moosh a few dodgy ones into a better format, and just ignore the awful clangers.

I know humour’s a personal, changeable concept. I am sure that there will be those who won’t laugh, those who will be offended, those who will sigh.

And those who will laugh and groan in generous measure. It is for those precious few souls that I write.

Dud jokes

My father loved these. Bad jokes. Lame, groany, punny, eye-rolling jokes. Dad jokes.

In the days before smart phones or ipads or even car air conditioning, these were our entertainment system.

The essence of humour is surprise. An unexpected result, a break in routine, a switch in timing.

You want to learn the secret of humour? Go on, ask me what it is.
— Ok. What is the secre…
Timing!

A Dad joke – or as I call them here, because that domain name was already taken, a dud joke – contains a double shot. First, it should be funny in the conventional manner. Not necessary, but it helps a lot.

Second, and this is a must, the unexpected twist has got to be lame. Bad. A dud. Something that appears to have been thought up on the moment, or some obvious misunderstanding, or some stupid pun.

The pay-off isn’t a burst of laughter. It’s a heartfelt groan, or mass eye-rolling or, for family, an exasperated, “Daaaaaad!”

I do a little public speaking, and I always like to start with some audience engagement. Get them on their toes and hopefully keep them there. So I’ll look out into the hall and ask, “Are there any horse lovers in the audience tonight?”
One or two will raise their hands. Often some pretty young women – that’s extra good.
“Excellent!” I’ll say, beaming. “Because I brought along some throat lozenges!”

The pay-off isn’t a burst of laughter. It’s a heartfelt groan, or mass eye-rolling or, for family, an exasperated, “Daaaaaad!”

Dad jokes are humour stretched out and made visible for autopsy. The normal rules of story-telling do not apply. The focus is on the supposed joke thrust into public gaze.

In my example above, instead of what might reasonably be expected to be some anecdote about horses, my audience is forced to grasp the absurdity that I really meant “hoarse lovers” and that the pretty young women raising their hands at me have been screaming out in the throes of passion all night long and could benefit from a pastille of Fisherman’s Friend.

Frustration is the reaction. “Wot, that’s all there is?”

Yup. No cutesy horsey story. No freebie pony ride tickets in my pocket. Behold my pun, ye schmucks, and despair!

Sometimes the joke misfires. The shot goes over the heads of the targets. This is not a bad thing. If it takes a minute or two and an anguished groan is heard, that’s great.

If not, well, that’s something I can work on. A slight change in the phrasing or delivery, maybe.

Or – and this is something that doesn’t work in normal joke-telling – I can stop and explain the joke. Here is the professor of joke anatomy, standing over the pale corpse of a joke, pointing out the foo-foo valve to the keen students. And the groans will be all the louder.

Speaking of jokes and frustration, this website is the direct result. A really good (read bad) Dad joke would come along on my Facebook feed and I’d think, “Must remember that one for the family party next week.”

Of course, next week would roll along and the thing would have sunk to the bottom of my memory skip and I’d have to fall back on something that I’d told a thousand times before.

Funny once, funny always, right?

So this is a list of dud jokes for my future reference, so that I can forever be fresh and entertaining. Right?