That joke isn’t funny any more

By Christian Nielsen

What passes as a good in the office or at a party nowadays? Not much, it seems, unless you’ve got your smart phone programmed to prompt you with context-aware gags, or to pop up with the latest ‘funny’ video showing some guy catching laptops between his butt cheeks.

14 August 2009

When was the last time you stood around the water cooler or bar and a ‘funny (wo)man’ reeled off a series of New Zealander or Irish jokes? You know like, “Why do [insert nationality] shag sheep against a cliff? So they push back harder. Why shag em on their back? So you can kiss em at the same time.” 

The jokes varied depending on politics, racial makeup, or the usual stereotypical material. They didn’t have to be terribly topical – they were usually just a way of showing your repertoire, lightening a mood, or killing time.

In some ways, the internet, emails and all manner of hand-held machines have done away with the time-honored tradition of joke-telling. Perhaps we literally can’t remember the jokes – our brains are tuned for (Google) search rather than memory recall. Or maybe we just forget how worthwhile it is having a couple tucked up your sleeve for an awkward business meeting or dinner with the in-laws. 

It could also have something to do with lost oral tradition. Long gone are the days when foul-breathed uncles regaled the children with war stories (okay, so they’re not usually funny), or the time Lenny Henry came to town (still not funny), or the English batting performance in the fourth Ashes test in 2009 (funny, if you’re Australian).

 It could be that the political correctness movement killed off old-school jokes. A quick look over the shoulder before the roma routine starts up. The stunned silence at the buffet table as you liken cold cuts to women’s parts, or cheeses to men’s.

Actually, on second thoughts, the answer to the question of what killed the ‘have-you-heard-the-one about’ joke is that they just weren’t funny. Maybe we have the internet to thank for raising the funny bar.

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