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My Arms Being Tired Implies That I Flew Here Without Mechanical Assistance

Over dinner Saturday night a four year-old told me this joke:

Him: Knock knock.

Me: Who's there?

Me: Undies.

Me: Undies who?

Him: Undies pants!

Yes, it lacks some of the surreal sublimity of the jokes found in the Achoo'nior repertoire, but y'gotta give the kid credit for having The World's Funniest Word (underpants) as a punchline and using a synonym for it (undies) in the setup. That youngster knows what the audience craves and, by gum, he gonna give it to 'em.

Speaking of jokes, I saw an ad for The Simpsons on TV the other day, which featured this snippet of comedy gold:

Home: You're sure spending a lot of time with Moe.

Bart: Yeah, he's like the father I never had.


Homer: Wait a minute: I'm your father!

It's so nice to see that the writers on The Simpsons have, at long last, adopted the Joke 3.0 format.

To put this in context, I'll need to give you a quick primer in the history of the joke.

Jokes originated in ancient Egypt, though the earliest consisted of only the straightline.

Sphinx: What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

Ramses II: I don't know.

Sphinx: No one does.

{Awkward silence}

Ramses II: I really think you should get that thing on your nose looked at.

Jokes persisted in this form for thousands of years. They were particularly popular with Zen monks, who would ask each other "What is the sound of one hand laughing?" or "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?" and then collapse into hysterics.

Then, in 1882, George Washington Carter revolutionized comedy with his invention of the punchline.

George Washington Carver: What do you call four nuns and a bicycle with no seat?

Nick Fury, who has been sent back in time to assassinate the grandfather of Benito Mussolini: I don't know, what?

George Washington Carver: Peanuts!

It took a few more years of combining various straightline and punchlines to refine the formula ("What's brown and sticky? Arr, it's drivin' me nuts!"), but soon the "joke" as we know it was perfected.

But did we Americans rest on our laurels? NO! In the late 20th century we pioneered Joke 3.0, which added a third line -- the explainline aftermirth -- to the equation. Pioneered by such ground-breaking shows as Home Improvement and the comic styling of Gallagher, the explainline aftermirth finally made humor accessible to everyone, even mooncalves like you and I.

Oh I get it: Homer is his father! It's funny because it's true!

So next time you tell your favorite joke, don't forget the explainline aftermirth:

Why are fish so smart?

Because they live in schools.

The word "school" could refer to either a group of fish or a place where children are educated!

Did you hear about the psychic in San Francisco who specialized in predicting bad breath?

Her sign read "Super California mystic, expert: halitosis."

The people in California are so dumb they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor -- you can't help but laugh!

Supreme Court Justice One: Who's there?

Supreme Court Justice Two: Undies.

Supreme Court Justice One: Undies who?

Supreme Court Justice Two: Undies pants!

Supreme Court Justice One: I'm afraid I'm still not entirely clear on who you are.

Supreme Court Justice Two: "Underpants" is the world's funniest word.

Supreme Court Justice One: Hahahaha!

And remember: it's innovations like Joke 3.0, born of pure Yankee ingenuity, that have made our nation the "shining city on the hill" it is today.

That's sarcasm. In truth the United States is not highly regarded in the International community!

Posted on June 13, 2006 to Observations


The straight-man-explaining-the-joke format is huge in Japanese comedy duos too... but that whole country is big on explaining stuff. I remember being at a park full of beautiful cherry blossoms only to have my morning interrupted by a tour guide on a loud, loud, megaphone explaining how peaceful and quiet the park was...

Posted by: cam c. on June 13, 2006 9:57 PM

If I leave a comment, will it be part of Joke 3.1, or Joke 4.0?

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on June 13, 2006 11:35 PM

I wonder if there is some way to make the explainline into a second punchline. Why, if you added an absurdline after the second punchline you might reach enlightenment.

As in: "What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vender?

Make me one with everything.

Since the Dalai Lama is Buddhists and Buddhists seek to dissolve the boundary between the self and the external world. Oh, and when you order one with everything at a hot dog stand you are asking for all available condiments to be put on it such as relish, catsup and mustard. Sometimes this could involve onions.

A thousand pounds of flax!"

It didn't work. How long does that explainline get to be, by the way?

Posted by: ozma on June 14, 2006 12:19 AM

I've been using the explainline for years. It's particularly necessary in my case because nobody ever gets my jokes. Or they just don't think I'm funny. But I am.

Me: Knock knock!
Them: Who's there?
Me: Interrupting bears.
Them: Interrupti-
Me: Rarrrrr...!!!
Them: What?
Me: -sigh- I just interrupted you, because I am an interrupting bear and that's what we do. We interrupt.
Them: Oh.

See? Funny.

Posted by: Jay on June 14, 2006 3:57 AM

You forgot Joke 2.5, which is monkeys in striped pants.

Posted by: silentdibs on June 14, 2006 4:24 AM

Excuse me, which ARE monkeys in striped pants.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 14, 2006 4:25 AM

Nope, it IS monkeys in striped pants. It (Joke 2.5) IS monkeys in pants, rather than it ARE monkeys in striped pants. Oh wait, this should be on the Grammaramama post...

Posted by: Nick on June 14, 2006 5:52 AM

I've heard that story before, only the guy was missing a foot.

Posted by: Robin on June 14, 2006 5:58 AM

Ummmmm . . . .while this is patently obvious, I think you've mistaken the Simpsons joke as a format 3.0, when it is actually form 2.75- Simpsons. This format is:

Straight line.
Look, Homer's dumb!

The audience is presumed to be amused by the actual joke, but extra hilarity is added by the addition of 'Comic Flavoring' in the form of poking fun of Homer's mental failings.

This is along the lines of the supposedly amusing characters seen on latino variety program intended to point out when the audience should laugh. Often having diminutive names and looking like a member of some child-abducting cult, these characters serve only as a foil and extra 'Comic Flavoring.'

Really, the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

(Thank you, I'll be here all week, try the veal!)

Posted by: Kevin on June 14, 2006 6:10 AM

I beg to differ - "underpants" is not the funniest word in the English language, it's the third funniest. "Booger" is the funniest, followed very closely by "ribbit."

Incidentally, the funniest word in Spanish is "hablaba." There is no funniest word in French; they're all kinda funny. Especially when you see them written.

Posted by: Savida on June 14, 2006 7:21 AM

Oh, the explanation for the punchline in this post is just brilliant!

Thank you for clarifying that!

Posted by: C.E. Lopes on June 14, 2006 7:33 AM

Would it be obnoxious to point out that it is George Washington Carver?

Too late, I already did.

Posted by: Emily on June 14, 2006 7:42 AM

I dont think it is obnoxious at all. If you didnt, I would have.

Posted by: Mike on June 14, 2006 7:47 AM

Correction Savida, the funniest word in Spanish is "abagado"...especially if you say it really fast and slightly higher than your normal speaking pitch. You'll sound like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Posted by: Ryan on June 14, 2006 8:21 AM

No, I think hablaba is funnier. Say it over and over -- you don't have to be drunk or sleepy to find it funny!

Posted by: Genevieve on June 14, 2006 9:11 AM

I'm still confused on the reasonings behind the american creation of Joke 3.0.

Was it to create another laugh? Or was it to explain why your joke was funny to an inept audience?

The only way it could be considered for another leaugh is if the joke is delivered between other parties than the audience. I you told me a joke in 3.0 format, I would just be annoyed by the explainline. If I heard you tell a joke to somone else in 3.0 format, I might think the explainline was funny, because that other persons level of intelligence is much lower than mine. Not only do I find that comical, but it gives me a feeling of superiority.

Posted by: Micah on June 14, 2006 9:27 AM

In my moderate experience with Spanish, the funniest word I've come across is 'embarasada', which sounds like a cognate for 'embarrassed' but actually means 'pregnant'. But that word's only really funny when beginning Spanish speakers whose first language is English try to talk about how embarrassed they are.

If you ask my 7th-grade Spanish class, the single funniest word in Spanish is the first-person past tense of the verb 'to put': puse, pronounced POO-ssay.

Posted by: Damon on June 14, 2006 10:03 AM

Oops, I forgot the Joke 3.0 punchline:

See, because it starts with 'poo', which is super-funny, and also because it evokes a slang term for female genitalia.

Posted by: Damon on June 14, 2006 10:07 AM

I'm pretty sure there are many funny words in French, the top two being pneu (puh-new) and tuyau(twee-yoh). French is a hilarious language, especially once you realize that the verb for to steal and to fly are the same.

I always have to use an explainline. All of my family's jokes are horribly intelligent.

Posted by: Rachel on June 14, 2006 10:48 AM

Ah, 7th grade. Damon, you bring back memories.

I was going to a French Immersion school in Canada (all classes conducted in French, but the kids were all native English speakers), and the boys would keep asking the girls how do you say "chicken my rooster" in French. (The answer being "poulet mon coq.")

Posted by: Savida on June 14, 2006 10:59 AM

Then there's the Spanish word for comb--peine--which, while not funny in and of itself, possesses an inordinate potential for humor because it is pronounced almost exactly like the word pene, meaning penis. I know a student who got pregnant at a drug store in Costa Rica because of this.

Or, you know, was embarrassed when she realized she had asked the young man behind the counter if he had a penis.

Posted by: Jennifer on June 14, 2006 11:03 AM

The mention of "Super California Mystic" joke is actually a slight degradation from the original:

"Did you ever hear what Mary Poppins did after she got out of the nanny business?
She moved to Los Angeles where she opened a fortune telling shop that specialized in the prediction of bad breath. Her sign read 'Super California Mystic - Expert: Halitosis'"

[Now, to add the Joke 3.0 part.]

It's a pun on the famous song in the movie bearing her name.

This joke won Games magazine's contest for bad puns back in the early 80's. I had trouble remembering most of the other candidate jokes, but that one stuck in my mind.

Posted by: Happy on June 14, 2006 2:01 PM

Preemptive explainline: And then there's the version that goes...

Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Posted by: Jennifer on June 14, 2006 4:02 PM

Don't forget Joke 3.775 - The Long Story Short

Goes something like this...

I was walking down the street one day and I met my best friend Bill. So Bill and I go to this coffee shop. He mentions how he just got a new job at the Post Office.

Well, long story short, MC Hammer is my dad!

(Joke works better in real life, especially if the joke teller is drastically white.)

Posted by: Karl on June 14, 2006 8:32 PM

don't give up on the simpsons (totally)

Posted by: bob on June 14, 2006 9:10 PM

The funniest word in any language is the Dutch word for shop: winkel. The Dutch for shopping cart is winkel wagon which is double-funny.

Posted by: curtaink on June 15, 2006 12:43 AM

I was looking up something in the glossary of my Spanish book in the 12th grade and came across the word "tonto", which meant "stupid". Totally ruined my appreciation of The Lone Ranger.

Posted by: C. on June 15, 2006 5:56 AM

Once, I told a Zen Master this joke:

A guy goes to see his Doctor. He says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this!"

The Doctor say, "Don't do that!"

He gave me a stern look.

I bumped into him in Chicago a few years later, and he told me it still wasn't funny, but it did make him think.

Posted by: Bob (prime) on June 15, 2006 1:00 PM

The funniest word in Spanish is, in fact, a tie between "trabajaba" and "ganaria" - the first because it sounds even funnier than "hablaba"; the second, because it sounds like VD. Everyone loves a good VD joke.

Posted by: ginnie on June 15, 2006 2:27 PM

I've been having to add an explaination to my favorite joke for decades, and it only makes people edge away.

Q: Why did the Surrealist cross the road?

A: (with a far-off look) The Fish...

(blank stare)

Q: What's a surrealist?


Posted by: Mary the Avenger on June 15, 2006 10:21 PM

OH! Now I get it.

Posted by: Joel on June 16, 2006 1:06 PM

The "abagado" joke made me snort, but I'd have to agree with "puse," because I too, as a young 7th grader, thought this was hilarious.

I have a CD of Les Miserables sung in French, and the song "Turning" is "Tourne," I believe. This sounds like "tuna" to my ear, and I can't even listen to the song, because I just hear women saying, "tuna, tuna" over and over again.

Posted by: Kate on June 16, 2006 5:13 PM

For whatever it's worth, the Spanish word is actually, abogado.

Posted by: Ellen on June 17, 2006 4:19 AM

Unless you're a female lawyer!

Posted by: Betsy on June 17, 2006 6:34 AM

I, for one, LOVE the explainline, especially when used by Conan O'Brien.

1) Conan makes a joke about Britney Spears.
2) Dead silence.
3) Pause. "Her boobs are HUGE!"
4) Applause and laughter.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 17, 2006 9:22 PM

Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but Ellen's right. It is abogado and, for a female, abogada.

Posted by: Jennifer on June 18, 2006 9:05 AM

That last joke (Conan O'Brien), is in the Joke 4.0(beta) format. 4.0b is a flashing sign telling you to 'applause and laughter'. While its still in its trial stage the signs are limited to tv studio live audiences, and it appears to be successful.

I hear they plan to roll it out world-wide after this season repeat of 'America's Funniest Home Videos'.

I've pre-ordered my sign.

Posted by: nzruss on June 20, 2006 2:45 PM

True story: I was trying to set up to play this coffeehouse gig, and had to wait for this artist to finish hanging his artwork, which consisted of descriptions of paintings typed on 3x5 cards, hung in the place of actual paintings. He looked at me, and said, "It's descriptions of paintings hung in place of actual paintings. That's the irony."

"Oh, I see," I replied. "Jokes are always funnier when you explain them. That's the sarcasm."

The funniest part was the pain in the young artist's eyes as he realized his whole life was a sham, but there was no getting out of it now.

Posted by: HP on June 21, 2006 9:41 AM

Sadly, the explainline (which in this case does not follow a joke and thus is not the aftermirth) is a common staple of news articles. It's that line at the very end that lowers the bar for the readership, in case the concepts of the bulk of the article were too high-falutin'. It's usually a deadpan line that explains the staggeringly obvious. "Senator Kerry was the former Democratic Presidential Candidate." "Scientists are people who study things." "The congressman could not be reached for comment on these new allegations." And so on.

Posted by: LAN3 on June 21, 2006 11:50 AM

Then there's always mock-euphemisms:

Torture = freedom hugging

Gravity = Intelligent Falling

Condi Rice = Madame Torture

The Daily Show Headlines are experts at mocking the cute puns of the Mainstream Media.

Posted by: Karl on June 21, 2006 9:59 PM

At work we use the Spanish phrase "cabeza de Ricardo" because we don't know Spanish for penis. We also think we're pretty funny.

Posted by: butter_art on June 22, 2006 4:16 PM

First it is booger, then doody, then underpants. Bodily functions, especially those that have an aftermath, always trump articles of clothing. Except, of course, when those articles of clothing receive the aftermath during the course of the humor.

So here's a joke:

Me: How many George Washington Carters does it take to invent peanut butter?
You: One.
Me: Doodyhead!

The Aftermirth: on account of the Carver family begs you to get their name right. Jeez, who did you have for third grade?

Posted by: pjcamp on June 22, 2006 11:06 PM

Someone once told me that in some Spanish dialect "sakapuntas" means "pencil sharpener". Throughout our undergraduate college careers we considered it to be the funniest word in existence - mainly because it sounds like a vile dirty Spanish curse word, but is relatively harmless...

Or so we thought. I could never establish if it was a real word or not. I asked quite a few latin people to clarify and some of them were familiar with it, some said it was not even a word, and some said they never heard it but it kinda made sense.

Posted by: Luke on June 23, 2006 10:55 AM

I, too, have suffered through the explanation line. One of my favorite jokes goes like this:

Me: What's the difference between Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson?

Them: I don't know!

Me: Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and Michael Jackson.......has sex with little kids!

Me: *Sigh* Instead of the moonwalk. Because that's the dance that he's famous for. See, you thought I was going to say moonwalk, but I didn't.

Them: Oh.

Posted by: Mr. Ben on June 29, 2006 1:44 PM

M. French is way funnier than Spanish.
T. Why?
M. Balzac! Rimbaud! Balzac! Rimbaud!
T. *blank look*
M. You get to say "Ballsack" and "Rambo" all day long and you sound smart.

Posted by: michelle on July 2, 2006 1:48 PM

My little brother could never get jokes. We always had to tack on an explainline for his benefit, so he grew up thinking that was how a joke was meant to go.

Here is one of his inventions, which would probably be improved by an explainline. Or not.

Q: What do you get if you modify a skunk on the carpet?
A. A smack bottom.

Posted by: Nick Kiddle on August 20, 2006 2:19 PM