The Basement Files

Anatomy of a failed joke


I’m not going to talk about the weather. I’m not going to talk about the weather. I’m not going to. It’s spring for crying out loud. Why do I have to scrape my windshield.

Sorry, I had to vent. But seriously, I’m getting sick of winter. It’s seriously cutting into my outdoor cigar time. My relaxation time to kick back with a freshly brewed glass of iced tea, puff on a big, stinky cigar which you shouldn’t do kids, it’s a bad habit) and chat up anyone who stops by and tells stupid jokes.

I like stupid jokes. I don’t think that’s much of a surprise to anyone who has read this column a time or two. And I like to think that most of the time that a majority of the buffoonery I write at least offers a good chuckle.

There has been a time or two, however, and I’m not afraid to admit it, that some of these stupid jokes fall flat, crash and burn and make you look even more like an idiot than you publicly claim.

Most of the time, these jokes work well in my screwed up head. Looking at them, they are kind of funny, but something went wrong. Let’s take a look at a quip I made a few years back. I don’t remember the context (tells you how well this one went over,) but it ended with my friend ordering “eggs Benedict.” So, I said something about a new menu item called “Eggs Benedict Ah-Nold,” as in, “Schwarzenegger.” It also worked because of the whole “Benedict Arnold” angle, and should have been good for a chuckle, but I took it too far.

My friend asked, “What’s in it.”

I replied “it’s the same thing, but with sausage patties.”

That line killed the joke, since I had to explain it. Why sausage patties? Because they were “beefcakes,” even though I’m pretty sure they were actually pork. The reason this one failed is because, as I said, I took it too far. It’s a major pitfall easy to fall in if you are a quick witted. Besides, if you have to explain it, it already failed.

Speaking of explaining things, another joke that I still find kind of funny, failed for another reason. That was the general public’s lack of general knowledge of the French language. Now, to qualify, I don’t know French. I’m not even a fan of the way it sounds, but that’s just part of my quirky nature. One of these day’s I’ll tell you the story of why I absolutely loathe the word “queue.”

That being said, there is a particular French phrase in case you haven’t been paying attention for the last 30 seconds, that is rather common in the writing community, “nom de plume,” or “pen name.” Authors have used these for years. Stephen King published books under the “nom de plume” of Richard Bachman, for example. Heck, this is even a common practice in Hollywood. You may not know the name Carlos Estevez, but you know his “nom de plume” of Charlie Sheen.

Now, I know the joke has failed already because I had to explain it, but this one was salvageble. It originally came up while a friend and I were watching “The Glutton Bowl,” an overly disgusting TV eating competition, and some of the contestants were using “nom de plumes,” such as “The Gorge-inator” and names like that. So, being up on Internet lingo, I snarkly put forth, “So, I guess that’s his ‘nom-nom’ de plume!”
Of course, “nom nom” is Internet lingo for “eating,” for those not up on pop culture. The phrase irritates the heck out of my mother, but I still liked the joke. But using French was a bad idea. I had to explain it, and it killed the moment.

Now, unlike the previous joke, this one could have been saved with a simple wording change. I could have used the English translation “pen name,” and said, “So, I guess that’s their ‘pig pen’ name!” It’s not as clever, but probably would have gotten a chuckle.

So, what did we learned today? If you want to make snarky quips for laughs, don’t overthink it, don’t use foreign languages and keep it short Remember, if you think a joke is funny and it’s more complicated than a “knock-knock” joke, most people won’t find it funny. Except me, but then, I’ve always been a bit odd.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.