Jokes That Aged Badly

I’ve lately taken an interest in collecting jokes that haven’t aged well. By which I mean: jokes that no longer work, or require explanation, because they’re conceptually ‘dated’. Typically, these jokes aren’t funny any more, or are only funny to people who were around at the time that they were first conceived, and I imagine that we, as a civilisation, are necessarily relegating more and more jokes into this particular category as time goes on.

A man used to make his wife go to bed first in the winter-time, caller her his warming-pan; which she not well relishing, one night left something smoaking in his place. Finding himself in a stinking pickle: Wife, said he, I am beshit: No, husband, said she, it is only coal dropt out of your warming-pan!
I don’t mean outdated like this joke, published in 1803, but ones that require explanation because a listener is no longer likely to recognise the concepts or people referenced. For example, if it were the case that warming pans were now such an alien concept that nobody knew what they were any more, then the above would certainly qualify (that’s not true yet… right?).

My favourite joke of this category is the following classic student joke, which was relevant when I first heard it in the 1990s:

What’s pink and takes an hour to drink?

Grant cheque

By way of explanation: the grant cheque was how British students used to receive their government aid to support them during their studies. It had become gradually smaller (relative to the value of the pound) over time by failing to rise in value in line with inflation, and was printed on pink paper, hence the joke. There was an effort to revive it in the late 1990s/early 2000s as follows:

What’s green and takes an hour to drink?

Loan cheque

By this point, the grant had been replaced by the student loan, whose payments came printed on green paper instead. This is, of course, simply an example of adapting an old joke for a new audience, as we’ve all seen time and again with the inevitable string of recycled gags that get rolled-out every time a celebrity is accused of a sex crime. Incidentally, the revised form of the grant cheque/loan cheque joke has itself become dated as students now typically receive all of their loan payments directly to their bank accounts for convenient immediate spending rather than what my generation had to do which was to make the beans-and-rice stretch another few days until the cheque cleared.

An idiot asks a silversmith to make him a lamp. 'How big do you want me to make it?' the silversmith asks. 'Big enough for eight people to see by.'
This 4th/5th century joke (presented with a contemporary translation) doesn’t count, because it’s still flipping hilarious.

Here’s another example:

Bill and Ben the flower pot men are in the garden.

“Flobalobalobalob,” says Bill

Ben replies: “You’re drunk, Bill.”

Now those of you who are about my age, or older, are unlikely to see why this joke has dated badly. But it is dated, because the 2001 reboot of The Flower Pot Men (now called simply Bill and Ben) features the titular characters speaking in reasonably-normal English! The idea that they were only speaking Oddle Poddle because they were too pissed to speak English is no longer a point of humour, and increasingly the population won’t remember the original stilted dialect of the flower pot men. If we assume that anybody under the age of 24 is more-likely to have come across the newer incarnation then that’s a third of the population!

Let’s try another, which became dated at about the same time:

Why are hurricanes names after women?

Because when they come they’re wet and wild and when they go they take your house and your car.

The history of how we’ve named hurricanes over the centuries is really quite interesting, and its certainly true that for the majority of the period during which both meteorologists and the general public have shared the same names for tropical storms they’ve been named after women. Depending on where you are in the world, though, it’s not been true for some time: Australia began using a mixture of masculine and feminine names during the 1970s, but other regions took until the millennium before they followed suit. However, the point still remains that this joke has been dated for a long while.

Eye of a storm.
Why is a topical joke like a tropical storm?
When it comes, you’ve never seen anything like it. By the time it goes, you’re sick of it.

Here’s a very highly-charged joke from the 1960s which I think we can all be glad doesn’t make much sense any more:

What’s all black and comes in an all white box?

Sammy Davis Jr.

For those needing the context: Sammy Davis Jr. was a black American singer, comedian, and variety show host who triggered significant controversy when he married white Swedish actress May Britt. Interracial marriage was at the time still illegal across much of the United States (such prohibition wouldn’t be ruled unconstitutional until the amazingly-named “Loving Day” in 1967) and relationships between whites and “coloureds” were highly taboo even where they weren’t forbidden by law.

Topical jokes like that are often too easy, like this one – even shorter-lived – from the summer of 1995, presented here with no further interpretation:

Q: What’s the difference between O. J. Simpson and Christopher Reeve?

A: O. J.’s gonna walk!

Perhaps my favourite strictly-topical joke of this variety, though, comes from 1989:

Q: Why is Margaret Thatcher like a pound coin?

A: She’s thick, brassy, and she thinks she’s a sovereign.

It’s at least two-thirds funny even if you don’t have the full context, and that’s what’s most-interesting about it: it’ll take until the new £1 becomes ubiquitous and the old one mostly-forgotten before it will lose all of its meaning. But as you’ve probably forgotten why the third part of the punchline – “…and she thinks she’s a sovereign” – comes from, I’ll illuminate you. The joke is wordplay: there are two meanings to “sovereign” in this sentence. The first, of course, is that a sovereign is the bullion coin representing the same value as a conventional pound coin.

To understand the second, we must first remind ourselves of the majestic plural, better known as the “royal ‘we'”. In 1989, following the birth of her grandson Michael, Thatcher made a statement saying “we have become a grandmother”, resulting in much disdain and mockery by the press at the time. The Prime Minister’s relationship with the Queen had always been a frosty one, and Thatcher’s (mis)use of a manner of speech that was typically reserved for the use of royalty did nothing to make her look any more-respectful of the monarch.

1952 advertisement for Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
And you thought it was just something to put in your penis. Turns out it’s something to put in your lungs, too.

The final example I’ve got died out as a joke as a result of changing brand identities, more cost-effective packaging materials, and the gradual decline of tobacco smoking. But for a long while, while Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco was still sold in larger quantities as it always had been, in a can, a popular prank perpetrated by radio stations that went in for such things was to call a tobacconist and ask, “Have you got Prince Albert in can?”. The tobacconist would invariably answer in the affirmative, at which point the prankster would response “Well let him out then!” This joke may well predate the “Is your refrigerator running?” prank call that might be more-familiar to today’s audiences.

If you’ve got any jokes that have aged badly, I’d love to hear them. And then, I suppose, have them explained to me.

The Worst Joke I Ever Heard

I’d like to share with you the worst joke that I ever heard. Those of you who’ve heard me tell jokes before might think that you’ve already suffered through the worst joke I ever heard, but you honestly haven’t. The worst joke I ever heard was simply too awful to share. But maybe now is the time.

Children sweeping at Holme Slack playground.
The playground of Holme Slack Primary School, and the very wall that I was probably sitting on when I first heard this “joke”.

To understand the joke, though, you must first understand where I grew up. For most of my school years, I lived in Preston, in the North-West of England. After first starting school in Scotland, and having been brought up by parents who’d grown up in the North-East, I quickly found that there were a plethora of local dialect differences and regional slang terms that I needed to get to grips with in order to fit into my new environment. Pants, pumps, toffee, and bap, among others, had a different meaning here, along with entirely new words like belm (an insult), gizzit (a contraction of “give it [to me]”), pegging it (running away, perhaps related to “legging it”?), and kegs (trousers). The playground game of “tag” was called “tig”. “Nosh” switched from being a noun to a verb. And when you wanted somebody to stop doing something, you’d invariably use the imperative “pack it in!”

And it’s that last one that spawned the worst joke I ever heard. Try, if you can, to imagine the words “pack it in”, spoken quickly, in a broad Lancashire accent, by a young child. And then appreciate this exchange, which was disturbingly common in my primary school:

Child 1: Pack it in!

Child 2: Pakis don’t come in tins. They come from India.

In case it’s too subtle for you, the “joke” stems from the phonetic similarity, especially in the dialect in question, between the phrase “pack it in” and the phrase “paki tin”.

An opened food tin.
Unless the recent horsemeat scandal investigation takes a dramatic and unexpected twist, we can be pretty sure that this item contains no people from Pakistan.

In case you need to ask why this is the worst joke I ever heard, allow me to explain in detail everything that’s wrong with it.

It’s needlessly racist

Now I don’t believe that race is necessarily above humour – and the same goes for gender, sexuality, religion, politics, etc. But there’s difference between using a racial slur to no benefit (think: any joke containing the word “nigger” or “polak”), and jokes which make use of race. Here’s one of my favourite jokes involving race:

The Pope goes on a tour of South Africa, and he’s travelling in his Popemobile alongside a large river when he catches sight of a black man in the river. The man is struggling and screaming as he tries in vain to fight off a huge crocodile. Suddenly, the Pope sees two white men leap into the water, drag the man and the crocodile to land, and beat the crocodile to death with sticks, saving the black man’s life.

The Pope, impressed, goes over to where the two men are standing. “That was the most wonderful thing to do,” his holiness says. “You put yourselves at risk to kill the crocodile and save the life of your fellow man. I can see that it is men like you who will rebuild this country as an example to the world of true racial harmony.”

The Pope goes on his way. “Who was that?” asks one of the white men.

The other replies: “That was the Pope. He is in direct communication with God. He knows everything.”

“Maybe,” says the first, “But he knows fuck all about crocodile fishing!”

The butt of this joke is not race, but racists. In this example, the joke does not condone the actions of the ‘crocodile fishers’: in fact, it contrasts them (through the Pope’s mistake in understanding) to the opposite state of racial harmony. It does not work to reinforce stereotypes. Oh, and it’s funny: that’s always a benefit in a joke. Contrast to jokes about negative racial sterotypes or using offensive terms for no value other than for the words themselves: these types of jokes can serve to reinforce the position of actual racists who see their use (and acceptance) as reinforcement for their position, and – if you enjoy them – it’s worth asking yourself what that says about you, or might be seen to say about you.

"Bit it's asbestos it gets!" Click for full comic.
Among its other faults, the worst joke I ever heard relies upon an incredibly weak pun. It even makes this comic, by Completely Serious Comics, look good. [click for full comic]

It’s an incredibly weak pun

What would “paki tin” even mean, if that were what the first child had meant? It’s not as if we say “beans tin” or “soup tin” or “peas tin”. Surely, if this piece of wordplay were to make any sense whatsoever, it would have to be based on the phrase “tin of pakis”, which I’m pretty sure nobody has ever said before, ever.

To illustrate, let me have a go at making a pun-based joke without the requirement that the pun actually make sense:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Yoodough.

Yoodough who?

Youdough not understand how jokes are supposed to work, do you?

You see? Not funny (except perhaps in the most dadaist of humour circles). It’s not funny because Yoodough isn’t actually a name. The format of the joke is ruined by balancing a pun against a phrase that just doesn’t exist. Let’s try again, but this time actually make the pun make sense (note that it’s still a knock knock joke, and therefore it probably still isn’t funny, except in an academic way):

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Yuri.

Yuri who?

Yuri-ly expect me to laugh at this, do you?

It’s stupidly inaccurate

Let’s just stop and take a look at that punchline again, shall we: “Pakis… come from India.” Even ignoring everything else that’s wrong with this joke, this is simply… wrong! Now that’s not to say that jokes always have to reflect reality. Here’s a classic joke that doesn’t:

Lion woke up one morning with an overbearing desire to remind his fellow creatures that he was king of the jungle. So he marched over to a monkey and roared: “Who is the mightiest animal in the jungle?”

“You are, Master,” said the monkey, quivering.

Then the lion came across a wildebeest.

“Who is the mightiest animal in the jungle?” roared the lion.

“You are, Master,” answered the wildebeest, shaking with fear.

Next the lion met an elephant.

“Who is the mightiest animal in the jungle?” roared the lion.

The elephant grabbed the lion with his trunk, slammed him repeatedly against a tree, dropped him like a stone and ambled off.

“All right,” shouted the lion. “There’s no need to turn nasty just because you don’t know the answer.”

Aside from the suspension of disbelief required for the dialogues to function at all – none of these animals are known to be able to talk! – there’s an underlying issue that lions don’t live in jungles. But who cares! That’s not the point of the joke.

A jungle containing no lions.
Count the lions in this picture. If you found no lions, then you counted correctly. If you got any other number, try again.

In the case of the “paki” joke, the problem could easily be corrected by saying “…they come from Pakistan.” It’d still probably be the worst joke I ever heard, but at least it’d be trying to improve itself. I remember being about 8 or 9 and explaining this to a classmate, but he wasn’t convinced. As I remember it, he called me a belm and left it at that.

So that’s the worst joke I ever heard. And now you’ve heard it, you can rest assured that every joke you hear from me – no matter how corny, obscure, long-winded or pun-laden – will at least be better than that one.

Here’s one last joke, for now:

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. “Ugh!” says the bus driver, “That’s got to be the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!”

The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming and close to tears. She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me! I’m so upset!”

“You go up there and tell him off,” the man replies, “Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

Best April Fools Pranks 2011

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Here’s a quick round-up of some of my favourite pranks on the web this April Fools’ Day:

  • ThinkGeek can always be relied upon for a good April Fools’, and this year is no exception. Of their prank products, my favourite is clearly the Anti-3D glasses, which completely filter out the left channel from 3D movies, allowing you to watch them in 2D.
  • Geocachers amongst you might be pleased by the Nano Alarm container, which sounds a high-pitched alarm when a human body comes near it, making it easier to find. Actually, I’d have found it a more-amusing prank if they’d claimed it detects interference in GPS signals caused by a nearby GPS receiver.
  • An article on IPv4.5 claims that we ran out of IPv4 addresses completely this morning and, with IPv6 still far from fully-deployed, we’re having to implement IPv4.5 as an emergency measure. IPv4.5 shares IP adddresses between people at opposite sides of the globe, giving priority to those on the “day” side, so there’s a slight risk that some traffic might be mis-directed… but it’ll only be by nocturnal websurfers who are probably just on Facebook or Twitter anyway.
  • EddEgg launches The Secret of the Isle of Monkey, (a parody of The Secret of Monkey Island) and it’s fabulous: far too much work went into this little April Fools’.
  • I’ve found Gay Monopoly on BoardGameGeek, and I’m not sure if it’s a joke or not… BoardGameGeek’s already an April Fools in which they become search engine “Geekdo” (try searching for “Catan”… or any other board game… on it). The photos of Gay Monopoly look remarkably believable, but it’s hard to take anything seriously today.
  • The Pirate Bay has become The Pirat eBay, and has released a blog post claiming that they bought the rights to eBay on eBay and have since re-branded.
  • Google are well known for their April Fools’ Day pranks, and there are a good number of fantastic ones this year, but my favourite is GMail Motion, motion-sensitive controls based on body movements by which you can interact with your email. Well-worth a look.

Have a great April Fools Day! Play a prank on somebody for me. And, if you don’t want to get caught out yourself, why not install the Do Not Fool add-on for Firefox, which passes a Do-Not-Fool header to every web site you visit, requesting that the site does not display to you any prank content but only genuine pages.

Dan’s April Fools’ Jokes This Year

After JTA and I’s monster plan for a great April Fools’ joke got rained-off this year (maybe another year), I just had to go ahead with two smaller April Fools’ gags this year.

The Photocopier Prank (click for full-size)

The Photocopier Prank

A nice simple joke at the expense of the people in the office building I work in (and far less complex than last year’s prank against the same): I found a document online, printed it out, and stuck it to the photocopiers.

It instructs users that the photocopier has been upgraded with voice controls, so you can just “tell it” to copy, collate, staple etc. and it’ll follow your instructions. The document goes on to explain that it’s in “learning mode” right now and it might not get everything right while it learns your voice, so be patient and take the time to repeat yourself slowly and carefully.

I haven’t got eyes on the copier, so I’ve no idea how many – if any – people it caught.

The Abnib Announce/Joke Of The Week Prank

For the last few years, I’ve run two a text-message based mailing lists (I’ve got unlimited texts as part of my mobile contract, so it’s as-good-as free for me to do this). The first, Abnib Announce, lets people in Aber know about Troma Night, Geek Night, and similar events. The second, Joke of the Week, goes to a far wider audience and shares, every Friday, the best (by a loose and arguable definition of the word) of the jokes I’ve heard over the previous seven days.

This morning I sent out the following message to both lists:

Abnib Announce/Joke of the Week Update:

Bad news, everyone. My network has been in touch to say that running these regular bulk SMS lists is a violation of their Fair Use agreement, so I can’t run them from my “free texts” package any more. The good news is they’ve offered an alternative. These lists will now become subscription-based SMS services. This will cost you no more than 15p per message received, and a maximum of £1 per week (so £2 per week if you’re on both lists). I’m supposed to ask for your permission before subscribing your number, but I know you’ll all agree anyway. If for some reason you DON’T want to continue receiving Joke of the Week or Abnib Announce at 15p per message, please text me back BEFORE the first message, this afternoon. Ta!

I’ve had a handful of great responses, so far, including:

  • Nice try.x
  • Them: The rotters, what a bargain, keep the jokes coming please sir
    Me: Seriously? When I made up those prices this April Fools’ Day I should have put them higher!
    Them: Hahaha, got me, first one too. Love to the crew
  • Halfway through a serious response to this i remembered what day it is…
  • April fool?
  • Totally not falling for that, sorry! Happy April Fools
  • Them: Hey dan. Sorry i cant do that on my phone as my mum Pays my contract
    Me: Happy April Fools’!
    Them: Hee.very good
  • Them: I dont want to pay thanks. I have enough problems with arguing with orange over my phone bill at the minute, thanks. Hope you are good.
    Me: April Fools’!
    Them: Is it april already?! Damn i fell for it again! Nice one :-)
  • Them: Take me off the lists please! Ill get info from [other subscriber] and jokes from sickipedia
    Me: Tell you what: because it’s you I’ll negotiate with your network: you’re on Orange, right? I’ve kidnapped the dog of the CEO of Orange; I’m pretty sure I can get him to waive the charges in your case.
    Them: Is vodaphone, and their ceo only has a parrot and 5 fish.
    Me: =op
  • Them: Im confused, if its 15p per message why is it £2 a week?
    Me: NO MORE THAN £2 a week (well, £1 per week per list). So 4 Joke Of The Week messages would be 60p, 8 would be £1, 20 would be £1. Remember that it’s usually a multipart message spanning 4/5 messages each week. Full terms and conditions apply.
    Them: Lol, sounds confusing, being a poor student i’ll have to pass i think, though i’ll miss moaning at your messages ;-)
    Me: Really? You’re actually going? And, even more unbelievably, you’re actually falling for this obvious April Fools’ gag?
    Me: Gotcha ;-)
    Them: Yup and yup lol :-P
  • Happy April Fools day!
  • Them: oh arse, i can’t as i don’t pay the phone bill. is it possible for you to put them online?
    Me: April Fools’, dummy!
  • Lol, good one. Did you manage to snare anyone?
  • Them: Textin back.no joke
    Me: Gotcha! April Fools’.

Man, I love this day of the year.

My April Fools

I’ve always had a thing for big, overcomplicated April Fools’ gags. Traditionally, we’d always play pranks on Penbryn Halls at the University, but it’s not so easy these days to gain access to halls of residence, now that they’ve installed door locks that don’t open by themselves when you so much as breathe hard on them, so I thought it was time to broaden my sights.

I work for a company based in the Aberystwyth Technium on the marina. A few weeks ago, the Technium management had arranged for the installation of a new fence and automatic car park barriers, to allow the building to better control who has access to the offices’ car parking spaces (car parking spaces being a particularly valuable commodity in Aberystwyth). These barriers haven’t come online yet, but apparently they will “soon” (which is regional-government-speak for “someday, maybe”).

Car Parking Gates at the Aberystwyth Technium

Early on the morning of 1st April, I put out an e-mail to all resident companies at the Technium, spoofed so that it appeared to come from Technium management and emulating their writing style and the way that they typically send out bulk messages to the tenants.

Annwyl pawb ,

The key fobs for the new car park barrier system need to be ordered via an online application form . The application needs to be filled in as your key fobs will be uniquely linked to your vehicle.

The application form is only available online at http://www.techniumnetwork.info/aberystwyth/carparking/

Once you have applied, central office will send out the key fobs to us in a week or two. Please fill in the form as soon as possible so that the key fobs all arrive at the same time.

Diolch

Sion

Sion Meredith
Gweithredydd Technium Aberystwyth
Technium Aberystwyth Executive

<snip>

The techniumnetwork.info domain name is one that I’d picked up the day before for the best part of 49p on a special offer with a registrar – the real Technium website is at www.technium.co.uk, but I figured that people wouldn’t pay attention to the domain name: even the tenants here probably don’t spend much time, if any at all, on the Technium website. I stole the stylesheet and layout for the official website and adapted it to my purposes: there’s a mirror up now at http://techniumnetwork.scatmania.org/aberystwyth/carparking/ if you want to see for yourself.

Spoof website for the car parking key fob scam

The site begins by looking like a genuine application form, asking for all of the key details – your personal and company information, basic details of your car – and slowly starts over many, many pages of forms to ask sillier and sillier questions. “What colour is your car?” is a drop-down with “Red” and “Other” as the only options. “What noise does your car make?” is accompanied by options like “Vroom!” and “Brum-brum.” Later questions ask whether or not your car is capable of transforming into a giant robot and challenge you to correctly identify road signs that have been altered in comedic ways.

The trick worked, and many of the tenants were fooled… some of them well-past the point at which they should have thought the form was genuine; and almost all of them believed, even when they realised that the form was a joke, that it had been set up by the Technium themselves. It was only when one tenant decided to pass a copy of the e-mail on to the real Sion Meredith that the building management heard anything about it, and, sadly, put a stop to it by sending out an e-mail to say that it was all a joke, and not one by them.

After he’d worked out it was me that was behind it… I’d taken steps to make it obvious to anybody who bothered to check up on it, so as to maximise the understanding that it was, in the end, just a joke: the last thing I wanted was some humourless bureaucrat to see this gag (which did, of course, involve feigning the identity of a government employee) as a terrorist threat or something …he got his own back, though. He came up to my office at a few minutes to midday to inform me that he’s had to pass on my details to the Technium legal team, and he managed to make my heart skip a beat before I realised that he, too, was just having a joke.

A selection of feedback so far on the gag after I sent out a “gotcha” e-mail to everybody affected:

  • “Way too much time on your hands………” – Aled, thinkplay.tv
  • “You have far too much time on your hands but it was very amusing!!” – Kayt, MapAnalysis

  • “When I realised it was an April Fool I did look at the email address and questioned it but didn’t think [it could be spoofed]! Must be because I’m a technical dumb ass!” – George, MapAnalysis

  • “Dan, Sion was serious [about the legal team], when he popped his head round the door at 11.45 he had some documents in his hand.” – Nic, Angle Technology

  • “When did you find time to make this, then?” – Simon, SmartData

I had to leave the room when it first started to catch Simon out: I heard him phoning his wife to ask for a reminder of their cars’ number plates and had to excuse myself so as not to give the game away with my girlish giggling.

So, that was all good, and far more successful than my backup plan which involved passing on missed call messages to co-workers to ask them to return a call to Rory Lyons at Captive Audience on 01244 380280. The number is actually the number for Chester Zoo: I so very nearly made some of the people I work with unwittingly call up Chester Zoo on the morning of April 1st and ask, “Can I speak to Rory Lyons, please?” It’s a good prank, anyway – I’ll save it for another time: or if you want to give it a go (it doesn’t even have to be April Fools’ Day, with a great joke like that), let me know how you get on!

Self-Harm Awareness Day

There’s a mailing list I’m on that just got a message that started as follows:

Subject: March 1st – Self-Harm Awareness Day

Just curious…

a) How many of you knew it was self-harm awareness day on March 1st and

b) Are you doing anything to mark it?
<snip>

It’s pretty bad that the first response I thought of was “Yeah, I’ll scratch that date into my arm to make sure I remember it.” Bad, but funny, in a sick and twisted way.

There’s a reason I’m a lurker.

Practical Joke Of The Week

Am pulling off a fantastic one against my girlfriend, Claire. On Friday, our landlord arrived with a plumber to replace the leaky taps in our bathroom. The new taps are very similar in design, but significantly taller. I didn’t tell Claire that we have them.

Yesterday – Saturday – night, after washing her hands, she remarked “This is going to sound really wierd… but have those taps changed?” I played it cool – after all, these were the same taps we’ve always had, aren’t they? She keeps looking at them in an odd way every time she walks past the bathroom.

Claire’s birthday tomorrow.