Sunday, 5 December 2010

The grooves - a P S

This is a mini-blog prompted by the excellent observation by sofisticos that it’s not just geography that affects humour but time, too. Read his example – it’s a great insight into the complexities of ‘foreign’ humour.

But the reason it provoked this P.S. is that, in the original lecture I gave in the USA, I also told a joke connected with Russia. The idea was to show the universal nature of comedy. It was told to me by a friend who taught Russian. He was trying to explain ‘British humour’ to a Russian assistant at his school and he told her the following joke:

A man has been to a business meeting in London and, afterwards, is invited by a one of his hosts to play a round of golf at his club before catching his plane. The host lends him some clubs, they have a good round, but it’s hot and, afterwards, he just has time for a quick shower. The trouble is, he only has a small golf towel. (They’re about 18 inches square.) Nonetheless, he rushes into the showers, washes himself and, just as he’s getting ready to leave, he hears women’s voices. In his hurry, he’s obviously made a mistake and come into the wrong shower room. But he can’t wait for them to go, he has a plane to catch. So he has to go out past them. But he only has the small towel, big enough to cover his private parts or his face, but not both. The possible embarrassment causes him to choose the second option. So he holds the towel to his face and rushes out past the three shocked women.
When he’s disappeared, the first woman says ‘How disgusting, but at least it wasn’t my husband.’
The second one agrees. ‘You’re right, it wasn’t your husband.’
And the third one says ‘He wasn’t even a member of the club’.

The reason I used this joke was that the Russian assistant then told my friend ‘Yes, I’ve heard that one, except that in Russia the punchline is “He doesn’t even live in the village”’.

I should add that, among the learned questions I was asked by audience members after the lecture, one was ‘Where did you hear that joke?’ It was put to me by a woman who I could imagine as one of the three in the shower room. So perhaps it wasn’t a joke, but a true story.


  1. Sofistocost's example and your PS reminds me of another context related example. Whether something is funny or not depends on who's telling the joke.
    I once told a few of my colleague speech-therapists a joke about a boy with a cleft lip and palate. The joke was in Dutch and can't be translated properly, but it's about a boy with a cleft lip and palate who takes a girl out for the first time. When they're in the park he says: “nice, isn't it?” (in Dutch: “leuk hè?”). But because of his nasal speech and impaired lip-muscles (imitating it was part of the joke) it sounds as if he's asking her to have sex. (in Dutch: “neuken?”). She replies: “Not yet.”
    My colleagues laughed shortly and immediately added that they should not have laughed at all because we should not make fun of these people. Then I told them that I got the joke from a friend of mine, a man with cleft lip and palate. My colleagues responded with relief. In that case the joke was funny.

  2. Yes, Anneke. The example that people usually cite is Jewish jokes - funny when told by Jews but potentially racist or anti-semitic if told by Gentiles. I can also think of jokes I found funny back in the 70s which I now see as grossly offensive to the disadvantaged or ethnic groups who featured in them.

  3. Same thing with the "dumb blonde" jokes. They're funny as hell ... so long as you're not blonde!

  4. Yes, all these examples tend to undermine the old theory that laughter was about superiority or cruelty.

  5. Humor etiquette has changed but people are still telling me dumb blonde jokes, particulary my husband. I have to remind him that I may have started out as a blonde, but that my roots are still brunette. :)

  6. I like 'my roots are still brunette', Jean. Takes the wind out of the joker's sails.