We all listen to, laugh at, and regularly tell jokes everyday. The genres usually vary- from the common slapstick comedy to the more subtle variants, which require some thinking to figure out. But, of course, as it is with everything in life, jokes can be both good or bad. Obviously, the good ones are more tolerable, and much better to listen to. But the point of this essay is not to point them out, but rather to show the darker side of the spectrum.
Of course, I refer to their significantly less popular siblings, the bad jokes. Universally despised by all, these jokes usually either subvert things to a point where it becomes groan-worthy, or simply forget to subvert anything at all. Obviously, the latter is somewhat similar to the infamous “anti-jokes” (which in itself is another genre of bad jokes) but with those, punchlines are deliberately avoided as that is their entire point. No, bad jokes are done by people so inane and inept that they come up with something absolutely terrible, meriting several moans of despair, facepalms, and the dirty brown projectiles also known as “slippers”.
In a strange way, though, they often become so backward and twisted in their sense of “humour” and “logic” that they somehow arise laughter out of the crowd. Of course, the laughter is, in fact, not genuine in the slightest at all. It is completely tinged with irony, as the crowd is caught off guard by the nonsensical attempt at comedy that they cannot help but let out a slight chuckle.
One of the best examples of the bad joke exemplifies this perfectly. It is, and I quote:
Newton. But where is Oldton?
When first hearing this, the crowd’s reaction is usually some audible groans and ironic laughter, followed almost immediately by strong heckling. Analysing the joke, this reaction is perfectly understandable.
It starts out rather plain. Newton immediately piques the crowd’s interest. Sir Isaac Newton, the famous physicist who founded the laws of gravitation, among them things. What could this joke possibly have to do with him? Is it involving the infamous apple that landed on his head? Is it a simple joke involving physics? And as the audience is in deep thought, going through the one word that has been elucidated so far in the mysterious joke (or simply waiting for the punchline to be said), the zinger is delivered. And what a zinger it is.
But where is Oldton? absolutely drives the crowd nuts, and not in a good way. After all of that, it was just a simple turn of phrase involving the name. The joke is just opposites- Old and New. Something so idiotic and simple that yet, somehow, the crowd couldn’t see it coming.
Of course, not all bad jokes are of this variety. Some are instead much too convoluted for their own good. For example:
What is the difference between Sulphur Monoxide and Nitrogen Dioxide?
One is O-S, the other is O-NO!
This one sets the bar up rather high (at least relatively, compared to the previous one). Immediately, a question is put into the audience’s mind- what exactly is the major difference between the two compounds? The scientists of the group contemplate both the physical and chemical properties of the two, while others are left thinking the punchline is something you may only understand if you have a PhD in Chemistry.
And par for the course, it’s neither of the two. Instead of referring to their properties or anything (the person tells the joke is most likely not at all familiar with the two compounds in the slightest), it’s a pun on their chemical symbols. Sulphur Monoxide- SO- becomes O-S (phonetically “Oh, yes”), whereas Nitrogen Dioxide- NO2 – becomes ONO, or O-NO (phonetically “Oh, no”, much like the audience’s reaction to the joke). This is contrived to the point that no ordinary human being could possibly anticipate it.
In a way, it is the opposite of the previously mentioned Oldton joke. Instead of being ridiculously simple that it comes across as unexpected, this joke sets up a high bar only to dodge it entirely in an extremely long-winded approach. Yet, this too yields some ironic laughter in the same way as the Oldton joke does, leading one to believe they are similar in some aspect. These two appear to be completely different in their terrible punchlines, yet similar in their usual reactions.
By now, I have laid down the basic foundations of what constitutes a “bad joke”. They start off somewhat normally (or rather, they usually do), but then proceed to subvert expectations in the worst ways possible, usually by being so unexpected that no normal person could anticipate it…or by hardly subverting a thing at all. So far, however, we have discussed jokes genuinely intending to be funny, even if they did fall flat. There is another subcategory, though- the deliberately bad jokes. These weren’t made with good intentions. They are to irritate rather than to amuse.
Given below is a rather long example:
A man finds himself rather thirsty, so he goes out to buy a drink. He sees a shop selling milkshakes and enters it. There is a rather long line, however, but he decides to wait. One hour, two hours. This is the longest line he’s ever seen! His throat is getting dryer by the minute. He decides to leave and get a drink at another place.
So he walks some more, and sees a shop selling cider. He enters this one, but there’s still a rather long line. He waits there for another hour before realising that this is moving even slower than the previous one! So he exits, somewhat frustrated by his bad luck, and decides to go home. On his way back, though, he bumps into a woman. Bored and tired, he decides to chat with her. They start getting along well, and agree to meet up later.
They continue seeing each other for a long time, and start falling in love with each other. After a while, the man decides to propose to her. The woman accepts, and they get married some months later. After a while, the woman becomes pregnant with a child. During childbirth though, she passes away while the child- a boy- survives. The man is distraught by his wife’s death, but still decides to take care of his son.
After a while, the son grows up and becomes an adult. He decides to leave the house, searching for a new place to live. His father is now left all alone in his house. Suddenly he realises he’s still thirsty after all this time, and decides to go back out to get a drink.
He goes back to the street he visited all those years back. He sees the milkshake shop, and enters. The line is still as long as ever, but he decides to wait. One hour, two hours, three hours! Still absolutely nothing. Annoyed, he exits the shop, and sees the cider shop. Hoping to finally procure a drink, he enters, but the line is twice as long as it was before. He leaves without even waiting.
Now disgruntled and irritated, the man is left thirsty on the road. Then he remembers a shop that never had such large lines- a shop selling fruit punch! So he goes to the shop and enters it. And lo and behold, there’s no punchline!
The above joke is excruciatingly long and takes its own time, all to end on a frustratingly anticlimactic “punchline”, or rather lack thereof, which is much worse considering its enormous length. This is similar to the anti-jokes mentioned at the start of this thesis, where they subvert the crowd’s expectations by not having a punchline at all.
Analysing this joke, one can see it accomplishes this perfectly. It starts off rather plain, with just a man wishing to purchase a drink, and follows his journey through the very busy stores. Then the main plot comes to a very sudden halt, where the man meets someone else, settles down, gets married and has a child. Then we fast forward to years later, when his son leaves the house. Yet, the man still thirsts for a drink after this, which is honestly a better punchline than the actual one.
Then he revisits all the shops one by one, as the joke goes into exhilarating detail into simply saying that the lines are long as ever. Much like the man, the audience starts to get impatient, wondering what the joke is. And when the zinger is told, they cannot possibly contain their anger by being forced to endure this long mess. Just like the Oldton joke, it was something so idiotic and simple that yet, somehow, the crowd couldn’t even expect it at all.
And in the end, that is the beauty of bad jokes. They start off quite simple, but deliver a zinger so dumb that you cannot help but garner amusement from their stupidity. This is why, that, even despite their terrible quality, they’re still appreciated among others, no matter how ironic the appreciation may be.