A colleague of mine has just retired. His name is Don Nilsen (the link is to other mentions of him and his work on this site) and he is a scholar of humor (a wonderful thing to be a scholar of, no/yes?). He and his wife are writing a book. He is a generous, wise, and, self-evidently, often very funny man. He asked for help. He most definitely deserves it.
Here’s his request:
Hot Potato Humor: This is like the game children play when sitting in a circle and tossing a ball from one player to another pretending that it is too hot to keep. The idea is not to be caught with it when the whistle blows. With humor, someone starts a joke, then someone else in the crowd adds to it and so does someone else. For example, when Alleen was a loaned executive to the Board of Regents, she remembers one of our universities proposing a program devoted to race horses. Even before everyone at the table had received their copy of the proposal, someone said “Whoa!” This was followed by such other comments as, “Don’t let this one get out of the gate!” and “I wouldn’t bet on its success!” By the time more than half of those voting had added a joking comment, the fate of the proposal was sealed. Of course the regularly-schedule twenty-minute discussion was held, followed by a vote in which the proposal was formally shelved. The announcement was made with the comment “Thank goodness, we won’t be saddled with this one.” We would love to hear about examples of this kind of quick moving, spontaneous humor that you have observed or participated in.
The world’s longest running joke: Arizona has a law that an elected official cannot be impeached until having been in office for six months. When in 1986, Evan Meacham was elected Arizona’s governor, he received a plurality, but not a majority of the votes. Even before his inauguration people were joking about his controversial decisions and the inadvertent remarks he made. This went on for a full six months, after which he was impeached. Two books of Meacham jokes were published, and he was featured in several national news stories. Gary Trudeau, for example, devoted a week- long comic strip to him. Can you tell us about other “long-running” jokes—maybe in your family, high school, church, or community?
INTERNET HUMOR: We think one of the reasons for the success of social networking (FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube , etc.) and of the jokes (both written and in pictures) that viewers pass on to their friends, is that they invite participation. Have you adapted or helped create one of these jokes? What is the funniest incident you remember receiving?
Participatory humor: Besides planning surprise parties, have you ever participated in other forms of creative, group humor, such as practical jokes, tricks, or campaigns? If so, we would love to hear about them.
If you have any examples, add them in the comments to this post, or e-me.