Several years ago, at a writer’s conference, the editor of a large national fishing magazine told me there was no place in literature for humor. He said, basically, that humor was unnecessary, counterproductive, detrimental to the value and relevance of a publication, and a waste of time and money.
So I said, "Let’s not beat around the bush here. Are you interested in buying some of my columns to put in your magazine, or not?" As it turned out, not.
As an outdoor humor columnist, funny is very important to me. I’m always interested in hearing a good joke, especially if it involves the outdoors, such as people getting attacked by wild animals, or sinking their boats, or driving off cliffs, etc.
Which brings up another point. Humor is usually about something bad that happens to someone else. Seems ironic, but that’s the way it works. Mark Twain called humor ‘the great thing, the saving thing after all.’ He also said that it was ‘mankind’s greatest blessing,’ and ‘one of the chief attributes of God.’ So far so good, but old Mark also said ‘the secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow.’
Take, for example, the joke that was chosen a while back as the World’s Funniest Joke. The way this joke was chosen was, 10,000 jokes were put on a website for three months, and 100,000 people, from more than 70 countries, voted on which one was the best. This joke was chosen by 47 percent of the voters.
Right away you can see a problem here. Someone puts 10,000 jokes on a website, and people all over the world spend no telling how many hours reading them, for no other reason than they want to vote on which one is the best. And your boss wonders why productivity is down.
The funniest part of this story is that this was not Hal and Ed, killing time between bowl games in the basement, putting these jokes on the web so people everywhere could waste their time. No. The people who put up the web site to find the World’s Funniest Joke were scientists, and this was an official scientific project, probably funded by official government money.
This is a sad situation indeed, but it gets worse. The following unretouched joke was the one chosen, from the whole 10,000, as the overall winner:
Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson, pitched their tent while on a camping expedition. In the middle of the night Holmes nudges Watson awake and says, "Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce."
"Well, Holmes," Watson replies, "I see millions of stars, and if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those stars have planets, it is quite likely there are some planets like earth, and if there are a few planets like earth out there, then there might also be life."
Holmes says, "Watson, you idiot! Somebody stole our tent."
That’s it. That’s the World’s Funniest Joke. Really.
No doubt you’re saying to yourself, "Hey, I didn’t pay fifty cents for a paper to read trash like that." But actually, you did.
Of course, that’s not really the World’s Funniest Joke. There are probably a million or so jokes that are funnier than that one. The scientists are wrong. Even so, a lot of folks must have voted for this joke, which involves both the outdoors and something bad happening to someone who is not, technically, you.
And I have to admit I like this joke, although the one about the guy who takes the game warden fishing, to show him how to catch lots of fish, is funnier. The guy gets the boat out on the water, lights a stick of dynamite and hands it to the game warden. The officer says, "You know this is illegal, don’t you?" and the guy asks, "Did you come here to talk, or fish?"
There’s also the one about the game warden surprising two teenage boys fishing beside a lake. One of the boys takes off running, with the warden hot on his heels. When he catches the lad and asks for his license, he pulls out a valid one.
The warden asks why the boy ran, if he had a license, and the kid replies, "Well sir, my buddy back there, he don’t have one."
Both of those jokes, and lots of others, are funnier than the stolen tent story. But then, humor is, above all else, a matter of opinion, and you’ve probably got favorites of your own.
The only thing I know for sure about humor is that there’s one large, national fishing magazine which will never run any of my columns. Or Mark Twain’s, either. But then, Mark doesn’t care . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who would never go fishing without a license, and has never yet run into a stupid or gullible game warden. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org