Ethnic Humor: The Joke As Story
We’ve all heard them, told them, though we don’t seem to hear as many these days as in the past. Blame this as well on these high-tech times which keep isolating us, robbing us of our humanity, our literature, our heart and soul.
Where can one find a better narrative than a humorous story well told?
“There were two Irishmen at a bar…”
“A priest, a minister, and a rabbi get on a plane…”
“Ole and Sven were talking one day when Sven said, “You know Ole, you might want to close your blinds, because last night I saw you and Lena going at it hot and heavy.” Ole laughed and says “Oh, joke’s on you, Sven! I wasn’t even home last night!”
Scandinavian humor, Jewish humor, Italian humor, Polish humor, Irish humor, etc.—often at the expense of certain characteristics of ethnicity. But then again, that’s where the humor lies. Where the story is.
The ‘joke’ is old, old form of narrative.
That’s the “Once Upon a Time” truth for today: When telling a joke, you’re telling a story.
In oral telling, the story process is almost visible. Words come alive in the mouth of the storyteller. Characters, places, images inevitably change from one telling to the next as the mind grapples with the memory of the narrative, enhancing it, diminishing it, making it even funnier (if possible) than the time the teller first heard it…passing the tale now on to you for safekeeping…for further telling. For the tale never dies… –Norbert Blei
Moshe goes to see the village rabbi and says: “Rabbi, I’ve Just heard a new word and I don’t know what it means. Its the word ‘alternative.’ What does it mean?
The rabbi thinks and replies: “Moshe, come back and see me tomorrow with the deeds for the little plot of land down by the river, and I’ll answer your question.”
The next day Moshe comes back. He has the deeds in his hand. “Right,” says the rabbi. “Now you’re going to go to the market in Radom, and come back with two rabbits, a vigorous buck, and a young doe.”
The next day Moshe is there with his two rabbits in a cage. “All right, Moshe, now listen carefully. You’re going to fence off the plot down by the river, where the soil is soft, and you re going to put your rabbits in there. In a few months you’ll have twenty young rabbits, you can sell half of them in the market, and reinvest the rest of the money to buy the neighboring plot, which you will also fence. By the end of the year you will have bought all the land along the river up to the bridge and you’ll be the richest man in the village. You’ll carry on with your business and your investments, buying up all the plots on both banks and down the valley, all the way to the village of Brentsk, and you’ll be one of the most prominent men in the region. You will marry young Sarah—oh, don’t deny it, Moshe, I’ve seen the way you look at her—so you’ll marry young Sarah then, and she’ll give you two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. Meanwhile, you’ll carry on breeding thousands of rabbits, selling them in the market in Radom, Piotkrow, and Kativice, and you’ll be rich, very rich. Your children will grow up, your daughter will start seeing the doctor in Lublin, the boy will start studying at Lodz. And then, Moshe …”
“Then the water level in the river will rise, an incredible flood, you’ll lose everything, the land will be carried away, the rabbits will drown in their thousands, you’ll be ruined, your wife will leave you, cursing you for your lack of foresight, your children will refuse even to speak to you, and you’ll end up drunk and penniless like a poor schnorrer. That’s what will happen.”
“But Rabbi. I don’t understand. You were supposed to tell me what ‘alternative’ meant.”
The rabbi thinks for a moment and says: “The alternative, Moshe? The alternative is ducks.”