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Home » Archives » August 2006 » The Inner Surface of Funny
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08/14/2006: The Inner Surface of Funny

Ever go on vacation and realize you haven't packed quite enough clothing to get you through the trip? Turn something inside-out and it's fresh again!

The same trick can work for jokes. Here's a very old joke form:

He'd never go out with me. I'm old and fat and I can't dance.

I think you can dance.

This form is very very familiar, and you wouldn't expect to find it on a show like The Office. But what happens if you turn it inside out?

You don't find a lot of people who are as attractive and generous as you are, who are also so talented!

Oh, I don’t know if I’d say 'talented.'

Now that it's a list of positives, not negatives, is it a totally fresh joke – so fresh it'll pinch your bottom? Not really, but it feels a little fresher, I submit, than the original. Not because of anything inherent in the joke, just because of degree of familiarity.

Here's another example. The original joke:

What a disgusting harpy!

That was my mother.

Lovely woman.

Here it is, turned inside out:

What a lovely woman!

That wasn't my mother.

Thank god.

Maybe it's just me, but the second version is slightly less familiar, slightly fresher. If the first joke is from the 50s, the second one is from the 80s. Is there a thoroughly modern version of this joke? Maybe this?

So, I met this woman in the lobby…

Are you being noncommittal until you find out if she was my mother?

I thought it would be wise.

That might be the 90s. Kind of Frasiery. Anyway, it's worth looking hard at jokes with a familiar structure. Play around with them, flip 'em this way and that… see what they've got on the other side!

Lunch: Lamb chops.


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