The Internet Personified: A horse walks into a bar

J is for joke

My adorable antelopes,

Quick: tell me your favourite joke.

Mine goes: “How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?” And then you say, “I don’t know—how many?” And I do this elaborate shrug and say, “You wouldn’t know it, it’s a very obscure number.”

It’s a good joke. I love good jokes. I love a clever bit of wordplay, I used to love jokes that had two meanings: a person with no arms and no legs in a pond of water! Bob! Until I realised they were kind of mean, a lot of jokes are mean, even if they are clever. (Example, from the Bumper Book of Rugby Jokes that I think I read at someone’s house? “Officer, officer, I’ve been graped!” “Don’t you mean raped, madam?” “No, there was a whole bunch of them!”)

Then there are pranks. Do you like pranks? I never did. You always have to be doing something in a prank: you could be the Prankster, a too-cool-for-school person, think Jim in The Office, who is always coming up with these elaborate tricks, you could be the Prank Audience, the person for whose benefit the prank is being played, you must always laugh and never break character by being nervous or worried that you’re being a dick, and finally, the Pranked, the person who is the butt of the joke, the ha-ha we got you!

I was talked into being the Prankster once, the girls in my class said one particular boy kept telling them all he had a crush on them, and he had to be taught a lesson. “So you tell him you like him, okay?”they said, “Then, when he believes it, you say, ‘Hah as if’ and that’ll teach him to stop saying he likes all of us.”

So, persuaded that it would be a Very Funny Thing to do, I gave in. It was sort of nice being conspiratorial with these girls, they’d been my friends for a while, but recently, I’d been feeling like they were slipping away, somehow. This brought us together, an us-against-the-world adventure! I was still cool! I still had friends! I was told not to tell one other girl in our class, also a friend, but who was close to this boy. She’d tell him, they said. Really, I think they were afraid that she would tell them they (we) were being bullies and would put a stop to the whole thing.

You can guess how this ends, right? The other girls did some build up—I was told all I had to do was nod and smile, maybe blush to confirm, which I did. The boy got really excited that someone finally liked him, even if he hadn’t thought of me “in that way” before, suddenly, he was all in. That’s what his friend told me, the girl we didn’t let into the prank. Until finally came the day we’d been planning for—he would enter an empty classroom and ask me out and I would say, “Oops, no, changed my mind” or something similar. The other girls wanted to go on a little longer, but I couldn’t bear it, the shy looks he was darting at me across the classroom, the air of suppressed glee from my other friends, the fact that he was “so excited about this.” So, one empty classroom, one boy asking me if I wanted to go out or something sometime, and me, feeling like the biggest asshole I’d ever felt in my whole life, saying what we’d rehearsed, “Oh no, I don’t like you, this was just a thing we did.” He recovered nicely, “Oh ha ha,” he said, and sped out of there and I was left, thinking about what I’d done.

Ugh, I hate pranks like that. They’re only funny if you consider power dynamics funny: one person in on the joke, one person on the outside. I hate being on the outside, when I was a child, I used to say, “Why are you joking me?” whenever I thought people were laughing at me, and I feel like that is still accurate: one is being joked. One is the Joke.


Khushwant Singh, my mum tells me, used to think the key to knowing a new country was to know their jokes. I’m not fluent enough in German to know German jokes, but here are the most representative ones I could find in English.

Germans aren’t nice punchline:

Do you know why Germans build such high-quality products? So they won't have to go around being nice while they fix them.

English/German puns:

No matter how kind you are, German children are kinder.

East Frisians (a geographical region in Northwest Germany) are mocked:

What would you do in the event of the Great Flood? Go to East Frisia, because there everything happens fifty years later.

Government officials (beamtes) are so slow punchline:

Three boys argue about whose father is the fastest. The first one says: "My father is a racing driver, he is the fastest." The second one contradicts him: "No, my father is a Luftwaffe pilot, surely the fastest one." "That's nothing", says the third one. "My father is a Beamter, he is so fast that when work ends at 5 pm, he's already home at 1 pm."

The anti-joke joke:

Two men walk over a bridge. One falls into the water, the other is called Helmut.

And the most German and also the most baffling is a joke about a man who drives an Opel Manta called a Mantafahrer, usually thick, macho and obsessed with his girlfriend. Why the Manta? I have no idea. (K says this is also pretty classist, as the Manta was not an expensive car so you mocked people who thought it was cool.)

What does a Manta driver say to a tree after a crash? – "Why didn't you get out of my way, I used the horn!"


Other things I find hilarious in no particular order:

  • When K narrates what the cats are doing like they’re people. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head but it’s very funny.

  • Really creative insults, like calling someone a Nostril. Actually, the word ‘nostril’ is just generally hilarious I think.

  • When someone is bitching about someone else and they get their description SPOT ON, like you never thought about it that way before but now you can never unsee the way they squint up their eyes whenever they think they’re being really sexy, say, but wind up looking more like they’ve lost a contact lens. (FICTITIOUS EXAMPLE, FRIENDS, DO NOT GET TOO EXCITED.)

  • A well-timed fart, but only if you’re already laughing.

  • Observational humour, but only if it’s done well and isn’t sexist or racist. Something nice like how evil Modi is (the Great Silent Man) or how dumb Trump is (the Great Orange Man) or a long story about a thing you saw. (Trevor Noah is great at this and made me laugh till I nearly peed myself. His special is on Netflix.)

  • PUNS. Sometimes my friend Samira and I just swap puns back and forth on each other’s Facebook/Instagram posts but she’s better at the realllyyyy lame ones than me. (Sorry Samira, but if it’s any consolation, you make me laugh out loud almost all the time.)


One thing the pandemic took away, along with everything else, but one thing I didn’t realise it had taken away until all at once is the banter, the joshing. You have a Zoom meeting but with half the cameras turned off (very disconcerting when you’re doing a panel discussion) and maybe just the slightest lag in your internet connection, you can’t tell if your jokes are landing, and since I go through life with a slightly ironic remove, it’s been hard for me to connect with people at one of these public speaking things. Once someone typed “HAHAHA” into the Zoom chatbox but by then I had already moved on, so I couldn’t do what I wanted to which was stop everything and be like, “WHAT WAS HAHAHAHA? WHAT DID YOU FIND FUNNY? TELLL MEEEEE.” I’m used to pausing, watching a joke or a quip land and then working with that so all of these little faces on little screens are not for me, only for full on sincerity. I can be sincere, but it’s kinda boring don’t you think?

Which brings me to something I was thinking about last night, how I used to always say “I’d rather hang out with someone interesting than someone nice” which I suppose is still true of a dinner party or a lit fest, but I think in these pandemic times we’ve realised the value of nice. Kind people have been the best people, and funny people? Well, I guess we could take or leave them. (Of course, you could be kind and funny, but when so much of humour is directed outward, making someone or something else the punchline I think most people just pick one.) (In India, of course, our own stand up comedians are in a bit of an existential crisis because a lot of their jokes are casteist and/or sexist and when this was pointed out to them they went into a collective flail and now I think they don’t know how to make jokes any more.)

(A shout out here for Bo Burnham’s sort of comedy special Inside which deals with the idea of humour during strange times quite well.)

Go on then, tell me your favourite joke.

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We are almost done with our time in the countryside. Secured a tiiiiny sublet in Berlin, right next to this amazing park called Templehof (it’s the old East Berlin airport which they’ve converted into a public park). The flat itself is just a one room set as they used to say in Bombay, but it’s on a quiet road while also being close to everything.

Monday is K’s FORTIETH birthday and we are taking a little day trip into Bonn which is nearby with his parents. Otherwise we don’t have much planned for our last week here (we leave on Thursday) except I’m trying to get better at cycling so I can be a True European. (Do not worry, parents and other well-wishers, I won’t be going on the main road with my bike—a folding cycle we are borrowing from K’s parents—just around the Templehof park.) You actually don’t forget cycling I’m pleased to say, so I’m really only having difficulty with going up hills which is because I am very unfit. (I just found my FIRST GREY HAIR so I’m edging towards DEATH and DECAY. It’s been a nice life. It’s been a good youth. GOODBYE SWEET WORLD, GOODBYE.) (Not you, you look amazing with your grey hair and you’re obviously very young and fit, it’s only me I’m talking about here.)

Here is a photo of me on a bike, my first day riding it:

And here is a photo of the garden peonies currently on my desk, because I finally see what all the fuss is about re: peonies.

If you liked this post, perhaps you’d like to Buy Me A Coffee? I never know how to ask for tips so I’m just leaving out my virtual tip jar, but you guys have been amaaaazing, so thanks so much for all your support.

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Links!

Not a lot this week, this is what happens when I write to you weekly instead of fortnightly, but hey, you win some, you lose some, right?

Previously on the alphabet series: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I.

The man who built Catan.

The man taking on Amazon India.

Did these women on an American reality show REALLY think they were going to marry Prince Harry?

Have a great week!

xx

m

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Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.

Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.

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