It’s difficult to be funny consistently. Even the best comedians and comediennes lay an egg occasionally. The most successful funny people, however, are always on the lookout for new material and do the proper research to find it. Many write their own jokes, and others hire people to do it. Practically, it’s probably best to use both methods.
According to British evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke, there are only eight kinds of jokes. Tom Holt, in his wonderful book “Ye Gods!”, maintains that there are only three actual jokes and that everything you hear is only a variation of one of the three. However you slice it, though, good jokes are funny. Bad jokes are not.
There is a misconception that a joke has to be dirty to be funny. Truly, even though “The Aristocrats” is one of the funniest jokes ever written, other jokes are nearly its equal and aren’t filthy. For example, take this rather innocuous double entendre:
A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel shoved down his pants. The bartender says, “Ahoy, Cap’n, you’ve got a steerin’ wheel shoved down your pants!” The captain says, “Arrrrrr, it’s drivin’ me nuts!”
Even in the most polite society, that joke is bound to get a chuckle if not an outright guffaw.
Here’s an example of a completely clean joke. Myron Cohen made it famous many years ago. There are, in keeping with Holt’s theory, hundreds of variations on this joke, called The Bank Robbers. Anyway, here it is:
A policeman is interviewing the bank manager after a robbery. He asks the manager if the robber’s faces were visible. The manager replies, “No, they were all wearing stockings over their heads.”
The policeman then asks the manager what kind of getaway car the robbers were driving. The manager says, “Well, now, this is slightly unusual. They weren’t driving a car. They were riding an elephant, instead.”
The policeman says, “An elephant?”
The manager says, “Yeah. They used it to dodge the traffic. They even plowed through a couple of cars.”
The policeman asks the manager, “Do you know what kind of elephant it was?”
The manager says, “How should I know? Isn’t an ‘elephant an elephant?'”
The policeman says, “No. African elephants have big ears, and Asian elephants have small ears.”
The manager says, “I already told you I couldn’t recognize any of the robbers. I couldn’t recognize the elephant, either, because he had a stocking over his head.”
Places to Find New Material
In the 21st century, one of the most popular places to find material is on websites, including blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, that feature a “Joke of the Day.” Such jokes are usually short because the modern attention span isn’t long enough for drawn-out humor. After all, you can’t fit a “farmer’s daughter” joke into 140 characters.
Among the hundreds of URLs pertaining to jokes on the internet, there are a list of about 20 that might be considered the “Best Joke Websites.” Among those, the following three are representative:
This site features a “Joke of the Day.” It’s tied to Facebook, so not only will you be able to get good jokes there, but you will also be able to network with other comedians and comediennes through Facebook.
This site even has videos available that you can mine for good bits for ensembles of which you are a part.
Some of the jokes on this site, while clean, are a bit more “in-your-face” than on other sites. The tone of the site is that it’s “all in fun,” however, so you can get lots of sensational material here.
If something doesn’t quite fit your act, you can rework it, too, with a minimum of fuss.
This website collects one-liners, cartoons, and story jokes all together in one place. Although not every joke on the website is great, every joke can form the basis for a bit or even a whole routine.
Gifted writers can take the best parts of bad jokes and weave them together for a winning bit. For example, here’s a particularly lame offering:
Q: What’s the loudest state?
If the state were actually pronounced “ill-uh-NOIZ,” then the joke would be funnier. Here’s a better bit based on the same kind of play on words:
Bill: Hey, Bob, why do you hate your mother-in-law so much?
Bob: She’s from Chicago.
Bill: Chicago? What’s that got to do with it?
Bob: She’s Ill-annoying.
The Not-So-Nice Part
When it comes to looking for material, you have to be careful what you use. Copyright law protects jokes the same way it protects any other written material. It does not, however, protect ideas. So, if you and professional comedian Joe Blow come up with the same joke independently and each use it in your performances, neither of you can take action against the other.
If, however, Joe Blow kills it with a joke at your local comedy club, you’re not allowed to hear it, write it down, and then use it in your own act without at least attributing the joke to Mr. Blow. You might even have to pay Mr. Blow royalties to use the joke. Mr. Lawyer will best be able to advise you on that.
“Oldies-but-goodies,” such as the aforementioned “Aristocrats,” often are either anonymous or no longer attributable. Additionally, jokes that old have passed the 75-year period attached to American copyright even if it’s the “75-years-from-the-end-of-the-comedian’s-life” variety. Many shaggy-dog stories are of this type and are older even than vaudeville, such as Mark Twain’s famous “old-ram” story.
At a basic level, just be careful with what you use. If you’re not sure of a joke’s origin or to whom it’s attributed, just ask. Covering your butt is as old a tradition as the shaggy-dog story itself.
Best Jokes of All Time
Of course, the subject of the best jokes ever is up for debate. What’s funny to some just isn’t funny to others. We’ve already discussed “The Aristocrats” as one of the greatest, so we won’t rehash it here. Besides, we’re talking about clean jokes, right?
Here’s one that never fails to get a big laugh and is clean, or at least “clean enough.”
Three traveling salesmen break down in front of a fruit farm and ask to spend the night.
The farmer says, “Yes, but you may not speak to my daughter, or you will face the consequences.” The three men agree.
Of course, none of them can resist talking with the gregarious daughter, and the farmer is incensed. He forces the three men to go out to the fields and pick 10 pieces of fruit they like.
The first guy comes back with grapes. The farmer holds his shotgun on him and says, “OK, start shoving them up your nose.” The man does it.
The second guy comes back with cherries, and the farmer tell him to do the same thing, whereupon the second man bursts out laughing.
The farmer says, “What’s so funny?”
Between giggles, the second guy says, “Well, George’ll be back in a minute. See, he’s picking watermelons.”