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Shell Shocked: The punchless punch line

By Staff | Feb 19, 2019

Art Stevens

Some people can tell an awful joke well and get laughs. And some people can take a no-fail joke masterpiece which could elicit laughs even if your dog told it – and have the punch line fall flat on its face.

It’s embarrassing to tell what you think is a sure-fire joke and get no laughs. It’s happened to me many times. That’s why I shudder and foam at the mouth when I’m invited to tell a joke at a party. I remember what happened the time before when not a smile was cracked at a joke I told that could also have been told by a robot and gotten laughs.

To get back at the world I’ve organized a group of other poor joke tellers like myself and together we’ve created a new con. We gather in a social setting with other unsuspecting people and one of us will say “How about a good joke?”

And one of our poor joke tellers will say, “I’ve got one.” He then tells a joke and at the conclusion of the punch line all the poor joke tellers begin to laugh hysterically. There’s one hitch though. The punch line of the joke makes absolutely no sense.

Not only isn’t it funny but it has no relationship to the rest of the joke. It is a phony punch line but the group of poor joke tellers laughs hysterically. We are exacting revenge on those who don’t think we tell jokes well.

The purpose of the exercise is to totally confuse and bewilder all those not in on the con.

After the non-joke is told and the sound of laughter fills the room we then look around the room and study the reactions. Some people maintain a stone face because they sense that there’s nothing funny about what they just heard. They look at others around the room to see if they missed something.

On the other hand when some of the people see the poor joke tellers laughing as hard as they do they start to laugh too. They have no idea that they’re the targets of a conspiracy. They don’t want to be seen as being too dense to get the non-punch line punch line.

Those moments are precious. You see people laughing when they shouldn’t be. They just don’t want to feel left out. And the stone-faced ones also feel left out. They’re thinking that they may have missed the punch line and wonder if they’re too stupid to have gotten the joke.

Example: Here’s one of the non-jokes told by one of the poor joke tellers.

“This one’ll slay you. Listen. A guy goes into a bar carrying a human head. The head is alive. It just doesn’t have a body attached to it.

“The bartender says that he has a special drink that can help the head. The head drinks the special concoction the bartender puts in front of him and lo and behold a body starts to form from the head.

“The more the head drinks the more formed the body becomes until it has a full body. Joyous, the head with the new body wants to try out its new legs. He goes out into the street and is immediately hit by a truck.

“The bartender shakes his head and says: ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.'”

Whereupon the poor joke teller group erupts into raucous laughter. One of them even falls to the floor in an epileptic seizure of laughter. Again, there are stone faces and some forced labor laughter. One of the non-conspirators even says: “Well done. What a great joke.”

No one seems to get the fact that there is absolutely no relationship between what is supposed to pass as a punch line to the rest of the narrative.

So if you ever ask me to tell a joke, beware. Since I tell a joke so poorly you will never know if I’m pulling your leg or not. If after I tell the joke I laugh so hard that tears come rolling down my face you, too, might laugh at my non sequitur of a punch line and scratch your head at the same time.