A Guilty Plea From A Habitual Criminal

I have been advised by my solicitor to plead guilty to making jokes and to throw myself on the mercy of the court. He said this as he dumped all the papers into his briefcase and left the court. He could have had the decency to laugh as he went through the doors…

Making jokes is not normally a criminal offence – with the possible exception of Melbourne Comedy Weeks – and most jokesters do not need fear jail time. Of course if they crack the wrong jest in Iran, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia they can expect to be jugged and tortured…but then that could happen for eating cornflakes with the wrong spoon there. They are tough rooms to work.

Poking fun at people here in Australia is fairly safe, if you aim lower than the Magistrate’s Court when you do it – anything there and above is surrounded by enough statutory dignity to make funny business dangerous.  I would be interested to see a magistrate laugh, and to see what sort of entertainment would provoke it. I cannot imagine that they laugh at the foibles of the human condition – for so often they are the very people tasked with sorting out peccadillos and punishing people for having them. Perhaps their humour is of a transcendent kind, incomprehensible to the lower orders.

But sometimes you fire off good ones and nothing at all happens. No laughs, no smiles, – not even the alternate satisfaction of an outraged response. Zip. Nada. Pure silence. And after a period of time the horrible truth starts to dawn – the person sitting there in the audience like a lump of suet really has no clue as to what the joke is about.

This can be the result of stupidity – as with the frankly stupid – or of ignorance, when someone has no points of mutual reference for a topic. Sometimes that’s age, though I must say youth more frequently deprives people of understanding than does middle age. Old folks may not know the pop tunes or latest cultural reference, but they know a helluva lot more about the world than ever the young are taught. And they can take as much fun in simple and mannerly jokes as they young do with swearing and shock tactics. The old people reserve their shock tactics for worse situations…you don’t wanna be there when they cut loose.

Whatever the reason for the blank stare and the deadly silence after the punchline, the comedian should never panic and start to explain the joke. It might seem that it will right the situation – that it will result in a peal of laughter – but it never does. Frequently the dullard cannot grasp the joke even after it is dissected and laid out on a pin board – and every minute that they stand there goggling and gulping, the joke teller loses traction.

The best answer is to abandon the thing immediately. Move on to another joke or another topic. Or just move on – but as you go, turn to someone else in the audience and ask them to explain the failure. With a bit of luck they will.

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