I must confess that I cannot remember jokes, and when I do recall them, I don’t do a good job of telling them. Still, I am not without a humorous side. My artistic talent runs to cartooning, and I think I have come up with some creative and funny stuff in that area. Also, I enjoy subtle humor in literature. I can detect the drollery in Dickens, Shaw, and Balzac, and I find that I can get the amusing punch lines in Mark Twain, when they might pass over the heads of others.
That being said, there are some jokes and stories that dwell in my memory vaults and present themselves when circumstances resurrect them to my consciousness. Some of these are flippant, but others carry a profound depth that puts them in the category of philosophical humor.
A favorite line from Mark Twain is his statement: “I was glad to give the man a quick answer. I told him, ‘I do not know.’” This is honest, humble agnosticism that all would do well to emulate.
My uncle Talmadge, who was also my step-grandfather, since he married his brother’s widow, liked to tell stories about black folks in Georgia. One went this way. A negro superintendent of education paid a visit to a little one-room school, where the teacher was a portly black man. On entering the room, the official noted that the children were very quiet and orderly, and he also saw that their lunch baskets were all lined up along the front of the teacher’s desk. When he asked the teacher why the children were so well-behaved, the teacher replied, “If dey is bad, Ah eats dey lunch!”
Another uncle, Harmon, lived in central Florida, and one summer I helped him spray orange groves. This is a joke he shared with me and his crew. A Jewish father was telling his son the facts of life, and he decided to do it by explaining the function of the fingers on the boy’s hand. “First, Abie,” the father said, “your thumb iss ferry important. Vith it you vote - thumbs up or thumbs down. Und also you thumbs a ride ven your Mercedes is broke down. Next, my son, iss the pointing finger, vich can also beckon. Vith it you can tell your sales clerks to go there or come here. Then, the middle finger - ah, that’s the best vun of all; ve’ll safe it till last. Next comes the ring finger. A big diamond there vill let everybody know how successful you are. Then, the pinky finger iss provided so you can hold it up ven drinking your tea and show your good upbringing...Now, back to the middle finger. Ah, my boy, you’ll have the most fun of all vith that vun. That’s the finger you use to punch the cash register!”
I love all of the tales of Winston Churchill’s banter and repartee. The best one was his reply to someone who criticized his use of a preposition at the end of a sentence. His witty rejoinder was, “That is the sort of criticism up with which I will not put.” Then there was the time he was seated next to Lady Astor and she told him that he was drunk. His quick response was, “Yes, my lady, but you are ugly, and tomorrow I shall be sober.”
H. L. Mencken and Will Rogers told a lot of good jokes about politicians. One of my favorite political jokes is about the congressman who was asked his definitions of the words “ignorance” and “apathy” - to which he replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
Dorothy Parker was a very witty writer but with a morbid despondency that led her to contemplate suicide. This was her little couplet on that subject. “Poison pains you; rivers are damp; acid stains you; and drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful; nooses give; gas smells awful; you might as well live.”
One time when I was living in Texas, in 1966, a story was going around as follows: There was a buddy of mine by the name of Jim Bean from Abilene, and it seemed that he was the most popular guy in town. Everybody knew him, and on the street they would shout out, “Hey there, Jim Bean from Abilene!” We once took a trip to Dallas, and the same thing happened all over that city: people would yell out, “Hey there, Jim Bean from Abilene!” After a few years I had a vacation coming and decided to visit Italy. Jim Bean said he would like to go along too. So, the first thing we did when we got to Rome was to go to the Vatican. Jim wandered off somewhere by himself. While I was out in the courtyard of the Vatican the Pope came out on his balcony to give the people a blessing. And there beside him was standing Jim Bean from Abilene. I turned to one of the Italian men standing beside me in the crowd and asked him if he knew who the men on the balcony were. He replied, “I don’t know the guy on the left, but the one on the right is Jim Bean from Abilene!”
A favorite trick I like to play on people when driving by a graveyard is to tell them that there is a local law that says nobody living in that neighborhood can be buried in that cemetery. When they ask why, I inform them, “You have to be dead.”
When I spot a fat lady, I am apt to recall the jest, “She eats like a bird, a peck at a time.” And I have been known to tell a man wearing a colorful tie, “I see you are wearing a rainbow tie; it has a pot at the end.”
A witty turn of phrase is contained in the statement that “a lecherous man pressed a virtuous maiden to yield him her honor, but she reclined to do so.”
Church jokes are good. There is the one about the preacher and the truck driver who were involved in a wreck. The truck driver was in a rage, and he began to use some very foul language. The clergyman broke in and said, “Brother, you know I can’t use that type of language, but I hope when you get home tonight, your mother runs out from under the porch and bites you.”
Then there is the case of the insomniac, agnostic, dyslexic, who lay awake all night wondering if there is a Dog.
Another good one is about the new pastor visiting the homes of his flock. At one house, it seemed to him that there was somebody home, but they would not come to the door. So he took out a card and wrote “Revelation 3:20” on it, and stuck it in the door. The verse in Revelation reads: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The next Sunday, when he looked in the offering plate he found his note with another verse below it, “Genesis 3:10.” The verse in Genesis reads: “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, for I was naked; so I hid.”
One thing I picked up at the Baptist Student Union at the University of Florida was a dark-humored poem called “Little Willie” that we students loved to recite.
Little Willie used to yammer, till Daddy let him use his hammer.
He plays inside whene’er it rains, just bashing out his doggie’s brains.
Little Willie, feeling brave, dug his little brother’s grave;
Dropped him in and laughed to see how he screamed so music’ly.
Little Willie, in a pout, knocked his sister’s eyeballs out;
Stepped on them to hear them pop. Said his mother, “Willie, stop!”
Little Willie, darling boy, is his father’s pride and joy.
He cured his daddy’s sneeze and cough, when he cut his big nose off.
Little Willie, with a grin, jumped into a cobra den.
When they bit him, Willie cried, ‘cause the snakes all up and died.
Little Willie, having fun, shot his teacher with a gun.
Since he burned the schoolhouse down, he’s the pop’larest kid in town.
Little Willie, with an axe, hit his father forty whacks.
When he saw what he had done, he hit his mother forty-one.
Little Willie, with a shout, hit a tiger on the snout.
Caused the poor cat so much harm that he chewed off Willie’s arm.
Little Willie, in bows and sashes, fell in the fire and burned to ashes.
Now the room gets kinda chilly; no one wants to poke up Willie.
Little Willie, up above, didn’t like the lambs or doves.
St. Pete made him hit the road and take his snake and rat and toad.
Little Willie, down below, has a happy time, we know;
But all the sinners cry and sob, since Willie got the Devil’s job.
One rather ribald jest has a way of springing to my mind when I am stuck in some duty or difficulty that I got myself into. A tomcat copulating with a lady skunk makes the remark, “I have enjoyed just about as much of this as I can stand.”