American Humor

Klara developed a very American sense of humor and makes up jokes that take me a while to figure out because they are different in structure from what we consider a joke in my country.

Here are some examples:

“What did a pickle say when it fell out of a jar?” – “That’s a pretty pickle!”

“What did the tag say to the suitcase?” – “May I tag along?”

“Why do you dislike stairs?” “Because they are up to no good.”

This made me think about cultural differences in humor. It looks like in English, humor is dialogic and based on wordplay. Our humor, on the other hand, is situational and narrative. We don’t have “knock knock” jokes, for instance, and it took me ages to figure out what they were. Neither do we have the “what did X say when Y happened” jokes. I don’t even perceive them as joke unless somebody explains them at length. Instead, we narrate little anecdotes where people find themselves in ludicrous situations and say silly things.

For example, here’s a famous joke: “Why does everybody say Pavarotti is talented? He’s terrible. He’s got no voice and no sense of rhythm.” “Why, have you been to a Pavarotti concert?” “No, but my friend Rabinovich sang a couple of Pavarotti’s arias to me.”

If you are from another culture, how do you make jokes?


16 thoughts on “American Humor

  1. Your example could easily be an American joke. I suppose we have a few ways of making jokes. But kids usually tend to for the kinds of jokes Klara is telling.

    Btw, she seems to be a rather advanced joke teller for her age. Her jokes actually make sense. Often kids that age will tell jokes that fit the basic structure but don’t make sense. Sometimes the “humor” is just that they mentioned farting, pooping, etc. Real example from a friend’s kid: knock knock, who’s there, butt, butt who, butt-butt-butterfly

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was going to say exactly what Demotrash said: that English has all kinds of jokes (including situational) but that young kids tend to gravitate to the word-play type. Here’s a couple that my son invented recently: “Who rules the evil league of evil? The Crime Minister” (after we had visited the UK and I had been explaining about the role of the Prime Minister), and “What type of dog has wings? A pug-asus.” Groan Fwiw, I like your Pavarotti joke a great deal 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The first time in North America when somebody addressed me with “knock-knock” I was completely stunned. The poor jokester spent the next half-hour explaining what I’m supposed to say back and why.


  2. From Poland (translated)

    A policeman goes into a book store.
    Policeman: Do you have anything by Hemingway?
    Clerk: We have “The Old Man and the Sea”
    Policeman: I’ll take “The Sea” then.

    An old lady goes into a bar with a parrot on her arm and walks up to a young handsome man.
    “If you can guess what kind of animal this is, you can make love to me tonight.”
    He looks at the bird and at her and says “An alligator”.
    “Close enough!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where I come from its primarily situational jokes. They are told by little children as well which usually ends up making them more funny since children make a mistake or two in the telling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah! I think the reason kids don’t get into those here, is that there are many, many, published volumes of knock-knock jokes and other groan-inducing short-form jokes, with which the just-learned-to-read set can annoy their elders for hours. Not situational jokes, though. I think this has more to do with American publishers’ perceptions of children than with their actual capacity for humor. The unfortunate result: “Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana” has crowded out all the airspace. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “wordplay. Our humor, on the other hand, is situational”

    Is there no word play? In Poland most jokes are narrative but there’s also lots of word play

    wife: you said you wouln’t drink anymore
    husband: But I never said I’d drink any less.

    Or What’s the sequel of The Old Man and the Sea (Stary człowiek i morze) called?
    Stary człowiek i jeszcze morze – in Polish morze (море) and może (може) are pronounced identically…


    1. “Здравствуйте, можно Борю?”
      “Его нет. Что-нибудь передать?”
      “Передайте ему, пожалуйста, сто долларов.”

      I can’t translate but it’s really funny word play.


  4. In addition to wordplay, I think there’s a lot of underappreciated regional variety in types of jokes, in the US. Texas has a reputation for hyperbolic one-liners– “his pants were so tight if he’d farted, his boots would’ve blown off”, and IMO Appalachia is big on long-winded absurd narratives… as well as the self-deprecating quip: “Ever since I got my new teeth, I can’t stop smiling at everybody!”, or “It’s nice to see everybody! We should get together like this more often!” (at a funeral).


  5. I want two cups of coffee, very hot and sweet …

    “Mademoiselle, story 842.”

    Naturally, I shan’t pay, because I fear no one.

    [sips my coffee behind a table that says “Change My Mind”]



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