A while back, in a post peripherally about the recent and tragic World Cup, Steve from Yorkshire commented about that particular phase of the World Cup (this was during our brief period of optimism—remember that?) and its resemblance to WWII. The comment went, “The World Cup is like WWII because the …” But you’ve heard that already.
Sensing this was an ephemeral joke, I told it to as many people as I could, including a bus-buddy on my way to work that morning. When we met up at the bus stop in the evening, he said to me, “Remember that World Cup joke you told me? My wife called me and told it to me after I got to work, and three other people told it to me this afternoon. That Internet really moves fast!” (By the by, this was ironic coming, as it did, from a BT employee.)
But his point was well made: humor, in the age of instant communication, has an incredibly short shelf life.
This got me thinking. And, after my brain recovered from the shock of such an unusual event, it occurred to me that I don’t hear many jokes these days. Time was, if you were out with some friends at the pub, or at a house party, or even chatting on the bus, someone would say, “I’ve got a great joke; stop me if you’ve heard this. A frog hopped into a bank…” And a week later, when you found yourself at another gathering, you could pull that joke out and be relatively sure that most people hadn’t heard it. A good joke could last for months.
Now, people don’t bother; they know everyone has heard them all. In fact, the rarest of pleasures available in these digital days is getting an Internet joke I have not yet heard. But even that is a fleeting and bittersweet delight because I know, by the time I get to the pub (or even out to the kitchen to tell my wife) everyone else will have heard it, as well. And so will I—over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Internet is brilliant (after all, it was because of the Internet that I finally learned the real words to “Louie, Louie”) but I think the slow death of classic joke-telling is one of its unfortunate downsides; not only have I not heard a good, new joke in a long, long time, but venerable, old jokes are starting to resemble dead horses because they are being flogged around cyberspace so often. Information sharing is no bad thing, but we’re becoming like The Borg, practically reading each other’s thoughts in real time. And have you ever seen a Borg tell a joke? I think it’s clear that the lack of humor in their culture was what made them so cranky, like the Germans.
I wish I had an answer, I wish I could say the trend is reversing, but I fear we are entering a new era, an age where humor arrives via your IN box and is shared by use of your SEND TO ALL button (as an aside, please stop that, okay?). Perhaps this will lead to spam filters evolving to the point where they can divert any joke you have heard before (though this would make your incoming mail volume drop by about 97%) and filter out those recipients you have already sent it to.
I realize that’s a depressing note to leave you on, so here’s a good joke to cheer you up: A transvestite walks into a bowling alley wearing nothing but fish-net stockings and lederhosen and, as he’s requesting a pair of shoes, the clerk says to him…
Sorry, I see you’re heard this one already.