Outside Jokes

If, the next time you asked me a question, I were to look at you incredulously and say, "What? You pooped in the refrigerator?!" would it mean anything to you? Anything at all?

I hate inside jokes. I really do. I think there's only one thing worse than people who share inside jokes in front of people who don't/can't get them: jokes that are so inside that when you honestly, considerately try to explain them to others it takes half an hour and ends up sounding completely unfunny.

That refrigerator/poop thing was a line from Anchorman, by the way. Will Ferrell's character, Ron Burgundy, says it to his dog Baxter, with whom he converses by interpreting the dog's barks as English. (Or Spanish.)

See? Unfunny.

But if you'd seen the movie you might have chortled a little on that first reference, and I think we all more or less understand why. There's sort of an I-know-that-you-know-but-you-might-not-know-that-I-know-(but I do) thing going on with those little shared jokes.

You make the reference and subtly surprise your friend by revealing or revisiting a bit of knowledge the two of you have in common. That moment of surprise manifests as laughter, ideally.

Or, you know, your joke falls totally flat, and your friend doesn't know what the crap you're talking about, and your nudge to his ribs is just annoying and painful. Then you get into that even more excruciating situation of explaining a joke. "You see, it's from that movie, remember? With the guy, and the bears, and... oh, forget it."

That's where the I-know-that-you-know formula breaks down.


Just as bad is when your friend gets it, and snickers, but the other person standing there doesn't get it, and frowns. Actually, I think that's worse. What it is, really, is the opposite of a joke - where a joke is an inclusive, we're-all-in-this-together-buddy, camaraderie-centric animal (even at its lowest form: "So...hot enough for ya?"), this other scenario we're talking about is intentionally exclusive, aggressive and mean.

It's not really about "me and you" knowing anymore; it's about "him" not knowing. That goes for allegedly funny t-shirts that are cryptic and confusing to 99% of the people who see them too. Outside jokes.

I'll admit, I've been that guy once or twice. My beloved "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" shirt was probably intended ironically when I wore it in high school, though I have since developed a sincere appreciation for Fred Rogers and what he was doing with that show.

In tenth grade it meant, "I'm so cool that I'm wearing a shirt representing the least cool thing in the world... on purpose! C'mon... Mister Rogers?! Ha! I'm way too sophisticated and urbane to actually like him, and so are you! Right? Aren't you? Aren't you?" I guess the idea was to leave old people scratching their heads, but in retrospect I think they were actually shaking their heads instead. They certainly should have been.

Humor should only be used for good. No being mean with jokes. That's where I stand.



In the interest of leveling the playing field, just a little, here are a few things I've run across lately that have some potential for being inside jokes, but much more potential, in my opinion, for being pretty damn funny.

Do take a moment to familiarize yourself with them, and safeguard yourself against frowning during future conversations with your fellow readers of On Like Popcorn. (And, more importantly, prevent me from future squirming upon accidentally mentioning one of these things and getting nothing but a blank stare.) Before long you'll be exclaiming, "Man, that gold-plated Beretta sure does roundhouse-kick a snow leopard's ass!"

1. Chuck Norris Facts
An online compendium of "facts" about Chuck Norris, and a proud continuation of the "Ya Mama's So Fat" legacy of explicating the infinite variety of ways to tell one joke. "Chuck Norris is So Tough..."

2. Elvis Presley vs. Robert Goulet
Will Ferrell, fast becoming the Kevin Bacon of pop comedy references (There was this game, see, called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and... ah, skip it), memorably impersonated actor/entertainer Robert Goulet in an SNL skit. This, particularly the "GOO-lay!" battle cry, prompted a revitalized interest in the singer (at least for me) and I found out that though he had many fans, The King would not be counted among them. It's said that Elvis turned off the television anytime Goulet would appear, once even resorting to shooting the screen with his trusty handgun. Said gun is now apparently for sale at the site linked above, listed as "Elvis' Remote Control." That's awesome.

3. The Inimitable Wesley Willis
In Chicago, there used to be a man named Wesley Willis, who was homeless, weighed 300 lbs, painted pictures and played music, and was almost certainly certifiable. Much like with Goulet, there's been a resurgence of interest in Wesley, though Will Ferrell's involvement is heretofore undetected. I wish I could be more sure that the people running these sites were laughing with Wesley instead of at him, but at any rate I found his story interesting, and I thought you might too.

(That's if you hadn't heard of him already. I guess a lot of people have. The other day my friend James casually asked if I liked Wesley Willis music and I eyed him suspiciously and said "No...")

(I learned my lesson about answering open-ended questions in grade school, when the inquiry "Hey, want a Hertz Donut?" was always followed by a sharp punch in the arm and the exclamation "Hurts, don't it?!")

(For all I knew a "Wesley Willis" could have involved James stabbing me in the gall bladder.)


Jokes shouldn't hurt people. It's just not right.

Please enjoy these links at your leisure, and share your favorites with friends and cohorts. And if you happen to make reference to one of them in the presence of an ignorant bystander, by all means catch the poor guy up - even if it's totally unfunny.

1 comment:

penelope said...

Or the person who doesn't get it can take my lead by smiling and nodding. Uh-huh. Yeah... How about them Colts.

Uh. nevermind.