Tag: humor

For Want of a Good Joke

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People don’t tell jokes anymore. At least, not the people I am around. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. I’ve heard stand-up comics complain that it is difficult to tell jokes in the current atmosphere, as someone is bound to be offended. I’m not sure that’s true. People are offended if the joke is offensive, but I’ve heard many jokes that made me laugh that seemed innocent enough to me. The problem is, I don’t hear them anymore. I think part of the reason is because jokes are now too long for a person’s attention span. Jokes have been replaced by TikTok videos, which is a perfect demonstration of how entropy increases in the universe.

There is a skill to a good joke-teller and not everyone has it. The best jokesters tell jokes as if they are stories. None of this guy walks into a bar thing. They make the jokes personal, often becoming the butt of the joke to get the laugh. I love listening to a good joke-teller because I like to imagine I can tell jokes pretty well (I am a storyteller after all), but when I heard a really good joke-teller, it’s like sitting at the knees of a professional writer, actor, or anyone who has honed their skills over time.

I have a cousin who is a really good joke-teller. He knows how to do it right, but it has been so long since I’ve seen him, I worry that the jokes won’t seem as good as they used to.

When I was younger, I could spend a good part of an evening with someone swapping jokes back and forth, and laughing the entire time. There is almost nothing that can do more for my state of mind than laughter. Recently I was at a get-together and while there was a lot of funny conversion, there were no jokes.

What brought this to mind was the punchline to a joke I once heard my mother tell. This was maybe forty years ago. For some reason, the punchline always stuck in my head. I never knew the joke, just the punchline. It didn’t seem like a particular funny punchline either, and that made it all the more curious. What was this joke that belonged to this punchline? The punchline, delivered in a sing-song voice, went something like, “Washing, washing, washing in the Cheer Cheer Cheer. Rinsing, rinsing, rinsing in the clear, clear clear. Looks so nice, smells so–washing, washing, washing in the Cheer Cheer Cheer.”

Over the decades I’ve had this punchline run through my head countless times. It would pop at the oddest moment: during a cultural anthropology final in college; somewhere over the Great Plains on a flight across the country; standing in a vomitorium in the ruins of Miletus in Turkey; or whenever I put a load of laundry in the washing machine. The last time it happened my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to see if Google knew the joke. As it happened, Google knew it. I located it in the Joke Archives, and if you’d like, you can read the entire joke yourself. The version of the punchline in my head is slightly different from the one in the Joke Archives, but it is definitely the joke that goes with the punchline.

This was a rare letdown. The joke wasn’t that funny in my mind. When my mom told the joke, however, I remember her laughter as well as the laughter of the people around her, which just goes to show you why humor is so difficult, and why comedians should be national treasures for their skill.

My own personal favorite joke is a mother-in-law joke. I love my mother-in-law, but in-laws are one of those cultural mines for good jokes. I’m not certain, but I think I might have first come across this joke in one of Isaac Asimov’s volume of humor (he wrote two specifically on jokes and humor). The way I tell it goes like this:

A caveman is sitting by a creek, gnawing on a hunk of mastodon meat, enjoying the rare quiet. After a short time the quiet is broken by a distant shriek and from the direction of his cave, his wife comes running. “Wog! Wog!” she screams, “Come quick! A sabertooth tiger has just chased mother into the cave.” Wog looks up at his wife with mild annoyance, chews of the final remaining piece of meat from the bone, and calmly says, “What do I care what happens to a sabertooth tiger?”

My apologies to all sabertooth tigers out there.

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It Used to Be A Fun House

All the girls in the family have been watching a lot of Pink videos and singing Pink songs lately. This has been my introduction to Pink, whose songs I’d never heard before mainly because I listened to other stuff. I knew there was a performer called Pink, of course, but that was about the limit of my knowledge.

One of the songs they sing and listen to has been stuck in my head for a few weeks now. The name of the song is “Fun House” and it has one of the most disturbing and incongruous lyrics I’ve ever come across:

It used to be a fun house /
But now it’s full of evil clowns

“Why,” I have asked my kids repeatedly over the last few weeks, “does the house have to be full of evil clowns?” Everyone knows that clowns themselves are bad enough but evil clowns raise the specter of movies like Poltergeist and novels like It.

My girls think my reaction to the song is amusing. Several times a day I will walk up to them randomly and repeat the lyric as though I am pondering how such a think could be. “It used to be a fun house,” I’ll say solemnly, “but not it’s full of evil clowns.” At this point, my youngest (nearly 5 years old) will remind me that, “I’m gonna burn it down, down, down.”

I’ve given this a lot of thought–too much, perhaps. The line would make much more sense if it used to be a fun house, but now it is an evil house. For one thing, there is a nice parallelism to that. For another, it is a natural rhyme, rather than the slant rhyme created between house and clown. The girls just give me strange looks.

I’ve offered them alternatives to evil clowns, equally incongruous, but less freaky than evil clowns. For instance:

It used to be a fun house, but now it’s full of evening gowns.

which scans perfectly and is worthy of a Weird Al level parody. But if I sing that lyric, the girls become irritated and say, “Nooooo, Daaaaad, it’s evil clowns!

It used to be a farmhouse, but now it’s full of L. Frank Baum.

They just stared at me.

I think we’re stuck with evil clowns at this point, but I don’t have to like it. Still, I can’t seem to get the song out of my head. They made it worse for me yesterday by insisting I watch the video, complete with evil clowns with glowing eyes.

I want to make it clear to everyone that I have nothing against evil clowns. Some of my best friends are evil clowns. My problem is entirely with incongruous lyrics. Why “evil clowns”? Why no, “wedding gowns” or “awkward nouns”? The mystery of it has me spiraling in an infinite loop that my daughters find particularly delightful.

Tim Conway’s Elephant Story

I know that this is a classic episode of The Carol Burnett Show, and it has floated around the Internet for some time now. But every now and then, when I feel the need for a laugh, something to really revitalize my mood, I’ll turn to a video like this, and it is incredible how well it works for me. They say laughter is the best medicine, and in my book, this video and Tim Conway’s genius (and Vicky Lawrence’s one-liner at the end) prove this adage true. If you are in need of a laugh, well, you’re welcome.

Guest Post: Remembering Tommy Lasorda’s World Championship Mouth by Jason Ashlock

When I saw that Tommy Lasorda had died, I knew I had to write something about him. He was an icon of the game for 70+ years, and especially of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I lived in L.A. for nearly 20 years, but as a lifelong Yankees fan, I didn’t feel I had the chops to write about Lasorda. Fortunately, I know someone who does. Jason Ashlock has a great Tommy Lasorda story to tell, and he tells it below in a way that epitomizes Lasorda. In addition to being my brother-in-law, Jason is a creative director at big ad agency. You’ve probably seen his commercials before (this is one of my favorites), but unfortunately, commercials don’t run credits. I’m delighted that Jason agreed to my request to write something here about Tommy Lasorda. Enjoy! –Jamie

When the news hit that Tommy Lasorda had died, the very first thing that came to mind was, “Fucking Tommy Lasorda.” And I mean that in the most loving way possible, because as a kid I loved the Dodgers. I loved Tommy Lasorda. I loved everything about his no bullshit f-bomb-laced approach to the game. 

Tommy Lasorda was the living embodiment of profanity. His expletive laced exploits are well documented. But, I like to think that his greatest set of swear words were directed at me. That’s right. I got cursed out by Tommy Lasorda. I was twelve years old at the time. 

In the early 1990’s, every year for my birthday my Dad would reserve the first two rows behind Dodger dugout. My Dad worked for Unocal 76 and those were the corporate seats. Every Dodger fan knows the orange 76 logo above the scoreboard—a staple of Dodger stadium since its inaugural season in 1962. 

But the first two rows behind Dodger dugout! Those were amazing seats. So for my birthday I’d invite a group of friends and we’d go early for BP and get autographs. Hershiser. Scioscia. Piazza. Strawberry. Pedro Martinez. Brett Butler. So many great players. 

During the game we’d buy Cracker Jacks, malted ice cream and giant soft drinks. We’d place it all on top of the concrete Dodger dugout during the game. This was before cupholder technology became ubiquitous in baseball stadiums. 

One year, some random lady bumped into one of my friends and knocked over one of those giant soft drinks. Imagine, 50 ounces of sticky soda pouring down into the dugout. It didn’t take long. 

Out pops Tommy Lasorda. He’s full-on red in the face. His cheeks are vibrating. And he singles me out. “What the fuck are you doing, kid. My fucking players are covered with your fucking soda pop. Get that shit out here. Fuck you.” It’s still one of my most vivid and enjoyable memories. I loved every moment of it. 

Fuck you back, Tommy Lasorda. You will be missed.

The physical impossibility inside my refrigerator this morning

I first really learned the value of using a checklist back when I was taking flying lessons. Virtually everything you do is guided by a checklist, and for good reason: it ensures you don’t miss any steps. Why would you miss a step, if you are doing the same thing again and again and again? For the very reason that you do the same thing again and again and again and if you are thrown out of your routine, things can fall apart rapidly.

This was all brought to mind this morning when I woke bleary-eyed from four hours of sleep and decided I needed some early morning caffeine in the form of Red Bull1. I hadn’t put any additional cans of Red Bull in the fridge last night so the only cold can would be the one that I packed in my lunch. That wasn’t really a problem. I’d just swap out the cold can for a room temperature one and by 10:30am (when I normally have my can of Red Bull) it would be nice and cool.

I opened the fridge and pulled out my lunch bag2 and reached in for the can of Red Bull.

You know those moments of complete surprise? Like when you take a swig from an opaque glass thinking there is beer in it when in fact it is milk? Well, I reached into the bag–which I’d supposed had been in the fridge for close to 12 hours now–and pulled out a warm3 can of Red Bull. My first thought was that the fridge was broken and I opened the door and felt around to make sure it felt cold inside. Even more disconcerting was that when I reached into my lunch bag to feel the can of Cherry Dr. Pepper that was next to the Red Bull, I discovered to my horror that it was ice cold.

Kelly must have seen the expression on my face for she calmly explained the unexplainable to me:

“You left it out last night.”

“The Red Bull?” I said.

“Your entire lunch. You left it on the counter.” And before I could ask how it was that the Cherry Dr. Pepper was cold, she added, “I swapped in a cold soda for you when I put your lunch in the fridge just now4.”

I’ve been packing my lunch virtually every day since the first of the year5 and I’ve never left it out on the counter overnight–until now. Of course, having thought about it, I realized that my routine last night was way off of what it normally was. Rather than focusing on one task, I seemed to be doing three or four at once and because I don’t use a checklist when preparing lunches and other tasks in the evening, I clearly went off the page.

And I can’t stand Red Bull when it is room temperature, so I was a little bit grouchy until I got into the office this morning.

  1. Yes, Red Bull. Don’t judge.
  2. The same plastic Target grocery bag I’ve been using for a few months now. We really try and reuse or recycle in our house.
  3. Well, room temperature anyway.
  4. Kelly is constantly doing sweet little things like this for me.
  5. I’ve missed only 2 days.

10 ways writing stories is like writing code

Being a science fiction writer and (senior) application developer means spending my nights writing stories and my days writing code. It recently occurred to me there are some similarities between the two activities which I will now delineate for you in this conveniently accessible list:

  1. Gathering requirements = Outlining. Pretty self-explanatory.
  2. Naming variables = Naming characters. I’m sure many of my writer friends have included Tuckerisms in their stories, but how many of you have been Tuckerized in code? And just like in writing code, you should avoid weird characters in your name. Names like J’ahl’ton are so 1940s.
  3. Code comments = Exposition. I try to do a decent job commenting my code, but my fellow coders are always telling me to “Show, don’t tell.”
  4. Working on a revision = Writing a draft. I am truly a geek. In my head, I number my drafts the same way I number my code revisions, using x.y.z notation.
  5. Quality assurance testing = Proofreading. Although, it would be nice to have some kind of universal test plan to work off of for each story you wrote.
  6. Debugging = Fixing plot problems. Somehow, my main character has entered an infinite loop.
  7. Developing/using an API = World-building. This may not be obvious to non-coders. An API is an application programming interface, a kind of library of functions of a particular type that can be used and reused again. Kind of like the background of your story. Especially if your story is fan-fic.
  8. Compiling code = Preparing the manuscript. Some people might see this as submitting the manuscript, but for me when I compile, I’m just looking to see the end product. Thank goodness there is no need for make in fiction-writing.
  9. Exceptions = Rejections. Well, a rejection from the compiler as opposed to the editor. But still.
  10. Listening to users complain = Reading reviews. File in /dev/null.

15 use cases comparing e-books to traditional books: an illustrated list

I’ve now been reading e-books for more than 2-1/2 years. For the 37 years prior to that, I read paper books exclusively. For a while now, I’ve been meaning to compare the two forms of book in some reasonable and understandable way, but I was hard pressed to come up with a format for such a comparison. Then it dawned on me: use cases!

By day, I am a software developer and creating use cases is an important part of the construction and testing process. A use case is used to describe a real-world use of how the product in question might be used. So I came up with a number of use cases for e-books to see how they compare with traditional books. 10 of these use cases demonstrate (I think) how e-books are superior to traditional books. The remaining use cases demonstrate areas in which traditional books still have an edge over e-books.

My e-book reader, for the purposes of this exercise is my iPad 2, using the Kindle App for iPad. I’m sure I didn’t capture every possible use case, but these are the ones I seem to deal with most frequently.

1. Finding a book on the bookshelf

Depending on how many books you have, and how organized you are, this can be a fairly daunting task for traditional books. Here is an picture of me illustrating the use case by searching for a book on my shelves:


I used to have my books organized alphabetically by author, and then chronologically within the author. That fell by the wayside the last time I moved. While they are arranged alphabetically by author, they are completely random within a given author. That may not sound like trouble, but for someone who has several hundred Isaac Asimov books, for instance, it can make any one book tricky to find.

Read more

Wherein my in-laws tease me with long-distance eggnog

A few days ago I wrote about how my wonderful in-laws hooked me on eggnog. Since then, I’ve checked the local grocery stores almost daily for the possibility that one of them will magically receive a late shipment. But no luck, and I figured the season had passed.

And then, out of the blue, I received an email from my in-laws moments ago with the subject line “Jealous?” It contained the following photo, presumably from their local grocery store:


Who in their right mind needs that much eggnog on January 5th? You know it’s just going to sit on the store shelf and go bad? So why not ship it somewhere more useful, like my local grocery store. I would work closely with my local liquor store to see that it went to good use.

Dear CBS: Here is my application to replace Andy Rooney

I wrote something earlier in the week to which my friend Lisa commented: “Is this essay going to be part of your application to replace Andy Rooney?” Well, no that one wasn’t, Lisa, but your comment gave me inspiration and because of it, I present this:

Jamie Todd Rubin: On Straws

There was a time when a straw came easily out of its wrapper. You simply jolted it against a flat surface a time or two and the end of the straw would pierce through the wrapping, making it easy to extract the straw and move on to more important things. Like using it to drink.

I miss those times. These days, it seems, whenever I get a straw it takes more effort to get the straw out the wrapper than it should. Jolting it a few times on the counter top does nothing. The paper in which the straw is wrapped is stronger these days. Instinctively, this forces you to wrap it harder on the counter. Bad move. This often results in bending the straw somewhere in the middle. The bend causes a slight tear in the straw itself, so that when you do finally extract it from its encasement, you find it difficult to suck through because there is no longer a complete vacuum. The tear in the straw means you are drawing in air as well as your liquid. This results in a kind of gurling, slurping noise when you try to take in your beverage, not the normally smooth solid pull you get from an undamaged straw.

I don’t know why the paper used for wrapping straws has grown stronger over the years. I suspect it is a response to the hypochondriacs among us worried about their straw being contaminated by germs. It’s funny because you never hear those hypochondriacs complaining about the inside of the cups. The cups with which our beverages are filled are not wrapped in plastic. They sit in dispensers, one cup stacked in another. I can’t imagine they are nearly as hygienic as our straws. Someone in a straw factory realized one day that you could use stronger paper to make a straw wrapper for the same price and it was seen as an improvement. I have a hard time imagining the idea being tested. Can you imagine a room full of people representing a cross-section of the straw-using community, trying to extract straws from wrappers of different strengths? I can’t either.

Maybe this would all be easier if we had reusable straws, the way that we have Tupperware, or reusable coffee mugs. If we carried our own reusable straw around with us, there would be no need to fight a battle with a straw wrapper. It might even be good for the environment. Of course, then we’d have to spend time washing our straws. The thought of how disgusting the inside of my straw might ultimately become really turns off the hypochondriac in me.

We need a national Rosie’s Bar day

With everything going on in the world right now, I think we need a national Rosie’s Bar day. What is a “Rosie’s Bar day”? It comes from the M*A*S*H episode “A Night at Rosie’s.” Hawkeye decides to quit the war and goes to Rosie’s bar for a drink. Colonel Potter sends someone off to find him, and that person ends up staying in the bar with Hawkeye. More people are sent and Hawkeye and his friends convince them all to stay at the bar rather than go back to the war. My colleagues and I have jokingly threatened to have a Rosie’s Bar day for years now.

Given all of the tension and anxiety and frustration and fear that our politicians have caused in recent months, I think we can all use a Rosie’s Bar day. Quit the office at noon one day, head for the nearest watering hole and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking beer (or whatever you prefer), snacking, and chatting with complete strangers about things that don’t matter much. For a few hours, we can pretend that the ghastly problems with the economy and our increasingly divided (and seemingly powerless) politician don’t exist. No, it doesn’t make the problems go away but it does allow us to take a collective breath and put our minds at ease for a little while.

Heck, I’d even suggest that the President and Congress do the same. Take an afternoon off and head for the bars on Capital Hill. Buy each other drinks, chat about how hot it’s been in Washington, about the Nationals or the fact that football is right around the corner.

Then maybe we can all go back to work and get something done. Surely if we can share a drink together, we can work together, too, right?