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On Jokes: Their Accuracy and Whether it Matters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Garren Jacobsen, Jun 14, 2019.

  1. So, here is a question in my brain thoughts, how factually accurate does a joke have to be in order for it to be funny?

    What prompted this was a terrible pun and an internet meme. The pun was mine. I was in Washington DC and one of the stations is foggy bottom. So I texted my family, what do you call a bluegrass band from Washington DC? The Foggy Bottom Boys (referencing the Soggy Bottom Boys of O Brother Where Art Thou). Now, my brother said the joke fell flat for him because I used the wrong musical genre. The Soggy Bottom Boys are an Old Timey band, not bluegrass.

    The meme is an image of a guy having a conversation with his lawyer. In the conversation, the guy wants to sign his name as Batman. The lawyer strenuously objects. And the guy says prove that I'm not Batman. However, I find this unfunny because the joke makes no sense. You can sign your name as Batman to any contract. Hell you can draw a penis if you wanted to, but it is the signing that is important, not the name that is being signed.

    So, how accurate must a joke be to "work"?
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Depends on who you're telling it to.

    Me, I probably wouldn't have gotten the first joke because I'm not familiar with either DC or the TV series, but I might have found it amusing anyway.

    The second joke, I'd have found funny because I don't have the knowledge about signatures you do.

    One thing I tend to say is that you can joke about everything, but not with everyone. Usually, this is about tasteless or morbid jokes, but I think it applies here too. Some jokes require a bit of knowledge in order work, and other jokes require a lack of knowledge.
    Additionally, some jokes require that the audience shares some opinions with the one telling the joke, and others not.

    So what I'm thinking is that the joke doesn't have to be accurate, but the audience needs to be receptive to it.
     
  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    If there is the tiniest mistake buried somewhere in the joke, someone out there is going to notice it. I would have got the Old TIme (don't call us Old Timey) versus Bluegrass thing (which is a difference I actually reference in my WIP --- not a fantasy novel, btw). So certainly, the more accurate one is, the better it will go over with a larger number of people.

    To be honest, if I found there was an inaccuracy in a joke I told I would be bothered by it myself, however well it went over with my audience.
     
  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    Not all jokes will land, and there is nothing like a perfectly good story ruined by an eye witness. I'm Irish. We lie for fun and profit.

    Don't worry if the occasional joke doesn't land with everyone, because it won't. I've had jokes that I thought were hilarious that got me crickets, and jokes I didn't even realize were jokes. Find the funny however you can. Someone else, somewhere, will appreciate it.
     
  5. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I think it’s more a case of ‘making sense’ rather than accuracy. Psychologists think that it is the ‘set up’ of a familiar pattern, and then the sudden switch that is fundamental to humour. This pattern switching, or insight switchover, followed by the surprise and realisation of the actual meaning or pun causes the chuckles.

    So, my answer is; accurate enough to make sense. Who it makes sense to is another kettle of fish.
     
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Generally, I'd throw my hat in with it doesn't have to be accurate, it just has to have some sort of logic behind it. But you can say something and have it be funny by the fact that it's absurd and illogical. But regardless, none of this can guarantee if it hits or not.

    My feeling is the more a joke depends on some obscure reference or fact, the less likely it's going to hit. This is about knowing your audience and what you can reasonably expect them to know. If you have to explain it, then it's dead in the water.

    I have friends where I can crack a joke about the number 42, and they'll laugh. But there are other friends where I crack the same joke l, and they'll just stare at me blankly.
     
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Isn't the Foggy Bottom example a case of adding something glaringly wrong? That might be different than using something that is simply factually incorrect.

    Factually incorrect can even be funny and often is. Pres. Trump recently mentioned meeting the Prince of Whales. This was glaring, also; but it became the punchline.

    Glaring error that isn't itself the punchline gets in the way of the punchline.

    Now, what is glaring to some may pass by unnoticed by others...
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I have never considered accuracy to be part of humor. Sometimes there's a reference to something and maybe someone in the audience doesn't understand the reference, so the joke falls flat for that person. This doesn't mean the joke isn't funny. For a joke not to be funny, it would have to be unfunny for everyone, in which case I'm not sure it's a joke any more. It's just a statement.

    Accuracy is overrated in most things. Non-lethal things, anyway.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Does the accuracy of the joke matter? I would say, yes. A high quality joke would be fairly accurate.

    There's a matter of taste, and style, and the rest of it. But there's also the matter of how discerning the audience is. Someone might just laugh a little easier, or at the effort and timing you put into it, or at the out-there-ness of it, or not pay much attention to whether it makes sense. And that's fine.

    But if you're looking at a professional comedian, for jokes that are being performed to a real audience, or even the kind that get slipped into a book, then the answer is yes. If you're looking for publishing-quality jokes, then the accuracy is going to matter.
     
  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Hmmm... Without giving this a lot of thought, I think the impact of a joke will increase if it connects to something perceived to be true. But, I don't think it would have to necessarily be true. In the case above, I see that you are reaching for a common understanding that Soggy Bottom and Foggy Bottom will be understood by both, and if it is, I could see a moan from the audience following. But...since I don't know the soggy bottom boys, I would not get it.

    Prove I'm not batman is funny because of its absurdity, that's more my line of humor. I think it hits on many levels, truth---because it is true that if I cannot prove you are not batman, that you may in fact be... But that would be absurd. Batman, of course, lives in my basement.

    I am terrible with jokes. I cant remember them even a few minutes after someone has said them, and humor is not really my thing. I just quote my son, who always has a good joke it seems.
     
  11. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    I think if a joke is true among the majority or is perceived that way that can make it funny. You have universal jokes and then you have jokes for certain countries and areas. There is a Norfolk joke that goes like this:
    A bus driver is doing his usual rounds when a man gets on his bus who looks exactly like Bin Laden, so, he casually pulls the bus over, announces their is a problem with the steering and secretly calls the police. Within minutes the police arrive and go up to the man.
    They say: "Are you Bin Laden?"
    He says "No. I bin Swaffham."
    See it plays on the Norfolk accent. Swaffham is a place in Norfolk. We get it. It's funny. To outsiders it falls flat mostly. That's why jokes are so complicated, it really is about a person's knowledge of something.
     
  12. Helen

    Helen Sage

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    I don't think it has to be accurate, it just has to be funny. I speak as someone who has performed funny many times.
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think that's part of the skill in telling a joke to an audience. Stand up comedians set up their jokes. They impart the knowledge or impart enough knowledge so that the audience can understand the joke.

    I remember a while ago someone made a post about injecting humour into their writing. I told them my approach was something along the lines of, I like inside jokes, the type where people say, "You had to be there," and part of the job of the writer was to put the audience there.

    This is a lot like Chekhov's gun. You can reveal a piece of knowledge in chapter 3, so you can tell a joke in chapter 6.
     
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