Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cohen Jokes

I've only been to two of G A Cohen's Humour Seminars this term, but I thought this was much more interesting - and amusing - than the first. The idea of academics sitting around dissecting jokes doesn't actually sound all that funny, but when you actually see these people doing it - in All Souls' Old Library - it's actually pretty funny just because it's so ingruous. That, in fact, was part of Cohen's point: jokes need some bomination of incongruity and sense.

The puzzle comes with how these combine. He illustrated with a fairly routine example of two people complaining about restaurant food. The first says 'the food is terrible' and the second 'yes, and the portions are so small'. This, he said, could make sense, but at the same time it seems prima facie absurd to make both complaints. Interestingly, had the order of the two complaints been reversed, the joke doesn't seem as funny. Had the second merely said 'yes, and they've stopped giving jumbo portions' it would have been more absurd but made less sense. Taken to a limit, if the second said 'yes, and I'm going to the movies this afternoon', the joke wouldn't have made any sense.

I can't be bothered to type out many of the jokes in full, but hear are the bones of a few:

A husband and wife are trekking through the jungle when suddenly a giant ape jumps out and starts ravishing the woman. 'Quick! Do something!' she cries, to which her husband responds 'tell him you have a headache'.

A man rings the Jewish solicitors Cohen, Cohen, Cohen, Cohen & Cohen.
1: I'd like to speak to Mr Cohen please.
2: I'm afraid he's in court right now.
1: Ok then. Can I speak to Mr Cohen?
2: He's off sick.
1: How about Mr Cohen?
2: He's at lunch.
1: Then can I speak to Mr Cohen?
2: He's on holiday.
1: Well, in that case I'd like to speak to Mr Cohen.
2: Speaking.

Two men facing a firing squad. 'Any last words?' the captain asks. The first remains silent, but then the second starts hurling insults at them. The first nudges him and says 'Quiet down Pete; don't make trouble.

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