Jokes Aside… Let Me Tell You a Tale

Orange you glad I didn’t say apple?

Words written in my novel so far: 22,633 (yay!)

Bunnies spotted on our Friday long run: 2

Jokes I remember: 1

Do not ever ask me to tell you a joke. I am Queen of the Non-Joke Tellers.

If you tell me a joke, I will laugh. Then I will promptly forget said joke. You can tell me the same joke a week from now, and I will remember I’ve heard it, but I won’t remember the punch line.

My dad passed the Non-Joke-Telling Gene down to me. Once, back in the ’80s, he went to lunch with some co-workers and started telling a long, involved joke that included Pollocks (folks, it was the ’80s… and we’re part Polish, so sue me) and a vacation at sea. When he got to the punch line, he couldn’t remember it.

Smart phones weren’t invented yet, so when he got back to the office, he had to call my mom. Then he had to walk around the office and tell everyone the part he’d forgotten.

Never let it be said that I don’t learn a lesson. When I realized I had the same faulty gene, I gave up on joke telling. I was nine.

Jokes are pat, they are written by someone else, and they have a manufactured feel, I tell myself.

But for us writers, there is much to be learned from both jokes and seat-of-the-pants storytelling. There is pacing, the spinning out of details to keep the reader interested, and the payoff at the end.

On the other side of the family, my mom’s side, there is the Storytelling Gene. I pray I have it. It might make up for the fact that I can’t tell a joke to save my life.

My great-grandmother had a head for details. She could tell you how much she paid for a metal sieve back in 1937. She could tell you a story about a train wreck that happened on the tracks just across from her house forty years earlier. And she had the sweetest chuckle when something tickled her fancy.

Her daughter, my grandmother, could meet someone and find out her deepest family secrets within the space of six minutes. Some people might call this gossip. They are the same types who pooh-pooh People magazine and forget to ask you about how your cousin’s father’s sister is doing after her lobotomy.

But my grandmother was an unofficial reporter years before I got my journalism degree. People wanted to tell her things, and she collected their stories lovingly like she collects glass and ceramic Christmas trees.

She can tell stories about learning to drive a car across the fields near her home when she was only ten years old that will leave you giggling. She tells about chewing gum in school, getting caught, and then sticking another piece of gum in her mouth before the teacher could turn around again. She can make me laugh until I cry.

Every day brings new stories for my mom. When I was growing up, the dinner table was a story-telling proving ground after her days in the chemistry lab or as a customer service rep at the bank, or later, as a piano teacher. Think of the most boring job possible. If my mom worked there, I promise you, she could tell you riveting stories about her fellow employees and the work day.

I have much to learn, sensei.

But years later, I watch someone as he tells a joke. I listen when she tells a story about a mundane, workaday event. How do they do it? What makes one story work and another fall flat?

In the meantime, do you want me to tell you a joke? No?

I’ve got a great one:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


No? You want me to stop? You already know how this is going to end, don’t you?

Well, then, let me tell you a story…


13 thoughts on “Jokes Aside… Let Me Tell You a Tale

  1. crubin says:

    Oh, I’m terrible with a joke, too. I really try to make myself remember them, but despite my best efforts, I mess them up, anyway. So I pretty much gave up even trying. 🙂

  2. Daryl says:

    I only know two jokes, a funny adult one that I can’t tell to any family member, and your joke. In my son’s words, “Epic Fail.”

  3. 4amWriter says:

    I don’t recall jokes all that well, either. Plus I get all self-conscious and fidgety when I do remember a joke, that I rush straight through to the punch line because I’m so afraid to lose the audience.

    One of my brothers is the best joke-teller in the world. Really. He’s just the life of any party he goes too. He has a knack for spinning it out and engaging everyone around him. He also doesn’t give away info thru facial expressions, like sometimes you don’t realize it’s the punch line until he hits you with it.

    I’m sure that you got the story-telling gene. I’d bet money on that one. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes, your brother sounds like someone I’ve been at a fun party with. ; ) I love to hear the jokes and listen, spellbound. Don’t you wonder how he figured out the trick of telling a great joke? He was probably about 5. Seems like good joke-tellers figure things out early.

  4. I wish my memory was better. My roommate in college was a joke machine. He could go non-stop for hours. For the life of me I can’t remember most of them.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I can remember the jokes, but I’m no good at telling them. I think telling jokes and stories (as opposed to writing them) is akin to acting ability. And I certainly don’t have that, either.

    But plenty of good writers can’t act or tell jokes, so I think you’re right that different genes are involved. 🙂

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