Let me tell you a little story. It was around my second year of high school when I started to realize I’m funny. I can already hear all of your questions rushing toward me. Did it really take that long? How many thousands have thanked you since? Did you have a hamster at the time?
Yes, I did have a hamster. His name was Goldilocks, and he was delightful. But this story is not about him. It is about a young man named Nico. I didn’t really know Nico that well at the time, but he and I had a few short conversations. Little did I suspect, he and I would grow to be best friends. I’m getting ahead of myself. There we were, walking like mindless migratory wildebeests across the cold tundra of my high school campus when I joined a conversation between Nico and someone else. That was when I heard those fateful words.
In a tone of voice more flat and emotionless than any I had ever heard before, he said, “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?” he paused for the perfect amount of time, “The holocaust.”
Words on a screen can't convey the hilarity of that joke. You need to hear the monotone voice, see the blank face, feel the presence of masterfully arranged pauses to experience what I felt in that moment with Nico. A new world had erupted before me, and I leapt in.
I’m not certain what it was about the joke itself that caught my attention. Maybe it was its barren simplicity, its straight-forwardness. I mean, logically, the holocaust really is worse than a worm in your apple. I think most people would agree that they are two events of such different proportion that the very comparison is kind of ridiculous. I think that was it. The weirdness, the sheer craziness of the statement threw me off balance. And the fact that it came from this strange boy’s mouth in such a casual way left me feeling like I had missed something, as though I was only understanding half the joke. That happened to me once in a while back then. A joke would go right over my head, and I’d be left feeling peevish and confused. That never happens anymore, though, because I’m awesome. smart and funny.
But, that wasn’t what happened. Like I said, it was a straight-forward joke. There was nothing to misunderstand. No, to laugh at the joke, I actually had to adjust how I thought about jokes. That is truly the art of the anti-joke.
Up until that point, my concept of humor consisted of an energetic person smiling and telling jokes, their voices and body language building up to a hilarious punchline. Quiet, reserved, wonderful Nico came before me and showed me a new way. He showed me how humor can be small rather than overblown. He showed me how jokes can have complex humor while still being supremely simple.
And now, in conclusion, I present to you my favorite anti-joke.
Why did Sally fall off the swing?
Because she had no arms.