265. Telling Jokes in English (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a short series on jokes. In the last one we considered some of the social codes around joke telling, including when, why and how we should tell jokes and respond to jokes. I suggest that you listen to that if you haven’t already done so. [CLICK HERE FOR PART 1]

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In this episode we’re going to look at some typical joke structures, consider what makes a joke funny, and then I’m going to tell you lots of jokes. So, more entertaining and useful listening practice, with some jokes you can learn and share, and plenty of vocabulary teaching too. Again, there might be a part 3 to this episode, depending how long it is.

Just a reminder: This episode is all about jokes, but even if you don’t laugh at any of these jokes (many of which are, admittedly, quite bad jokes!) that is fine – because you’re learning lots of vocabulary. Perhaps, if you don’t get the jokes the first time, after you’ve understand the vocabulary, you can listen to these episodes again, come back to the jokes and see if any of them strike you as funny on a second listen. Also, I don’t expect you to remember all of these jokes, but you could pick a couple of jokes that you like, learn how to say them, and then share them with a couple of English-speaking friends. But be prepared to explain the jokes if nobody understands!

What are some typical joke structures?
Usually it’s this:
Question (setup)
“I don’t know” (response)
Answer (punchline)

Why didn’t the ghost go to the dance?
– I don’t know
Because he had no body to go with.
Ha ha.

There are plenty of other joke types
Here’s a short list of examples

Knock Knock Jokes
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Luke who?
Luke through the window and you’ll see.

Doctor Doctor Jokes
Doctor doctor I feel like a bell
Well, take these pills and if they don’t work just give me a ring.

‘What do you call a…?’ jokes
What do you call a deer with no eyes?
No idea.

What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?
Still no idea.

‘What’s the difference between…?’ jokes
Q. What’s the difference between a tennis ball and the Prince of Wales?
A. One is thrown to the air and the other is heir to the throne.

Shaggy dog stories
E.g. the pink gorilla story

Light bulb jokes
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
None – the light bulb will change when it’s ready.

‘A man walks in to a bar’ jokes
A man walks into a bar…
and bangs his head.
It was an iron bar.

A man walks into a bar, sits down and orders a pint.
There’s a pianist in the corner, playing a song. The pianist has a monkey dancing on top of the piano.
As soon as the man’s drink arrives, the monkey jumps up, runs along the bar, pulls out its willy and pees into the man’s pint of beer.
Furious, the man walks over to the pianist and says “Do you know your monkey’s just pissed in my beer?”
The pianist says, “No I don’t, but if you sing the melody I’m sure I can pick it up”.

‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman’ jokes (pretty old-fashioned and a bit racist)
An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman are lost in the desert and their jeep breaks down. They’re going to have to walk. The Englishman takes the bottle of water, so if he gets thirsty he can drink it. The Scotsman brings a hat, so if the sun shines he can protect himself. The Irishman takes the car door and says “If it gets too hot I can wind down the window.”
– yes, the premise is that Irish people are stupid. It’s old-fashioned and a bit racist, as I said.

What makes a joke good?
It’s all a matter of taste. It’s completely subjective. There is no universal ‘best joke’ because different people with different tastes will laugh at different things at different times. In fact, the jokes which are totally safe and inoffensive will often be quite crap and boring. They lack any real punch, admittedly like a lot of the dad jokes in this episode. But there are certain things that will make a joke better – clever word play with double meanings of words being exploited, a bizarre or curious situation, the way the joke is told with correct timing, intonation, naturalness etc. There are also themes or subjects which will appeal to a wide audience, helping your joke get a better response from more people. These all help, but ultimately it’s a question of subjective personal taste.

The LaughLab Experiment
A study was done by a British scientist called Professor Richard Wiseman to discover the funniest joke in the world. The experiment, the results of which have been published on a website called laughlab.co.uk, went like this: People were invited to enter their favourite jokes into the website. Then other people from different countries around the world were asked to sign in, read the jokes and then rate the one they found the funniest. 40,000 jokes and 1.5 million ratings were received by the study. Do you want to know the joke? Here we go: (text reproduced from Prof Richard Wiseman’s website. Listen carefully. Do you get it?

The winning joke

After much careful scrutiny, we finally found the joke that received higher ratings than any other gag. Here it is:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses and falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy gets out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”. The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?” 

This joke was submitted by Gurpal Gosall, a 31 year old psychiatrist from Manchester in the UK. He told LaughLab:

“I like the joke as it makes people feel better, because it reminds them that there is always someone out there who is doing something more stupid than themselves.”

The joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike. Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.

Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality.

What do you think? Did you get it?

Let’s hear a short extract from a documentary about jokes produced by the History Channel. It’s presented by an American comedian called Louis Black. In this extract he meets Professor Wiseman and they talk about the LaughLab study and the joke that won. As you listen, just consider this question: What does Louis think of the joke? What’s his opinion?

What did Louis Black think?
He thought it was a bad joke, and that there is no such thing as “the funniest joke in the world” because all humour is subjective. What’s funny to one person will not be funny to the next guy, and so on. It’s your humour, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The only way to find out what is funny, is to actually go out and tell jokes and see what makes people laugh.

So, with that thought in mind, let me now tell you some jokes. If you don’t understand them, don’t worry – I will explain them all afterwards.

I’ll read all these jokes to you, then explain them afterwards. I think I’ll read out 10, and then explain those, and then do the next 10 and so on…

How Many Jokes Can You Understand?
If you like, you can count how many of the jokes you get. If you get a joke, you get one point.
So, count how many jokes you get.
9/10 or 10/10 = You will probably laugh at anything, and you’re probably on drugs.
6-8/10 = well done! Either your English is brilliant or you just have a natural sense of humour.
4-6/10 = not bad! Jokes are difficult to understand, and if you got 50% that’s actually a very good score.
2-4/10 = Don’t worry too much if you didn’t understand many of the jokes – don’t feel bad, but I think you should watch more comedy in English.
1/10 = Never mind! Listen to this episode again to build up your vocabulary, and I expect you’ll understand more of the jokes. Don’t forget, I’m going to explain them afterwards.
0/10 = hello? Are you alive? – Just kidding. It’s quite normal if you didn’t find any of these jokes funny. Remember, understanding jokes and laughing at them is very hard in another language.

So, just laughing at a couple of these jokes is enough. I don’t expect you to laugh at them all. Just focus on understanding the meaning. If you laugh, that’s a bonus.

You Should Practise Saying the Jokes Too
Also – remember that the delivery is important. I suggest you practise telling these jokes yourself. Listen to the way I say them (I hope I’ll say them correctly) and try and copy the rhythm, intonation and sentence stress. Notice which words are emphasised and how. That’s important. You can read all these jokes on the page for this episode.

Round 1 (and yes, I know these jokes are really cheesy!)
1. Why was 6 afraid of 7?

Because 7 8 9.

2. What’s brown and sticky?
A stick.

3. A man walked into a bar and said “Do you have any helicopter crisps?”
The barman said, sorry we only have plane crisps.

4. What do you call a fly with no wings?
a walk

5. What do you call a fly with no wings and no legs?
a crash

6. What do you call a man with a car on his head?

7. How much fun do monks have?

8. What do you call a blind dinosaur?

9. What’s black and white and red all over?
A newspaper in the bin.

10. A: My dog’s got no nose.
B: How does it smell?

  • Alex Kiryanov

    Hello, Luke! Thank you for great podcast. I guess that Russian adaptation of the story about monkey and his willy is a bit more funny.
    – Hey you, tapeur, your monkey’s putting willy in my beer!
    – 5 dollars, sir! (playing and singing) Your monkey’s putting willy in my beeeer..
    (I see no suitable word in the dictionary for a pianist who plays in a bar, looks like americans use ‘professor’, in Russian “westish” folklore he is tapeur)

  • Orion team
  • Jane

    Hahahahahaha!!! Hilarious!!! Nice one!

  • I find quite good the knock knock Doctor Who joke.

    Nice episode Mister Thompson. let me listen the next part :P


  • Hello Luke! I’m your new listener from Russia!

    I found your podcast a couple of weeks ago and I’m really enjoying it! It’s funny and a little addictive, so I’ll try to make listening to it my new habit. I enjoy listening to natural sounding English and think it’s very effective, maybe just because I’m better at it than at reading or writing:)

    Anyway, this podcast on jokes is very funny. Some of the jokes are bizzare, and it’s even more fun to listen to you trying to explain them and then kind of apologizing if it’s a bad joke :) For me it’s typical British humour.

    Here in Russia we have a similar kind of jokes about one American, one German and one Russian guy. Americans or Germans are optional – there may be other nationalities, but the Russian guy is typically the one that reacts to a situation in a strange way, surprises everyone or does something extraordinary or absurd. There may be a bit of self irony in it. But also, a bit of racism, I think, because in these jokes Russians are usually the smartest of all. So instead of laughing at any particular nation we prefer to just think that we are superior to all nations :)

    Do you have any jokes about British people, where you laugh at some “typical” traits of the British character?

    Thank you for your podcast again, and I wish you many brilliant ideas for the new episodes=)

    • Hi Christina,
      Thanks for your comment and welcome to the podcast.
      In the UK we don’t have specific jokes in which Brits are made fun of, but generally in our humour we make fun of ourselves (as individuals) a lot. That’s really normal actually, and we call it self-effacing humour.

  • Nice one.
    I have heard the “funniest joke in world” before, but I have never realized that this joke titled as the best joke in world. Anyhow, I think it is OK, i.e. that this is pretty funny joke, but as Louis said, it kind of subjective thing… however, in my opinion, the scientific approach is also fine, since there is “wisdom of the crowed”…. but per individual, of course, that for each individual there will be different best joke.
    Per the jokesmeter… I got 5.5 from 10 (I was impressing/surprising myself – I thought I will get less jokes). The 0.5 point is because in the first one, I realized it is a some word games…. , but I heard “7 hate 9” (and not “7 ate 9”).
    BTW – I’m one that always forget jokes…. i.e. sometime when I heard a joke on the second time, I know that I have heard it before, but I even don’t remember the punch line. Not talking about remember a joke I had heard and re-told it…. I found it pretty sucks, but the bright side, is that I can enjoy a joke twice :)
    Anyhow, personally, I usually like “black humor” – do you know what I means? is it called black humor also in English?

    • In English ‘black humour’ means dark humour about serious themes. I think most of the popular comedy in the UK is quite dark. People don’t use the expression ‘black humour’ very much now.
      5.5/10 is a pass!

  • Great podcast, way to go Luke. Here in Brazil we tell jokes about the portuguese people and the argentins too.

  • Dear Luke, Welcome back !
    This episode is really funny and the best joke of the world made me laugh ;)
    Very nice idea that doing these “telling jokes series” Thank you very much.
    To be honest I don’t get everything but I will listen to this series many times to catch as much as I can.

  • This is a FUNNY episode which contains some deep-thought jokes .
    Have lots of FUN with English ! You are definitely entertained by strange humour and an American comedian .Practice typical joke structures and the joke list to share with your friends or families . One day your own joke could be the WINNING joke !!!