Riddle About Riddles

I wrote these jokes to make a point.

Version 1
—Knock knock.
—Who’s there?
—Death.
—Death who?
—Does it really matter?

Version 2
—Knock knock.
—Who’s there?
—Death.
—Death who?
—Ultimately, it makes little difference in what form death arrives or by what name we call it. We all go one way or another and while there may be more dignity in some manners of demise, more time to prepare, or less suffering, the ultimate destination couldn’t be more similar: gone and gone and gone forever.

For me, they’re both funny (for you, maybe neither), but for different reasons. Version 1 is funny because it’s quick to point out a universal absurdity. Version 2 is funny because it gets the tone of a knock-knock joke so spectacularly wrong.

In Version 1 we laugh at ourselves for caring what kind of death is knocking. In Version 2 we laugh at the form the joke takes. I think that makes Version 2 a meta-joke, a joke about jokiness.

But that wasn’t my point.

My point was there is usually a way to say what you mean that is perfectly appropriate to your intentions, sometimes more than one, but always many, many, many, many, many ways to get the tone all wrong and spoil the effect you were going for, usually by falling for ready-made language or by overwriting what could be written simply.

My point is that when the chicken crosses the road to get to the other side we laugh at the well-made joke. We laugh at how badly the joke gets it wrong when the chicken crosses the road to find itself in sudden and much-valued possession of some other-sidedness.

Which sort of jokes are you writing (Version 1 or Version 2)?

Which sort of jokes are these?:

—How many licensed electricians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
—Just one.

—How can you tell the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer?
—The taste.

Exercise for the Leave a Reply fields below:
Write a joke that gets the tone so wrong that it either dies on the spot or is funny precisely because it upends our expectations.

And if you can’t do that in the time available, just share a good (or amusingly bad) joke.

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