Kids, that’s not funny

2011-06-14 00:00

“KNOCK, knock,” eight-year-old Lael burst out at me, hardly containing her laughter.

“Who’s there,” I replied, eagerly.

“Banana peel,” she giggled.

“Banana peel who,” I replied a little less eagerly.

“Banana peel you,” she shouted and then collapsed on her younger brother in heaps of laughter.

I had hoped for better, but had expected this. It had become increasingly evident to me that our children had no idea what constituted a joke.

I could only politely smile for so long. “Lael,” I said “that’s actually not funny. A joke has some sort of catch to it, some sort of trick, some sort of play on words — that has nothing of the sort.”

“Okay, okay what about this: I know an old lady who swallowed a mouse, I don’t know why she swallowed a mouse, perhaps she’ll grouse.”

“Nope, no,” I said, “that’s still not a joke. It’s good rhyming, but a rhyme is still not a joke.”

I spoke to my husband, Sam, a bit later: “Our kids don’t know what a joke is,” I explained. I knew this would worry him as he had a soft spot for cheesy jokes. “I’m not sure if it’s a developmental delay or a social perception problem, but they just don’t get it. And, um, it’s kind of driving me crazy,” I added.

“I’ll sort it out,” he assured me.

A few days later, he gathered all three kids around the computer and ran through joke after joke.

“Doctor, doctor, I think I’m invisible.”

“Next please.”

“Doctor, doctor, I keep thinking I’m a dog.”

“Sit down and we’ll talk it over.”

“I’m not allowed on couches.”

“Doctor, doctor…”

After Sam had read out each joke, the kids repeated it to hoots of laughter. In just over an hour, they had a nice repertoire of jokes under their caps. For the next few days I heard them practising — before they went to sleep, first thing as they woke up, when they met their cousins and at playgroups. From child to child the jokes got whispered, repeated and cherished. They felt grown-up, they could tell a joke; and I was relieved.

A week later, around the lunch table, my youngest daughter, Anna, smiled and said:

“Mom, have you heard this? It’s a joke, really a joke,” she reassured me.

I smiled confidently and said, “Yes?”

“Doctor, doctor,” she continued, “I’ve got a broken leg.”

Wow, I was so impressed. This was not one of the jokes that Sam had taught them. Obviously they could not only memorise jokes, but they could even come up with their own.

“Doctor, Doctor,” she said again, “I’ve got a broken leg.”

“Next please.”

Before I could respond, Anna burst out laughing, and Joah jumped in, “Mom listen to this: Doctor, doctor, my cup’s broken. Here drink from this bottle.”

“Now you guys, just because it starts doctor doctor doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want and it’s still a joke.” All three hardly heard me over the laughter.

“Okay, okay,” they giggled “here’s one: Doctor, doctor, I lost my apple. Next please.”

I left them laughing and went to Google: developmental age in which kids start telling actually funny jokes.

I’m not worried, I just want to start counting down the years.

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