Raising the bar

By admin
10 September 2013

Take a famous joke, give it a topical spin and watch the whinnying begin

THIS horse walks into a bar . . .  

So begins what scientists claim is the world’s funniest joke. This is according to my father, who likes telling it with a dramatic pause in the middle. He never fails to laugh at the punch line, which, in case you really were born just yesterday, is this:

. . . and the barman says, “Hey, why the long face?”

“Yes, that’s funny,” I would dutifully respond deadpan upon hearing it for, oh, easily the thousandth time, “but the world’s funniest joke? You jest, surely?”

“The thing is,” my father would say, “by the funniest joke in the world I don’t actually mean the funniest joke in the world . . .”

And a long explanation would follow on this silly one-liner’s pan-cultural abilities. Men of learning with generous research grants had travelled far and wide to arrive at the astounding fact that more people find this joke funny than any other single joke.

It was universal. You could, in halting Russian, tell it to the woman on the bus in Minsk and she’d get it. She might even laugh and fall off her seat, but that would be the vodka. The joke would prompt fond reveries of equine past lives in the Buddhist temples of Rangoon. In Mongolia, it brings down the yurt. Missionaries in the jungles of the Congo, where horses are unknown, report that smart phone technology has opened the joke up to pygmies who collapse in small giggling heaps at the absurdity of it all. Canadian wags have even named the horse Celine Dion.

But the joke has changed dramatically in recent weeks. The barman was now telling the horse, “I’m sorry, but we don’t serve food in here.”

I blame the scientists. It was they, after all, who’d discovered that frozen lasagne in the UK supermarkets contained horse meat. A startling hue and cry followed, one of such intensity that it seemed the country’s worst nightmare was happening – the British were turning French. The latter, after all, will eat anything and have been known to tuck into a bit of pony.

The scandal prompted our own scientists to poke around the frozen food aisles, and researchers at the University of Stellenbosch have found some of our hamburgers to be packed with donkey, water buffalo and goat.

Not to be outdone, the University of the Western Cape got into the act as well. They found that all wasn’t above board with biltong, the national dish. Kudu, for example, was hardly kudu. Ditto springbok and ostrich. Worse still, some biltong was found to contain horse and – horror of horrors! – kangaroo, which might be okay for Australians but won’t do here.

The vegetarians have been annoyingly smug about the matter. This from one such fundamentalist on Facebook:

“[This outrage] has, I must admit, brought a bit of mirth to us vegetarians. We don’t differentiate when it comes to the flesh of an animal. To hear people bleating on about eating horse meat and then they go home and tuck into a pig or a lamb. I should think they would be happy that they’re getting more animal than they paid for!”

Ha ha. Very droll. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but thanks to their lifestyle, vegetarians are the healthiest people on the planet. They have a vitality that is missing in others which makes them preferred fare among cannibals on remote South Sea islands. Actually, I just made that up. But what’s true, though, is that this sordid business isn’t about whether or not to give up meat, but being able to buy properly labelled food. Vegetarians, of all people, should appreciate that.

Anyway, I told my father the world’s funniest joke had a new punch line. He wasn’t impressed. “The barman didn’t say that,” he said.

“He didn’t?”

“No,” my father replied. “He said, ‘You know, we don’t often get horses in here.’ And the horse said, ‘I’m not surprised, given what you charge for a drink.’”

I can’t see them getting too excited about that in . . . well, anywhere really.

– Andrew Donaldson

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