Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Knock-Knock--Who's There?

Sooby and Pooh have discovered the joke.  By that, I mean they know there is a such thing as a joke and that its telling is supposed to make people laugh hysterically.  What they don't quite understand is how the whole thing works.  This became abundantly clear to me during our last Skype session, when there was a lot of knock-knocking going on.

Most of us, even we Boomers, cut our teeth on knock-knock jokes.  And, it would seem, most knock-knock jokes have been around at least as long as we have.  Take this one, for instance:
     Who's there?
     Boo who?
     Aw, gee.  I didn't mean to make you cry.

Or, consider Pa-Pa's old standard:

     Who's there?
     Jimmy who?
     Jimmy a kiss and I'll Joe home.
(As an aside, let me point out that this is not necessarily true, as I once gave Pa-Pa a kiss and he is still hanging around.)

Anyway, you can see that these, like all jokes in the knock-knock category, depend on three things in order to work:  (1) the fact that the jokee must be familiar enough with the format to execute scripted lines 2 and 4; (2) the ability of the jokee to understand the concept of pun, on which virtually every knock-knock joke is based, and (3) the condition that the jokee has never heard that particular joke before (familiarity breeds contempt and all that). 

If you think about it, you will see that, indeed, every such joke depends on wordplay involving either homophones (two words that sound alike but are spelled differently, such as the spoken "Boo who" and the understood "Boo hoo" from the example above) or two words that at least sound very similar (such as the spoken "Jimmy" and the understood "gimme" from Pa-pa's prize specimen).

Sooby and Poo understand none of this; therefore, our Skype session was fraught with totally nonsensical, non-sequitur, tirelessly repeated "jokes," if you can even call them that.  No matter.  The kids never failed to laugh hysterically when one of them delivered the punch line.  (I use the term punch line loosely here; it would be more accurate to call it a weak, barely discernible tap.)

As a result, the typical exchange went something like this:
     Sooby:  Knock-knock.
     Googie:  Who's there?
     Sooby:  (Looks around wildly in an effort to pull something--anything--to say out of the air; then, when her eyes finally land on her sippy cup . . . )  Lid.    
     Googie:  Lid who?
     Sooby:  The lid ON MY CUP!  (Kids erupt in seemingly insatiable paroxysms of laughter.)

I remember going through this with every child I have ever lived with, beginning with my younger brother--that stage where kids are aware that jokes exist but can't quite wrap their little preoperational minds around the more abstract language concepts inherent in them.  They are aware only that jokes make people laugh and, in so doing, lavish vast attention and approval upon the jokester.  It is a laughter that they naturally want to participate in and even to be a catalyst for.

I close with my last attempt to tell the kids a knock-knock joke that I think they might understand, the widely known one in which the jokee asks, "Old lady who?" and the jokester counters with "I didn't know you could yodel."  Here is how it went down:

     Googie:  Knock-knock.
     Sooby:  Who's there?
     Googie:  Old lady.
     Sooby:  Old lady?
     Googie:  You're supposed to say, "Old lady who?"  Let's try it again.  Knock-knock.
     Sooby:  Who's there?
     Googie:  Old lady.
     Sooby:  Googie, why are you an old lady?

Well, sometimes I wonder myself just how and when that happened.  I will have to think up a good answer for that one, but I think I will give up on jokes for the time being, renew my AARP membership, and go sprinkle some fiber powder into my applesauce.



  1. Great post! It reminds me of when my grandchildren began to play hide-and-seek, but their idea of playing it was to hide until the seeker stopped counting and then rush out of hiding and scream.

    Maybe the grands need to master the idea of a pun/joke before you introduce the Knock-Knock structure. I have some cool ghost jokes on my website that I bet they could catch.

  2. Oh yes, this brings back memories of trying to teach my 2 granddaughters the "Knock Knock" concept. We too, had some hilarious moments.

    But what I remember more vividly was my granddaughter as a toddler knocking on our bedroom door and asking: "Who is it?!"

    That always cracked me up and still does!

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