Back in the early 90s, my friend Kimberly told me one of my favorite jokes of all time. It’s simple, clean, and satisfying, and it goes like this:
Kim: Knock Knock.
Me: Who’s there?
Kim: Impatient cow.
Me: Impatient cow wh-
Hahahahaha, the cow cuts you off because she’s impatient, get it? Giggle, giggle, snort.
Over the years, I’ve watched in horror as this perfect joke has been bastardized thus:
Ruiner of Life: Knock Knock.
Innocent Victim: Who’s there?
RoL: Interrupting cow.
IV: Interrupting cow wh-
I’ve added the emphasis, lest you breeze over it like the first evil human who half-listened when they heard this blissful joke and re-told it by demonstrating what the cow does rather than letting the cow character be who she is. Over the years I’ve struggled to articulate exactly how abominable this offense against humor – or more to the point, against everything good – is, but thankfully I just read David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster.
Sure, the title essay predicts our current vegan trend, which is cool. Up, Simba and Host provide uncanny maps to our state of political discourse and broken media (and given Senator John McCain’s death, a read of Up, Simba is a good use of your time). But David Foster Wallace’s true contribution to humanity lies in the essay Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness (From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed):
“Great short stories and great jokes have a lot in common. Both depend on what communications theorists sometimes call exformation, which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause an explosion of associative connection within the recipient.“
A certain quantity of vital information removed. Like what the cow is about to do to you.
By spelling it out, explaining what the joke is about to be, you deny the listener the “explosion of associative connection.” You’ve taken a joyful moment and reduced it to a knee-slapping dad joke.
Shame on whoever did it first… but shame on everyone else for perpetuating the atrocity.
Now you know the cow is impatient, that the interrupting she does is merely a symptom of who she is. Let’s fix this broken joke. For the good of the human race.