A funny thing happened the other day. For some unknown reason and quite out of the blue, I asked my smartphone to tell me a joke. And it did! Or she did, rather, in her sultry electronic female voice.
Here it is: "Past, present and future walk into a bar. It was tense."
Hah! Tense? Tenses? Get it? Pretty cute for a mobile device, but somewhat unsatisfying for me because it -- she -- couldn't see me feign disgust with an exaggerated roll of the eyes. Or could she?
Anyway, it hit me like a rimshot that -- except for the occasional 4-year-old who produces a steady stream of knock-knock jokes involving an orange and a forgotten punch line ("Orange you glad I ... wait, wait, um ... can I have some juice?) -- nobody tells jokes anymore.
I don't mean professional comedians. I mean regular everyday people. And I don't mean cute spontaneous quips. I refer to the long, rambling, 10-minute, setup, Milton Berle-style, did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-chicken-crossing-the-street-to-get-to-the-rabbi- the-priest-and-the-lawyer-changing-a-lightbulb-on-the-other-side kinds of jokes.
The Internet is of course to blame for this. It was clearly designed solely as a repository for all jokes ever created in the history of mankind, and people in the early 2000s mined that mother lode with a vengeance on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute basis, slapping pagelong gags into emails and oversaturating inboxes with a colossal convergence of comedic clutter until even the classic cohesive collection of k-sounds just wasn't funny anymore.
Indeed, it's been said that 40 percent of us would rather share a joke online than in person, according to a report in the UK's Metro news website citing a 2007 study. Of course this study was performed by a pork-pie maker called Pork Farms. There has to be a joke in there somewhere.
Anyway, people gradually toned it down on the joke emails, and now mostly just post pithy puns on social media. Plus, everyone online is a comedian anyway -- on blogs, in snarky comments at the bottom of blogs, in tweets. Heck, tweets are all about the one-liner, quite literally. Take this tweet, please, that a friend sent the other day: "Never trust an atom -- they make up everything." Pretty funny, yet short, concise. Henny Youngman would be in heaven and, well, probably is. What, too soon?
Usually I feel bad when the Internet kills something of the past, say, oh I dunno, the newspaper industry. But then, ba-dum-bum -- rimshot to the head again -- it hit me that I'm really OK with that. The part about the long rambling jokes, that is, not the newspaper industry.
In fact, I celebrate the death of the joke because I never really did dig that kind of humor. I have been the stoic recipient of way too many elaborate blonde jokes over the years to which I often made a point of responding with, "Ha-ha, I don't get it."
But seriously, folks, don't you remember cringing when some co-worker -- usually a man (sorry, guys, but it's true) -- would launch into one of those extensive shaggy-dog stories? You had to physically turn away from your game of Tetris (I mean work), feign attention to the setup and be patient for what you hoped would be a pow-right-to-the-kissah punch line. Yet most of them weren't funny, merely inducing a mild courtesy ha-ha, but rarely a gut-busting guffaw.
They definitely were not The Funniest Joke in the World, or I wouldn't be writing this right now. Also known as The Killer Joke, this Monty Python skit involved a British joke writer (Michael Palin) during World War II who came up with a joke so incredibly hilarious that, even reading it himself, he literally died laughing as did all subsequent readers or tellers until a joke ban was instituted at the Geneva Convention. In the whole skit, you never actually find out what the original joke is because, well, you wouldn't be reading this right now.
Yeah, the co-worker jokes were not even good enough to produce a mild headache. Funnier was when the co-worker went back to his desk and fell off his chair. Even better if you could have caught it on your phone and uploaded it for all to see.
That's what's all over the Internet now -- funny videos rather than verbiage. Humor changes. It used to be the slapstick of The Three Stooges. Slowly it turned to observational and sketch comedy. There used to be joke shops with whoopee cushions, but we don't need a return to that style either -- Seth MacFarlane does enough of it for us.
My smartphone clearly has a limited repertoire. I asked her to tell me another joke, and she said, "How many iPhones does it take to ... OK, never mind." I didn't get that one, so I asked for another. "Let me think ... nope, can't think of one." I asked yet again and she said the same thing.
Somebody take my iPhone, please.
Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/GiveEmHill.