Die Laughing: Killer Jokes for Newly Old Folks
by William Novak (Touchstone, 2016)
We generally do not mix jokes with old age, sickness, loss of memory, death and afterlife. Think again, says William Novak who has compiled jokes on these very same topics that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Growing old has several challenges: loss of health and mobility, loneliness, hospitalization and death. How tragic it would be if we lost our sense of humor too under such circumstances!
The various chapters in this book deal with the different realities of old age – long marriages, sex and sickness, minds and bodies that have seen better days, and the eventual reality of death and even afterlife.
Long marriages are often associated with a close bond between the married couple. However, sufficient space to develop each person’s identity too is important, as the following joke from Novak’s book points out:
Two friends are having lunch. “You and Elaine have been married for quite a while,” says one. “And you seem to be happy together. If you don’t mind my asking, what’s your secret?”
“It’s very simple. Twice a week we have dinner at a nice restaurant. You know, a good meal, a glass of wine – and that seems to do the trick.”
“And you do this twice a week?”
“Yes. She goes Tuesday and I go Friday.”
Memory loss is another favorite theme with regard to senior citizens, and families and friends who deal with them. While heart disease and cancer used to be the biggest concerns for old folks earlier, now it’s Alzheimer’s. For understandable reasons, therefore, a number of jokes in this book deal with the topic of memory loss. Here are two examples:
A long-married couple are having dinner at the home of their good friends. When the meal has ended and the wives get up to clear the dishes, the men remain at the table and continue talking.
“I meant to tell you,” says the host, “that we went to a terrific new restaurant on Thursday. I think you’ll love it.”
“Great. What’s it called?”
“Damn, now I’m blanking. Help me out here. What’s the name of that red flower?”
“No, the other one.”
“No — you know, with thorns.”
“Thank you.” Turning toward the kitchen, he yells, “Rose! What’s the name of that restaurant?”
And another one:
The famous musician Frank Sinatra was visiting his mother in a nursing home. It was his first visit there and several residents approached him wanting to have his autograph and take selfis with him. When he noticed a woman sitting away from them and paying no attention to him, he went over to her and asked: “How are you, today? By the way, do you have any idea who I am?” “No,” said the woman, “but if you go to the front desk, I’m sure they can tell you.”
The book also deals with another topic that is closely associated with old age – driving. In a society where independence and individuality is the paramount virtue, the inability to drive one’s own car is the worst nightmare for most people. The author brings home sharply the devastating consequences of driving while being old.
Brendan was driving home when his wife called.
“Honey, are you on the turnpike?”
“Well, be careful! I just heard on the radio that some maniac is driving in the wrong direction.”
“It’s not just one maniac. It’s hundreds of them!”
Here is another:
Two women on their way to the supermarket cruised right through a red light. The woman in the passenger seat was alarmed but said nothing. Five minutes later, they went through another red light. This time the passenger opened her mouth to speak, but she had been experiencing some confusion lately, so she again said nothing.
But when it happened a third time, she could not restrain herself. “Helen!” She cried. “Are you trying to get us killed? You’ve just gone through three red lights!”
“What?!” said Helen. “I thought you were driving!”
Death is considered taboo when it comes to humor. How do we joke about death? However, Novak says at a certain age, we’re ready to laugh at death. He includes in the book some jokes on death as well while agreeing it could be in bad taste. As he puts it, “Bad taste I’m willing to do. Life is in bad taste. Here is an example of his jokes in this category:
Roger had just turned seventy, and after many selfless years of helping others while neglecting his own health and appearance, he finally resolved to take better care of himself. He became a vegetarian and paid close attention to nutrition. He exercised vigorously every day and lost thirty pounds. He bought clothes that looked good on him and splurged on an expensive haircut.
A few weeks later, while crossing the street, he was hit by a bus. Lying on the side of the road and knowing that this was the end, he cried out, “Lord, how could you do this to me?”
A voice answered back. “Roger? I’m so sorry! I didn’t recognize you.”
Afterlife is too sacred a topic even to discuss, let alone joke about. While taking this topic head on, the author not only pokes fun at some of the notions associated with life after death, but also indicates how our parochialism and self-righteousness during this life carry on into our view of the next. Here is an example:
A woman arrives at the Pearly Gates and is greeted by Saint Peter. “Welcome to heaven,” he says. “Your placement here depends on your religious affiliation. Are you a Christian?”
“Yes, I am.”
“In that case,” says Saint Peter, “please report to room 312 to register. But be very quiet as you pass room 304.”
“Okay,” she says, “but why is that?”
“That’s where the Baptists register, and they think they are the only ones here.”
People who work among old folks regularly report that they are besieged with demands for a joke or a “funny book”. Novak’s book meets that demand. As the baby boomers age, there will, no doubt, be a growing demand for books such as this. Conrad Hyers’ book, Holy Laughter: Essays on Religion in the Comic Perspective too can, perhaps, be placed in this category. At our current period when public life is dominated by authoritarian forces, we all need to be childlike, letting our laughter shine before others. As Hyers reminds us, “A common trait of dictators, revolutionaries, and ecclesiastical authoritarians alike is the refusal to laugh at themselves or permit others to laugh at them.” When we lose the capacity to laugh at ourselves, we too fall into that category.