Do you realize that humans are the only species on earth who tell jokes? It’s not that other animals don’t have a sense of humor. Take cats, for example. Did you ever watch one when it comes upon a dog tied with a leash or fenced into a yard? Cats love to sit just inches out of range of the constrained canine and then watch the poor dog go nuts trying to get at them. A cat’s sense of humor is rather sardonic.
A dog, on the other hand, has a less refined sense of humor. He’ll laugh at anything, including himself. Especially himself. A cat never laughs at herself, and it behooves the rest of us not to be caught laughing at her either. Certainly not if we want our drapes and carpeting to remain unshredded.
But even with their appreciation of humorous situations, other animals don’t sit around making up anecdotes or slipping puns into their everyday barking or meowing or whatever. So what makes us different?
Perhaps we just have more time on our hands to think of such silliness. We don’t have to concentrate on nearly so many things as ol’ Bowser does, like trying to remember whether he buried his new bone in your herb garden or under the neighbor’s prize-winning rose bushes. Or which fire hydrants are his to irrigate and which ones are better left to the St. Bernard down the street. Pretty profound ponderings for one pooch to process. It’s a wonder he can laugh at all.
Or it could be our allegedly superior intellect that jump-starts our jocularity. Research indicates that dolphins might have an intellect to match or exceed that of humans. Scientists have been trying to interpret some of this mammal’s communications and have identified sounds of distress and calls for help, etc. I bet if they researched dolphin humor, they might discover another species capable of telling jokes. An analysis of Flipper television reruns would reveal that while the dolphin was supposedly chattering something pertinent to the storyline, like “the bad guys went that-a-way,” in reality he was cutting up with lines like, “Why did the tuna cross the ocean? To get to the other tide!”
Maybe I’ll apply for a government grant to study my “Flipper Phenomenon” theory.
With the possible exception of marine mammals, though, the rest of the animal kingdom apparently lacks the brainpower to generate jokes. Once I awoke in the middle of the night and heard my cat repeating something over and over. When I finally deciphered the sounds, I determined that she was chanting this: “There once was a dachshund from Hammond…” It seemed kind of odd at first, but I concluded that the poor cat was striving to break the animal limerick barrier and just didn’t have the wherewithal to come up with a rhyme for “Hammond.” Come to think of it, I can’t find a rhyme for “Hammond” either.
I think I’m kind of a throwback in the jesting gene pool. I can never remember a joke. It makes me a snap to entertain. I’ll laugh at the same line all night long if you give me about five minutes between times to forget it again. But don’t expect me to tell a joke. My entire repertoire consists of one anecdote that I memorized after learning I would have to tell a joke as part of a job interview in college. If I hadn’t been forewarned about that part of the interview, I would probably still be sitting there today, saying “there once was a dachshund from Hammond…” over and over.
Even my two-year-old can deliver a punch line better than I can. My folks were down visiting last weekend, and my dad was joggling Annie on his knee. Referring to the column I had written the previous week about Annie’s question to her daddy, my father teased me, “Did the wind really blow Steve’s hair away?”
“Ask Annie,” I suggested, since she had been the one to pose the question to her father.
Dad turned to Annie. “Did the wind blow your daddy’s hair away?”
“No,” Annie responded seriously. “Daddy said Mommy pulled it off.”
Guess you know who’s going to get punched for that line.
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