Sunday, August 22, 2010

Down on the Farm

I'm sure farm jokes have been around since mankind discovered agriculture or, conversely, since Abel and Cain had the following exchange:

Abel: That peculiar odor, it seems to be coming from the plowed field. What can it be?
Cain: Fertilizer.
Abel: For the land's sake.
Cain: Yes.

That's actually one of the jokes Louis Untermeyer includes in his "Down on the Farm" joke section. They don't get much better. Here are a few more:

It was in Kentucky; the night was dark. Two men banged on the old cabin door. "Joe and me, we just found a body down in the holler, and we were afraid it might be you. It was too dark to tell."
"What did the body look like?"
"About your height; sort of scraggy--"
"Did he have on a shirt?"
"Was he shaved?"
"I think so."
"Well then, it warn't me."

That's actually a good one.

Now, I don't mind farm jokes. I live in a farming community (though I'm not a farmer; Dad was a bricklayer, I'm a technical writer). We did watch the occasional Hee-Haw episode. I've made it my 2011 resolution to learn how to eef:

I've even got a good one for ya, learned from a guy who spent some time in Tennessee. It's not really a joke, per se, just a play on how some folks in the country talk, he says. Here it is:

MR snakes.
MR not.
SAR2. CDEDBD eyes?

That's it. Just say the capitalized letters (and number) as you would reciting the alphabet. Hopefully you get the humor. If not, don't blame me -- I'm just passing the joke on.

Here's one more from Mr. Untermeyer:

It was Farmer Brown's first visit to the big town. In the window of the department store he read a sign: "Ladies Ready to Wear Clothes."
"Gosh," he said. "It's about time."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Green Acres!

The creators of Green Acres could possibly find a season’s worth of episodes in Frederic Swartout Cozzen’s “Living in the Country.”

There are antics involving cows.

Antics involving chickens.

Antics involving the elements.

Antics involving cranky, eccentric neighbors.

Antics involving prolific plants.

Antics involving poorly-producing plants.

And so on.

Nothing exceptional about the writing, and I mean it this time. Here’s an example:

A good, strong gate is a necessary article for your garden. A good, strong, heavy gate, with a dislocated hinge, so that it will neither open nor shut. Such a one have I. The grounds before my fence are in common, and all the neighbors’ cows pasture there. I remarked to Mrs. I., as we stood at the window in a June sunset, how placid and picturesque the cattle looked, as they strolled about, cropping the green herbage. Next morning I found the innocent creatures in my garden. They had not let a green thing in it.

And so on.

Cozzens needed to hear the story of one Landon Farmer, a junior high school acquaintance, who once dreamed of cows in the garden. He, however, leaped onto the back of one of the cows and propelled it by means of the bicycle pedals that popped out of its side. He steered the thing with is horns. And so on.

Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t Mr. Coppard?

I have to admit after I read A. E. Coppard’s “Alas, Poor Bollington,” this cartoon is what I thought of:

The rivalry in romance. The futility in pursuing affection. All livened up by that wonderful musical number.

Compared to this Tom and Jerry cartoon, Coppard’s tale is rather bland. And boring, I’m sorry to say. A lot of flim-flam and wordiness for a vaudeville hall payoff at the end. Chalk it up as another example of how humor – and writing – have continued to evolve.

To tell the truth, I honestly cannot find a bit of “Bollington” that stands out as quoteworthy for this entry. Coppard does seem to have attended the “way too much and completely unnecessary detail” school, with a minor in “having characters utter things that likely would not have been said in real life.” For that, I can conjure up an example in this story of a man who separates from his wife over a silly argument, flees to America, then returns and laments the vaudeville-inspired ending to an old acquaintance he meets in a club. But here’s the unlikely dialogue:

Well, I went out, and I will not deny I was in a rage, terrific. It was raining but I didn’t care, and I walked about in it. Then I took shelter in a bookseller’s doorway opposite a shop that sold tennis rackets and tobacco, and another one that displayed carnations and peaches on wads of colored wool. The rain came so fast that the streets seemed to empty, and the passersby were horribly silent under their umbrellas, and their footsteps splashed so dully, and I tell you I was very sad, Turner, there. I debated whether to such across the road and buy a lot of carnations and peaches and take them to Phoebe. But I did not do so, Turner. I never went back, never.

Whoosh. I’m tired and all I had to do was read this. I can’t imagine saying it.

Of course, I’m no conversationalist. Maybe there’s someone out there who can wrap his or her lips around such silliness.

Of course, this is from the Gilbert and Sullivan era, where such dialogue was expected. And sung:

A tradition which continues today:

So I’m probably wrong in dismissing Coppard. After all, if we wrote as we speak, the books we write would be pretty damn boring, wouldn’t they?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Marc Connelly, Mr. Popular

We’ve met Marc Connelly, or at least an inspiration of his, before.

Connelly, inspired by Roark Bradford’s “Green Pastures,” basically re-wrote the story – a re-telling of Bible stories “as they might have been rendered by illiterate but highly imaginative colored preachers,” as Louis Untermeyer puts it.

Connelly’s play was brought to Warner Brothers film in 1936:

Here I insert the common disclaimer: Consider the time this was written in, et cetera, et cetera. But the film, nor the play, didn’t play well in “colored” circles in 1936. So.

We move on, this time to Connelly’s short sketch “The Guest,” which, though it predates “The Jetsons” by about thirty years, kind of prophesies some of the push-button fingeritis Jane Jetson laments.

In this piece which surely would have ended up on if it had existed in the 1920s as an example of corporate culture gone mad, our main character wrestles with the boffo technology that is the hotel telephone service, the hotel Food-a-rack-a-cycle, the hotel concierge that’s supposed to bring him his suit but brings him someone else’s suit and insists on waking him up at 8:30 even though it’s after ten. Believe me, just to read a Consumerist thread, and you’ll get the picture. Here’s a sample:

Mr. Mercer: Come in. (A bellboy enters with a plate of dog meat.) Well?

Bellboy: For the dog, sir.

Mr. Mercer: For the dog?

Bellboy: Yes, sir.

Mr. Mercer: Do they give you a dog here too? (The bellboy laughs pleasantly.)

Bellboy: It’s just the way you ordered it, sir.

Mr. Mercer: I ordered a cup of coffee.

Bellboy: One should never give coffee to a dog.

Mr. Mercer: The coffee is for me.

Bellboy: Well, this is for the dog. (The bellboy puts the plate on the floor and looks around for the dog. Mr. Mercer wishes ha had an old-fashioned instead of a safety razor.)

And so on. Technology going amuck when the newest-fangled things were talkies and that infant invention, television. From there we went on to the flat-screen, 3-D televisions envisioned in The Jetsons to the gratuitous and superfluous use of 3-D in today’s movies.

I’m off to the Food-a-rack-a-cycle. I need a beer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mr. Popular on the Horizon

Hey now: What popular 1920s playwright not only won a Pulitzer Prize for what would be considered now a racist play, but also – and this’ll make him even more popular among the young set these days – fought for international copyright on plays so he could earn more money? Find out next time at the Treasury of Laughter.

The Old School Joke

Oh, the old school joke.

No, really. The old jokes. From school. Johnny getting one up on the teacher and that.

Do they still tell those jokes these days? It’s been a long time since I heard a new one.

Take this one:

Professor: “Give the most important fact about nitrates.”

Student: “They’re cheaper than day rates.”

Ha ha, it is to laugh.

It’s been done. Ad nauseaum. Behold:

Louder and funnier? Hardly, Gabby.

Yeah, it’s Bad Joke Uncle fodder. Speaking of which, here’s my mother’s favorite joke:

Why do gorillas have big noses? Because they have big fingers.

Yeah. It’s a groaner. But I still love the woman.

“Most humorists rely on the old formula – the formula which represents Teacher and Johnny matching wits in the classroom,” Untermeyer writes, perhaps expressing his own subconscious exasperation with these amusing, but tired japes. “It is a foregone conclusion that Johnny must win,” he concludes.

For example:

Teacher: “We have been talking about recent inventions. Now, Johnny, name something which did not exist twenty-five years ago.”

Johnny: “Me.”

I could continue. But then you’d have to kill me.