Jokes as Myth

Knatz.com / Teaching / Scholarship / Myth /
@ K. 1999 02 11

I nominate some jokes as having a mythic dimension: blue prints for truth.

Hard Times A Jew in Pinsk falls upon hard times. Nothing improves his lot. Eventually he calls on the richest Jew in town. The rich Jew knows of his trouble and helps him out. He gives him ten rubles and wishes him luck. He adds moreover that if that charity doesn’t get him back on his feet right away, he should come to the kitchen door Friday evening, before night fall commences the Sabbath, of course, and the cook should have a little something for him.
That Friday he does, expecting a little food and perhaps a kopeck or two. The cook hands him a plain envelope. Inside is another ten rubles! Each Friday passes the same. For years.
Until one Friday the poor Jew arrives at the kitchen door, is handed an envelope, opens it … and finds only five rubles. “There must be some mistake,” he says. “I get ten rubles.” “We know,” the cook answers. “But, praise God, the master is preparing for his daughter’s wedding, a very expensive affair.” The poor Jew’s brows knit. “Well,” he retorts. “Tell him to marry his daughter with his own money.”

Chosen people? I no longer recognize that kind of god. But man, do the Jews tell some great jokes. Basic human behavior. Do we recognize it as “Jewish”? For sure. Especially if the teller can do anything like an accent. But I’m sorry: this is a human joke. Credit the Jews for telling it, but here in simple is an enduring human trait captured in tellable, funny form.
Mythic? Well, I for one see it as related.

25¢ Billie: “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”
Janie: “Where would you get a million dollars?”
Billie: “Pretend I had it. Cash. In my hand. Willing to hand it all over to you.”
Janie: “A million dollars? A … sure … I guess so.”
Billie: “Let’s fuck. Right now. I’ll give you a quarter.”
Janie: “What do you think I am”
Billie: “We just established that. Now we’re haggling over the price.”

It’s funny because it’s kids as well as because of Billie’s manipulative misdirection. But there’s another bit of human behavior in a nutshell: no?
Not me of course … Note: As with all such things, the point is intensional: you could phrase it abstractly as a general principle. But told as though it were extensional (peopled, dramatized), it seems real, immediate …

Lennie, I said to myself: You’re forty years old. It’s time to grow up and sell out.

Lenny Bruce

K. Joke Section

Scholarship

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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