A Small Joke for Big Tony
The long and short of considering length.
Bob and Chuck hated each other. Everyday, after school, they would meet in an abandoned lot down the street and fight. They would swear at each other, spit at each other, and sometimes even throw rocks at each other. The other kids from school would gather around them in a circle — cheering, laughing, and arguing about who was the meanest, the most vicious, the one who would someday triumph over the other.
Bob and Chuck hated each other because their fathers told them to do so. Every night, after their fights in the abandoned lot, they would return home and tell their fathers about what had happened. After hearing their stories, the fathers would then tell their sons what to say or what to throw the following day. This was how it had gone for as long as anyone could remember.
It could be surmised by any thoughtful person that these two boys had lost sight of why they hated each other in the first place.
On a nameless day, in a timeless year, Bob and Chuck met each other in the abandoned lot after school. Just like every other day before. There were no disparaging words shouted, nor were there any inanimate objects thrown; they clashed in midair, fell to the ground in a cloud of dust, and began to pull at each other’s hair. The other kids cheered and laughed and pointed and stomped their feet.
But then something different happened. Something that had never happened before. A much bigger, much stronger boy named Tony came shoving through the throng of bloodthirsty onlookers, cracking his knuckles and whistling a mysterious little tune.
Bob did not recognize the tune, whereas Chuck most definitely did. It was that chant sung by the priests in the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You know, the priests who smack themselves with wooden planks.
The leviathan, Tony, picked both of the quarreling boys up by their collars. Silence fell upon the abandoned lot. It seemed the kids of the circle were afraid to even take a breath or itch an itch.
Bob and Chuck were not so afraid; they kicked and screamed and threatened Tony.
“Let us go! We’ll kick your ass!” They both exclaimed in unison.
“That’s funny. How did you know I like jokes?” Tony said. “Tell you what. I’ll make you two a deal. We’ll have a little contest. Tomorrow, each of you will tell me another joke. A REAL joke. Whoever’s is the funniest will get to go home. Whoever loses doesn’t leave this lot. Sound good?”
Bob and Chuck didn’t have much of a choice. They each went home and told their fathers what had happened in the abandoned lot. The fathers each laughed, both believing themselves to be pretty hilarious guys.
“Easy.” They both said to their sons. “Tell him…”
Both fathers proceeded to tell their sons long-winded, overly-complicated jokes (one about a janitor in a museum with a talking broom, the other about a pompous chicken with one eye and a proclivity for accidental sexual misconduct). These jokes need not be related in full to the reader; they were bad yarns with no redeeming qualities.
Bob spent the rest of the night trying his best to memorize his father’s terrible joke. Chuck, on the other hand, fell asleep soundly after a mere half-hour spent thinking of his own joke. A much shorter joke. A much SIMPLER joke. One that he KNEW would make Tony laugh.
The next day, after school, the boys (along with their faithful crowd) met in the abandoned lot. Tony was already there waiting for them, poking a dead squirrel with a stick, humming that same tune from Monty Python.
“Who’s first?” Tony said, spitting a rather large wad of mucus onto the dusty ground in front of the boys.
Bob stepped forward and told his father’s joke about the janitor, smiling confidently to himself. After the joke was over, none of the kids laughed. Instead, they began to whisper to each other — trying to figure out what the ‘punchline’ of the joke really was.
Tony scoffed, reaching under his shirt to itch his bellybutton. “I’ve heard worse. What about you, dipshit?” He said, pointing at Chuck.
Chuck stepped forward and said, “What did the green grape say to the purple grape?”
“What?” Tony asked.
“Breathe, idiot! Breathe!” Chuck replied.
Tony fell to the dirt laughing. Bob stood confounded, a single tear rolling down his rosy cheek; he knew he had lost. His father was wrong. And he would undoubtedly pay handsomely for his mistake.
But do not forget, dear reader, that Chuck’s father was also wrong.
You see, both fathers made the same mistake; they did not take the time to consider the audience (the audience in this case being the singular bully Tony). Chuck, having noticed that Tony was a fan of Monty Python, made an educated guess as to what kind of humor would tickle Tony’s fancy; short, slap-stick, mildly clever. If Tony had been whistling the theme from Twin Peaks, for instance, Chuck might have told a different sort of joke. Probably a much stranger one concerning pie or coffee.
So, remember — every joke, long or short, has its place. It’s up to you to consider your audience and tell the appropriate joke.