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SCOT BELLAVIA: The Least Funny Joke

I’m no comedy critic, but I know humor when I see it. Even more acutely, I recognize its lack where it’s intended. This is especially true for one tired joke delivered by older folks.

In any iteration of the joke, the humorist feigns to deign as they explain some outdated technology to younger hearers.

Here are some examples:

“Do you even know what a phone booth is?”

“This is back in the day when we had to actually write each other letters.”

“If we went back to cursive and rotary phones, we could cripple an entire generation.” (This one comes verbatim from a meme shown to me, as if I should laugh with someone who would want to debilitate the society their grandchildren will build.)

If you’ve shared this type of content online or orally to me, don’t take personal offense; I love you and appreciate our relationship. In my mind, I’ve literally grandfathered you in and pardoned you for forwarding this unfunny joke. You aren’t entirely to blame because you weren’t the first to come up with it. But this lack of originality only contributes to the joke’s lack of amusement.

Still, even if it were less ubiquitous, the joke wouldn’t earn a chuckle from me because it comes from a sad place.

They say anytime you have to explain a joke, it’s no longer funny. But that is my goal here.

I can’t claim authorship of this insight, but the argument goes that the joke is a coping mechanism for the teller’s fear of inadequacy in a quickly-changing world. As the TV dial, phone book, and switchboard operator have gone the way of the dodo, so too does the wannabe funnyman sense his uselessness in a world where technology updates faster than the King of Cool on a motorcycle.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe “it’s just a joke!” Maybe there’s inferiority in my subconscious because I don’t know how to use technologies that once turned the world.

I wonder…

Scot Bellavia

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