Simon Kelner: Even Italians would find some of your jokes funny!


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The Independent Online

It's a funny thing, humour. It's not universal – we are no more likely to share the same sense of humour than we are to fancy the same person – and it doesn't cross national boundaries. This was brought home to me when I attended a birthday party in Italy recently.

There was a mixture of Italians and Brits present, and a couple of the British guests made speeches. They were the mixture of gentle mickey-taking and affectionate fun-poking with which we are all familiar on such occasions. Oh, how we laughed. And then we turned round to see our Italian hosts stony-faced and silent. They couldn't have been more offended, believing that this mockery was deeply insulting. They just didn't get it.

Now, I'm not saying that Italians don't have a sense of humour (although I'm not ruling it out), but it's clear that jokes don't always translate. And sometimes they're just not funny in any language. This much is clear from the torrent of jokes you sent me in response to my column two days ago when I solicited your favourite one-liners.

I won't dwell on the duds, because there were quite a few crackers, but I defy anyone to find this offering (from Jane Dilloway) funny: Q: What do you call a sheep with no legs? A: A cloud. "C'mon," says Jane, "that joke's got everything." All except a laugh, I'm afraid, Jane. I don't want you to take this particular contribution as representative of i readers' level of humour, because there were several gags that made me laugh out loud, and were, by all objective measures, better than the one that was voted best joke at the Edinburgh Festival.

I loved James Kidd's submission. "I phoned in sick today. My boss asked me how sick I was. Well, I said, I'm in bed with my sister." There were a few jokes that were a bit too clever for their own good, from which the best was Alan Burton's contribution: "A friend asked me whether I was living in the past. 'Is the Pope Polish?' I replied." There were old jokes, lame jokes and, quite frankly, ones that weren't even jokes at all. But I was surprised how few I'd heard before.

My favourite was undoubtedly Chris Ditchfield's offering. "My neighbour knocked at my door at 2.30 in the morning. 2.30! Can you believe it? Luckily, I was still up playing the bagpipes." Surely even the Italians would find that funny. Anyway, I'm sure it's a subject I'll come back to, so keep those jokes coming. And in the meantime, have a great weekend.