Knock knock! Who's there? Peas. Peas who? Peas and carrots. It was 1975, and I was mighty pleased with my first attempt at writing a joke. It seemed to contain all the necessary elements of a thigh-slapping quip, and I told it to everyone. But it prompted quizzical stares and furrowed brows; "peas and carrots" was not the punchline that people were hoping for.
They probably wanted an incisive, satirical commentary on life under Harold Wilson's government – but come on, I was only 3. However, I was mindful of the importance of keeping one's audience on-side, so I modified the joke and gleefully presented it as a new creation, even though its reliance on the original was as obvious as the reliance of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" on "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton.
Knock knock! Who's there? Peas. Peas who? Peas and carrots, please.
Needless to say, this subtle reworking didn't go down any better. I was devastated. I made a vow never to try writing anything funny again, a 38-year sulk that I'm still managing to keep up while halfway through this week's column.
But if I ever have children, I pledge to encourage their fledgling attempts at humour, regardless of how unsuccessful society deems them to be. For some reason I find jokes that fundamentally misunderstand the nature of jokes way, way more funny than tired gags cranked out in a desperate attempt to amuse. The former reveal something wonderful about the mysterious inner workings of the developing mind; the latter are told by Russell Howard.
My friend Rhoda's first joke, "Do they make yoghurt in bum flavour?" has no punchline, but I'm delighted to be left hanging and wondering whether they do or not. "What's yellow? My foot", Naureen's sister's first crack at humour, contains irony more delicious than anything Alannis Morissette ever came up with. But my favourite was told to me yesterday by my decorator, who was raised in Devon. His brother came up with this: "What has two big chimneys? Dartmoor Prison." This got a big laugh from me. "Does Dartmoor Prison actually have two big chimneys?" I asked him. "Yes." Which prompted an even bigger laugh. I have a feeling that this stuff may be the future of comedy, and hereby call for "Peas and carrots" to be reassessed by cultural historians.