Heard the one about the running joke?

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The Independent Online
I am told that the Lada car will soon no longer be on sale in this country. Well, I wasn't told it - I overheard it on the radio. A Lada agent was being interviewed by a BBC reporter about the end of the Lada presence in the UK. Well, that's not quite true either. The BBC reporter was mostly taking the opportunity of telling the Lada agent all the Lada jokes he knew. You know Lada jokes? They are jokes that depend on your accepting the Lada as a really bad car. Jokes like these:

"What do you call a Lada with twin exhausts?"

"A wheelbarrow."

"How does a thief break into a Lada?"

"Through the coachwork."

"What do you call a Lada with no wheels?"

"A skip."

Do you get the idea? No, they're not that funny, really. The Lada agent certainly didn't think so. He didn't laugh at all. There was a good chance he had heard many of them before. There was an even better chance that, as he made a living from selling Lada cars, he wouldn't have found them very funny anyway. But the BBC reporter went on telling the man these Lada jokes. This may have been because he was a bad interviewer. But more likely it was because he knew that if he didn't tell these jokes now he would never be able to tell them again.

We are, in fact, in at the death of an Aunt Sally, the end of a laughing stock, the time when a running gag finally runs out of puff and collapses on the edge of the track, unable to continue. We need running gags like these. Society seems to depend on them. But we have to change them from time to time, because you can't work a running gag for ever. They did their best with the British Rail sandwich. Ho, ho, ho! The old British Rail Sandwich joke:

"He was as dead as a British Rail sandwich."

"Her lips curled up, like the edges of a British Rail sandwich."

Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, good old British sense of humour. Even when the sandwiches became good on British Rail the jokes went on. Indeed, even the disappearance of British Rail hasn't affected the joke. People still make jokes about the same railway sandwiches.

(Strange, because by now you think people would be making jokes about Eurostar sandwiches. I have travelled twice on Eurostar, and each time the standard of snacks at the buffet and on the trolley was abysmal. I have heard the same from other travellers. You get a far better service on the Portsmouth to Cardiff train than the London to Paris train.)

But Aunt Sallies don't just die, they get born as well. Have you noticed that Channel 5 is a new laughing stock? Quick, cheap laughs are readily available by saying a thing is almost as hard as getting Channel 5, or almost as bad as Channel 5. I wouldn't know myself - I can't get Channel 5. And the man who allegedly visited every home in Britain to retune our TV sets never came near us. But even though I have never seen a Channel 5 programme, I have heard a Channel 5 joke already, as follows:

"Did you hear about the Channel 5 executive who got married. Grey wedding, crappy reception ..."

I didn't say it was a good joke. I just said it was a joke, and I find it extraordinary that people can repeat jokes like that who have never seen Channel 5 in their lives. They used to make similar jokes about Channel 4. They used to make jokes about the Sinclair C5. In fact, they now make jokes about Norwegians. My son the other day repeated a line he had pinched from Red Dwarf - "Death is like being at a party where all the guests are Norwegians" - and he laughed. But my son has never met a Norwegian in his life. He doesn't know where Norway is. He simply recognised the shape of a good joke and laughed.

Someone told me a joke about Damon Hill the other day. How did it go? That's right:

"Why is Damon Hill envious of Tiger Woods? Because Tiger Woods can drive 300 yards."

Hmmm. Perhaps it loses something in the writing-down. And if you have never heard of either man, it may lose a little something too.

Anyway, this is straying somewhat from my original point, which was merely to issue a request to surrender all your Lada jokes, as they are now beyond their sell-by dates and no longer work properly. Please send them back, together with any other obsolete and no longer working gags you may have, for instance Group 4 jokes, or Lord Lucan jokes, or Prince Charles talking to the flowers jokes, or Gazza jokes, or Eldorado jokes, or ... Full list on request.

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