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The Fourth of July 2019 and The Alex and Ronni Show

A TGB READER STORY: My Mother’s Funniest Hour

By Jack Handley

My mother had a sense of humor but she mostly didn’t get the point of jokes. She liked wordplay but rarely saw the humor in the punch line of jokes which puzzled me.

Some people don’t see humor because they take things literally and find exaggeration irritating, not amusing. In contrast to such people, my mother could see the humor in situations and appreciated Spoonerisms, such as the deacon saying, “Mardon me padam, but you are occupewing my pie.”

But, in general, my mother and jokes don’t mix.

On one holiday visit I carelessly mentioned the type of joke termed the Shaggy Dog Story, which piqued her interest. So, by way of example, I related the tale of the Tragedy of the Tribal Chief, which goes like this:

In the first years of the last century, in deepest Africa, an English missionary had penetrated far into the interior of the continent, past any railroads, or roads, or even trails, and found a larger than usual village of dozens of thatched huts surrounding a central larger, and taller hut, whose doorway was being guarded by two warriors.

The missionary determined that his mission was to start here; that he would enlighten this village with the ideas of Civilization and the blessings of Religion.

The chief agreed to allow the missionary to build a church and to preach to the villagers if he first provided the chief with a pair of thrones equal in magnificence to the great, gilded, thrones of the king and queen of England, a picture of which he had seen in one of the missionary’s magazines.

Here, in the tradition the Shaggy Dog Story, would begin a long and excruciatingly detailed description of the travel saga of the messenger carrying the order for the thrones back to England, and the journey of the cumbrous articles across the oceans and deserts and jungles to the village via steamship, coastwise packet ship, camel train, dugout, and so on-- which we will skip over to pick up the story upon the tumultuous arrival of the great thrones.

As the jubilation died down, problems arose. The first was just getting a Royal British Throne through the grass and bamboo doorway. If you have ever tried to squeeze a La-Z-Boy through a 34-inch doorway, you can see the problem.

The second, was where to put the two of them. The Royal Bedstead occupied most of the hut’s central dais, which in turn, occupied most of the floor space. (I really am trying to cut out the Shaggy stuff.)

The counselors and viziers and shamans finally contrived a scheme to rig a suspension harness to the overhead cross beams and to hoist the thrones up at night, and to lower them upon the bed during the day.

You immediately guess the outcome: one night the rope breaks, the thrones drop down and squash the royal couple and Civilization comes to an end in the village.

Of course, the moral is: People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

My mother emitted her hesitant laugh and said she enjoyed the shaggy dog part, which I skipped for you, perhaps as much she did the joke itself.

A few days later the whole family gathered for a holiday dinner. After the long and happy meal, my very merry mother announced she had a joke to tell. The room went quiet, most faces went blank, my aunts looked stricken. I writhed with sympathetic dread but tried to keep a welcoming, expectant look on my own face.

She then launched into the Tragedy of the Tribal Chief.

Of course, she embroidered the shaggy parts. People fidgeted, but she cast her sweet matriarchal gaze on them and disciplined into auditors who otherwise would have been a mob of noisy relatives. She went on and on, shining with the glow of performance. I admired her gall and fearlessness. And then came the end, the moral, which she announced as such:

“And the moral is: People who live in grass huts shouldn’t store thrones.”

Crushing silence. An embarrassed titter. People’s faces flicker, searching for an expression.

A church cough.

My mother’s face droops, her lips tremble. I am ready to sob. Then, another titter. An uncle lets loose a flatulent guffaw.

The youngest aunt begins to laugh. Tears stream from her eyes. Faces begin to light-up in recognition. Others laugh. Everyone laughs. Real, helpless, har-har laughs.

My mother beams. Everyone beams back. She shifts and turns to me.

“See, son. I can too tell jokes.”


Well told, Jack Handley! What a funny and sweet story -- you definitely have a gift!

Delightful way to start the 2nd day of July. Thanks for that!

Great story! My mom had a few hilarious jokes that she told well. One was about a guy taking care of his brother’s cat which died after falling off the roof (the cat, not the brother) and evolves into how the cat caretaker is told that he should have gently broke the news rather than blurting our “Your cat’s dead!” Instead he should have told his friend, “Your cat’s on the roof.”

Whatever ... my mom’s hip kept popping out and she ended up in the ER and started telling the joke but didn’t quite make it to the punch line before she was out. As she woke up ten minutes later after they had popped her hip back into place, she opened her eyes and laughed as she came to the punch line, “Mom’s on the roof!” She said the folks in the operating room howled. I guess you had to be there!

Glad you mentioned Spoonerisms. I read once that this word was coined because a certain Rev. Spooner was always mixing up his words. My favorite example was that he referred to the Lord as a shoving leopard.

I'm so glad the laughter began and swept over you and mom! A bit worrisome there, indeed. Telling a joke well enough to really please is a skill which few people really have. Still, it's fun, isn't it?

My sympathies are with your mother. I can’t tell a joke to save my life. When I tried, I would usually get to the punchline and then forget what it was, as in “’s not it...just a second...let me think.” Nobody laughed. At that point, I would have been happy enough to be the butt of the joke myself, just to get a laugh. After enduring a couple of such humiliations, I gave up my career as a comedian and left the joke-telling to my very funny sons.

A great story!!! So happy for your mother (and you)!!! Your writing is excellent, Jack. I could actually see all the facial expressions. Thanks for the tender story that had me laughing and laughing!

Wishing you a happy weekend, Ronni. Keep being true to yourself - you are such a gift.

Best wishes to all.

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