So in all innocence I travel from one of my favorite blogs, 3QuarksDaily, to a linked article called “The Dead Chipmunk: An Interrogation into the Mechanisms of Jokes,” by Chris Bachelder. It opens with a pretty funny story about Bachelder and his (her?)* daughter and a dead chipmunk. But then that dread, dusty, scholastic word “interrogation” flaps down buzzard-like onto the creaky branch of the author’s main argument, and all goes awry. “Jokes are rarely if ever in the first person,” Bachelder writes, presumably with a straight face. “The personality and idiosyncrasies of a narrator are irrelevant to the mechanism of the joke, and in fact they distract from the joke’s operation.” Really? Think of Woody Allen: “How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?” Think of Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.” Think of Steven Wright: “I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met.” Think of Henny Youngman, for cryin’ out loud: “Take my wife [emphasis mine: ed.]. Please!” Mr. or Ms. Bachelder needs to go back to the School of Humor and demand a refund, because his/her claim that to make the charming and funny anecdote about the dead chipmunk into a joke would require putting it into third person is simply absurd. It’s like a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet explaining why there is no such thing as poetry, only “writing”—and expecting us not to laugh.
* I know now that Bachelder is a guy. And I’m not surprised.