Seriously Funny: The Truth About Knock-Knock Jokes

14 Mar , 2013  

We here at love Comedy. Read that sentence again, please, because it’s important that I didn’t say that we’re “in love” with comedy. By “in love”, I mean that phase of a relationship in which everything about them seems perfect and eternal. Romeo and Juliet were “in love”. The thing is, Romeo and Juliet didn’t know a damn thing about each other. And they sure as hell never had to deal with each others less than pleasant side.

I’m sure that everyone reading this has been “in love”, and please, do not think that I mean to discount it. It’s freaking great actually. It’s fun, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s hopeful. And, sadly, it’s going to fade sooner than you’d like it to. How long did Romeo and Juliet last? Like 3 hours? The point is everything, whether it’s a person, a job, or even an idea like Comedy, eventually becomes three dimensional. It eventually shows a side you didn’t expect. All of a sudden, you realize that there’s more to understand about that thing than you could have imagined. And understanding, really knowing, takes a god-awful amount of work. And if Romeo and Juliet taught us anything, it’s that when the going gets tough, the tough kill themselves.

But you, being the educated and intelligent Felix Exi reader, probably knew that. What I’d like to talk about is how it applies to comedy.

What you start to understand when you look at comedy closely, is just how closely funny and tragic are related. Even when it wasn’t obvious, every joke you’ve ever heard had a dark kernel at it’s center. Someone merely presented it in a way that made it okay to laugh at.

What I’m saying is that all jokes, no matter how innocuous they seem, have a tragic side to them.


Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Nana who?
Nana your business

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Aida who?
Aida sandwich for lunch today.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Police who?
Police hurry up, it’s chilly outside!

These, and thousands of other knock-knock jokes just like them, seem supremely harmless don’t they? There’s nothing dark or sad about the content, it’s just a little bit of word play. This may seem strange, but it’s the word play that’s the dark part. Going from “Nana” to “None of” is a tiny switch, but it’s enough to change the meaning of the conversation. That single small turn is enough to turn that interaction into something silly and absurd. And that is the tragedy inherent to word play. You’ve just ruined language as a means of relating to others. Not to mention that someone is being denied important information!”Police” to “please” is really all the effort it takes to break the system? BUT THIS IS OUR CODE! It’s the thing that allows us to cooperate and communicate and understand, and it’s that delicate? Millions of years of evolutionary development can be undone in the space of a word. By a kindergartener.

It’s not that language is unimportant; it’s vitally important. It’s that our reliance on it is absurd. Jokes like these remind us that for all of our rules and conventions, the things we say are merely grunts that we’ve all agreed on the meaning of. And that, my friends, is a scary notion.

So, when I say that we at Felix Exi “love” comedy, instead of being “in love” with it, it’s because if you’re creating humor, you must know about it’s dark origin. It’s just not possible otherwise. You have to search out the things that bother you, things that make you angry or sad, and find a way to twist and contort them so that they can be laughed at. And you keep doing this because there is no other way. Those knock-knock jokes didn’t invent the flaws in language; they were always there. The jokes allow us to acknowledge the things that are sad and absurd, and to disarm them. The examples are everywhere. Reread this article about being a loveless virgin by Akilah, or this one about tricking your family into thinking you’re actually not alone by Jessica Slider.  Look at how funny those articles are, and then at the very serious issues that inspired them.

Absurdity is the only defense against the absurdity we’re presented with. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “We must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature – or go insane.”

Paul Alexander By
Paul has a full beard and wears your grandfather's shirts. And no matter how much he would enjoy it, no one will ever mistake him for Paul Newman. He's dead. Follow him on twitter @PaulAlexander90