Culture Schlock – By Darren Garnick
March 9, 2006
It may be even a more vital stage of child development than looking up
curse words in the dictionary or conjugating swears for Mad Libs. If
you’ve ever spent significant time socializing with three and four
year olds, the atmosphere inevitably mirrors one of those low-grade Chinese
restaurant comedy clubs.
Is there an owl in here?
Sometimes there is improv involved – an unexpected twist tossed into
Is there an echo in here?
My wife Stacy, a former preschool teacher, warned me this intolerable
stand-up act was coming. Why would Ari be any different than the
millions of other kids exposed to riddle books and riddle popsicle
sticks? It is only a matter of time before he stands in front of the
fireplace (for that “Live at the Improv” brick wall look) and urges
his parents to “please don’t forget to tip your waitresses because
they’ve been great tonight.”
I’m sure that Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld began their careers
memorizing Dixie Riddle Cups, but we didn’t have to sit through their early material and pretend to like it. Aside from endless repetition, the most painful element of toddler humor is that their unscripted jokes seldom make sense.
In the overrated knock-knock genre, they usually fall into one of two
categories. Either the punchline is merely the reunion of two split
syllables or it is an arbitrary sentence with minimal ironic value.
The dog likes to eat pizza in the rain!
Now before Greater Nashua’s child psychologists and speech therapists
start burning my columns in Railroad Square, let me make myself clear.
I recognize that these jokes – especially the original material – are
a valuable exercise for building Ari’s public speaking skills and
honing his creativity. I also recognize that as a general rule, most
child psychologists and speech therapists are peaceful individuals, so
I retract my earlier statement.
With those disclaimers out of the way, let me bluntly confess that I
try to redirect the conversation after four or five jokes.
How to respond to free verse knock-knock jokes is a Catch-22. If I
pull a Simon Cowell and ruthlessly point out the humor deficit, there
might one day be an after school special about him called “The Boy Who
Was Afraid to Laugh.”
If I laugh at everything, I believe I’d be doing him a grave
disservice. Sure, his self-esteem spikes now, but what happens when it
all comes crashing down at our local coffee house’s open mike night?
Silence doesn’t work, unfortunately. All comedy acts crave validation.
“Isn’t that funny, Daddy? Isn’t it?”
At the risk of jeopardizing my son’s comedy calibration, I arbitrarily
determine which jokes are funny and which ones need to be rewritten.
Getting a little cocky, I made up a joke as an example of the kind of
uproarious humor hibernating in the Garnick subconscious.
Lion is the opposite of telling the truth.
“That’s not funny, Daddy,” interjects Ari, feeling absolutely no
hesitation to crush my comedy ambitions.
Toddlers are a tough audience. From my wife’s years of knock-knock
immersion, I understand that kids will frequently laugh when their
peers laugh regardless of the quality of a joke. This creates awkward
moments when one kid’s nonsensical punchline will bring down the
house, while an equally illogical joke will provoke cruel silence.
Orange you glad you don’t have to read any more knock knock jokes?
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in
Encore. Send favorite knock-knock jokes and riddles to
darrengarnick (at) gmail (dot) com.