Blurring the (punch)line


I used to hang out in the lobby of my ex's dorm a lot when we were in college.  Guys had to wait for the girls there to sign them in before they could go up, so a lot of the guys who had girlfriends in a given building got to know one another from hanging out in the lobby.  One of these was a guy named Ronnie, who was pretty cool.  I already kind of knew his girlfriend, so we got to be friends.

A lot of the girls in the dorm who hung out in the lobby really liked us because we used to tell funny stories.  One day when the material was running low, I started telling a joke, and instead of making it about "some guy," I just put Ronnie into it.  Of course, Ronnie was pretty sharp, so he just played along rather than giving it away that this was bullshit.

See, the difference between a joke and a story is like the difference between going to a magic show and the gullible and pious going to a faith healer.  When you see a magician, he says, "I've got a trick to show you."  You know it's a trick; it's all made up right from the start, and it's going to have a punchline, just like a joke will.  There will be a payoff, but it's what you're expecting anyway.

A story is just about something that happened.  The listener goes in without any real expectations regarding quality or format.  After all, not everyone's stories have punchlines.  However, the listener usually (depending on the history of the storyteller) believes it will be factually true with only minor embellishments.  A punchline is about as unexpected as a faith healer raising your genuinely crippled grandmother from her wheelchair.

So I start off with, "Have any of you guys ever been in a car with Ronnie?"

Some of the girls said no.  A couple of them including his girlfriend, of course, said they had.

"He drives like a fucking nut doesn't he?"  The ones who had been in a car with him looked a little confused.  In reality, they would have been much better judges of his driving ability than I, considering I had never been off-campus with him, let alone driving in his car.

I continued as though they more or less agreed, "I was out with Ronnie the other night, and he runs a red light.  I'm like, 'Whoa, Ronnie!  That was a red light you just ran!'  But Ronnie's calm and doesn't give a fuck.  He's like, 'So what?  My brother drives like this.'"

"So I sit back in the seat and finally get my heart to stop racing when a few blocks later there's another red light up ahead, and Ronnie runs that one too!.  I'm even more scared than the last time."  The girls are on the edge of their seat now because Ronnie's a fun guy, but they've never heard of him acting like a maniac.  "I go, 'Holy fuck, Ronnie!  You just ran another red light.'  But Ronnie just shrugs and says, 'It's okay.  My brother drives like this.'"

"I'm scared to death at this point because I'm thinking at the very least we're going to get a ticket if Ronnie doesn't get us both killed first, but at least the light up ahead is green.  Ronnie slams on the brakes.  I'm like, 'What the fuck, Ronnie?!  The light's green!'

"Ronnie looks at me and says, 'Yeah, I know!  My brother might be coming from the other direction.'"

Of course, the girls are all like, "What the fuck?" to themselves.  They're laughing but completely confused.  Some of them caught on pretty quickly, but it took a few others minutes and detailed explanations of what happened before they understood that the only reality was that I substituted a real person for a fictional element.  I just blurred the line between reality and form fiction.

Most of the time real life and jokes stay on opposite sides of a clearly delineated boundary.  Crossing that line is about as unexpected as running a red light and stopping at a green one.  It's less dangerous though, so try it.


Copyright 2007 Ale[x]plorer.
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