Crappy cracker jokes

What makes cracker jokes so awful?
23 December 2018

Interview with 

Georgia Mills


Christmas cracker


When did we start telling jokes? What makes something funny? And what makes cracker jokes so awful? Georgia Mills gave Katie Haylor the lowdown...

Katie - I rather fancy a cracker, don’t you Chris? We’ve got some, I'm told they are of pretty poor quality. So apologies.

Chris - Thanks for pushing the boat out for me.

Katie - Merry Christmas Chris! I think we should all try one, why not, there’s six crackers. Beverley why don't you open them up, we’ll pass them around and see how bad these crackers really are.

Chris - Okay here we go. We'll all have to try and somehow do this.

Katie - Are we going to try this at the same time?

Chris - Three two one, go on then! Well they're certainly explosive, not! Okay Rishi. This is for you, right. So how many chimneys does Father Christmas go down?

Rishi - I have not a clue there.

Chris - Stacks! I thought that was quite good actually. Caitlin?

Caitlin - Knock knock.

Katie - Who's there?

Caitlin - Mary.

Katie - Mary who?

Caitlin - Mary Christmas!

Katie - Classic!

Chris - Predictable. Beverley?

Beverley - Why does Father Christmas go down the chimney?

Chris - I don’t know why does Father Christmas go down the chimney?

Beverley - Because it “soots” him.

Chris - Terrible. That is horrible!

Katie - That is awful. Okay well we've been talking about food, so here’s a foodie one. What do snowmen eat for lunch, Clare I’m directing this one at you.

Clare - I have no idea what does a snowman eat for lunch?

Chris - Ice Krispies?

Katie - Ice burgers.

Chris - Aw close!

Katie - So what makes these Christmas cracker jokes quite so awful? Naked Scientist Georgia Mills has popped in to the studio to tell us. Hello Georgia, Merry Christmas! First up what actually makes something a joke?

Georgia- A joke is actually quite hard to nail down because they're all so different. But there are some things that seem to be constant across jokes. So a linguist Robert Hetzron gave this definition, so it's; a joke is a short humorous (we'll see about that) piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, called the punch line. In fact the main condition is that the tension should reach its highest level at the very end. So you always have this setup and a payoff in a joke. There's usually this punchline, especially the written ones, and the other thing that seems to be true across all jokes is that they're false, they're never true statements. But apart from that kind of anything goes.

Katie - Okay so you're setting a situation up that defies your expectations. It’s not actually true. And hilarity, or not, ensues. When did we start telling jokes?

Georgia - It's not clear when we did because they've never been what's considered the height of culture I guess. So we haven't made good records of when jokes began but the oldest one people have found so far is from 1900 B.C. We’ll see if it gets a laugh from the table. The joke goes; something which has never occurred since time immemorial. A young woman did not fart in her husband's lap. I’m really getting a lot of blank stares. So that's from a Sumerian proverb collection. Sumeria’s now what southern Iraq is, and it seems to be some kind of joke about farting, which I think has pretty much survived until now. We also find toilet humour very funny. The oldest British joke on record... 

Chris - This is more a caca joke than cracker joke.

Clare - Oh dear.

Georgia - The oldest British joke is from about 1000 years ago and it is; what hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before?

Katie - I don’t know.

Georgia - The answer is of course a key. So I think what we have here is that jokes have, since the very beginning been a bit naughty really but we think that we started telling jokes because they help people bond together they reduce stress and anxiety and they unify people they help us be more social.

Katie - Okay so whether or not you thought those jokes were funny, I guess it’s open to interpretation! But are there any objectively funny jokes? What makes something funny?

Georgia - I think any comedian will tell you that there are no objectively funny jokes. If there were their jobs would be much easier. But there are a lot of people trying to get to the bottom of what actually makes something funny and it is kind of a hard thing to break down. The oldest theory of humour is the superiority theory. If a joke makes you feel superior to a group of people it will be more funny and if you think about a lot of jokes they often make fun of neighboring countries or a type of person like a blonde or a lawyer or a priest. And often they involve some kind of serious misfortune. So if you, the listener of the joke, feel superior to that group of people it makes you feel sort of happy and laugh, and humorous.

Katie - That's not very nice.

Georgia - Most jokes if you look at them involve something really bad happening to someone. Another theory is the relief theory, which Freud had something to do with, and this is the idea that humour comes from relieving tension. So you could interpret this as the tension is you not understanding where the joke is going. And then the punchline is resolving that tension. And lots of jokes also deal with very serious issues like taboos and death and so it's kind of a safe environment to hear about some nasty things and that causes tension, and then the tension is relieved by it being a joke.

Katie - And if we go back to the jokes that we heard in these crackers, I mean, pretty much everyone groaned. What makes some jokes so bad?

Georgia - The thing about cracker jokes, they've got to be clean you can’t get any dirty innuendos or sort of violent imagery.

Katie - They have to be family friendly right?

Georgia - Which often means you can’t say some of the things that we naturally find quite funny, we've always found toilet humour quite amusing. So they usually rely on things like a play on words or a pun. And this fits in with another theory of humour which is called the incongruity theory, which is the idea that we find a mismatch between our expectations and reality funny. But the thing about cracker jokes is they're actually not meant to be good. They're written to be bad because they unite us all with anger against the person who wrote the cracker joke. So they're actually a really good social glue around the table because if they're kind of good, some of you might find them funny some of you might find them bad, but if they're intentionally bad, A) it's easier to write them and B) you have this fun part of Christmas where you're all making fun of this poor person.

Katie - Got to ask. Favourite joke?

Georgia - Seeing as I'm talking about what makes a joke a joke. What's the difference between a good joke and a bad joke timing.

Chris - Beverley is raising her hand. Can you beat that?

Beverley - Bit of physics. Did you hear the one about the photon who checked into the hotel? The concierge asked him if he could handle his luggage and the photon said “No, I'm traveling light.”

Katie - That's an excellent joke.

Chris - Rishi, the singing scientist, you must have some gags!

Rishi - I should point out I only got the icebergs joke like, five minutes later...


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