Jokes are funny things.
A lot of it is about expectation, and particularly things not matching expectations. It’s the same in music. On some level you know what’s coming next, so when it doesn’t, it’s exciting.
This can result in dancing or laughing. Both of which are absurd but enjoyable behaviours.
So the Knock Knock joke is the Amen Break of the joke world. It’s a structure so simple that it can instantly be played with. It’s got it’s own set of assumptions built in, so it’s easy to toy with.
Structures are easier to toy with. To play around with. The same goes for limericks and haiku. Once you know how to do it, you can easily fit new things into the old rules, and that helps aid your creativity.
One of the other nice things about Knock Knock jokes, is that they immediately bring someone into the magic circle of play. It’s such an obvious opening ‘Knock knock’ that it’s like a warning. This is particularly useful for kids, who can’t always spot a joke, or can’t always make it clear when they are making one.
The best joke I’ve heard recently (for given values of the word ‘best’) relies on the opposite and always goes down flat: ‘I bought a litre bottle of Tipp-Ex the other day……..big mistake.’
People don’t notice the joke. It starts of as a story, then that expectation is overruled by the pun and the realisation that you’ve been tricked.
Knock Knock jokes are closer to puzzles. You know a joke is coming, so once you’ve had the set up, you’re left trying to work out what it could be, before you play the game and say ‘whatever who?’
It’s got a feeling of collaboration to it. Again, it’s kinda inspiring for kids, who get to take more part in the joke even as the one hearing the joke.
But they tend to be rubbish. All along the same patterns (with the occasional subversions, the most obvious being the ‘Doctor’ one that ends in the theme music of a popular television show).
I prefer limericks. Rhyme schemes and rhythms are much more my cup of tea than groany subversion of straightforward puns, particularly ones that have to use the sound ‘ooh’.
But it’s definitely useful to have these traditional structures, because you don’t just teach children how to take part in jokes, and make them, you also teach them how to subvert meaning, spot hidden layers, be clever and take the piss.
These are all good things, and a safe structure to practice in is always a good idea.
But I’m not good at them. I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a knock knock joke for inclusion in this piece, and I simply can’t manage it. At least not one that just subverts with a deadpan explanation at the end (often not doing a joke when one is expected is the funniest thing).
Illustration by Lucy.