Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

This Blog was Invented in Xi'an 5,000 Years Ago

The Funniest Joke in China – Part 1

Posted by MyLaowai on Monday, May 7, 2007

I still remember my early days here in Hell China. Back then I had this odd belief that people were all basically the same, that all parents wanted a better life for their kids than they had themselves, that education was the key to progress, that when you smiled at people, the vast majority would smile back, that love really was the most basic human emotion. Oh, how naive I was.

Now, I’m a guy that likes to have a laugh: I like to hear jokes, and I like to tell them. So it was rather a shock to me when I arrived in the sewer China, to discover that irony was something they made rice bowls out of. Oh, the revelation didn’t come all at once, and Ye Gods! I tried hard to find a funny bone in these peeps, but no joy was to be had. Initially, I put this down to cultural differences. It seemed a reasonable assumption to make, and foolish young grasshopper wot I was, I figured it was something I would come to understand in time. Of course, I was wrong.

One day I was hit by inspiration: I would gather together at a restaurant all my Chinese leeches bloodsuckers ‘friends’ (my apologies to those few who genuinely are friends), and I would tell them all the jokes that I knew. By observing their reactions to said jokes, I would be in a better position to determine the orientation of their sense of humour. I ended up with around a dozen peeps, male and female, urban and rural, aged from twenty to thirty – a good spread. Well, I don’t mind saying that I was on fire that night. It was a night in which every joke I’d ever heard came back to me as easily as if I’d only just heard it. I covered it all, from wit to satire to irony to sarcasm to slapstick to farce. I did plays on words, body gestures, and cringe. I even asked why the chicken crossed the road. I reckon I nailed it all. And not so much as a smile from the audience, not a fucking twitch.

Oh yeah, you may say, they didn’t understand. Perhaps, which was why I had Mrs MyLaowai translate everything, and why I explained the various cultural references. It went on for hours.

No reaction at all. Nothing.

After I’d run out of ideas, I sat back, exhausted. And inspiration hit again: “All right”, I said. “I’m going to eat something myself now. While I do that, I have a mission for you: Since you don’t find my jokes funny, I’d like you all to get together and decide on the funniest joke you collectively know, then tell it to me. Perhaps I can work out Chinese Humour that way!”

Well, they all thought that was a fine idea, so off they went into a struggle session group discussion. After some minutes they all started to fall about the place laughing, so I knew they had it. I present that Joke for you now…

A Man and his Son go to the zoo. They are at the Tiger cage, when Son asks his Father “Father, is Tiger married?”
“No Son, Tiger is not married”
They then get to the Giraffe cage. “Father, is Giraffe married?”
“No Son, Giraffe is not married”
They move on to the Elephant cage. “Father, is Elephant married?”
“No Son, Elephant is not married”
[at this point my humorous friends are starting to crack up, so I know the Punchline is near]
They arrive at the Donkey cage. “Father, is Donkey married?”, asks Son.
“Yes, Donkey is the only animal that gets married”, replies Father.

And they were falling about the place in hysterics. Why? I know not. I tried to understand, I really did. Was there something cultural about donkeys? Was it a play on words that was lost in translation? No. It was simply the idea of a donkey being the only animal to get married. Would it have been funny if, instead of ‘Donkey’, it had been ‘Aardvark’? No, of course not, Aardvarks don’t get married, I was informed.

Chinese ‘humour’? Don’t make me laugh.

In an unexpected sequel, I told this story to some local colleagues here last year, and they informed me that there was, in fact, an even more hilarious joke. Stay tuned for The Funniest Joke in China – Part 2.

P.S. for what it’s worth here’s a joke for you: Chinese Culture.

8 Responses to “The Funniest Joke in China – Part 1”

  1. LaoLao said

    Spot on my man. Absolutly spot on. I tried for the first 3 years without success to tell jokes.
    But, there is hope. I discovered by accident (around 2003) several jokes that make them laugh their ass off.
    the Key: Your audience. If they drink beer, and I mean DRINK not SLAM beer, then they will laugh at all manner of dirty jokes.

    Dirty Jokes? Yup. I had a naive 20 year old waitress at the hotel bar who literally had me laughing my ass off. She taught me every dirty joke she knew (about 6) and I have modified and made another 20.

    Drop me an email sometime if you want me to share a couple with you.

    Great blog post.


  2. Meursault said

    Laolao is right. There are some funny jokes out there, but you will never get that frumpy 30 year old woman who works at the State Foreign Liasion Ofice and wears glasses to laugh at them. The only thing she finds funny is watching somebody fall over. Or a smiley face at the end of an email.

  3. […] used to feel much the same way. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I used to believe that all people were all basically the same, that all parents wanted a better […]

  4. […] by MyLaowai on Thursday, February 5, 2009 I’ve written before about the Chinese sense of humour, and you may have formed the impression that in fact the Chinese have no sense of humour at all. […]

  5. Ned Kelly said

    The unfunniest joke in China:

  6. Ned Kelly said

    By the way, the above linked picture of Yang Rui reminds me of Joel Grey in “Cabaret”, set in early Nazi Germany:

  7. Wilson said

    Dude, come on… I dislike China and the people as much as you do, but this ranting of yours is the dumbest thing Ive ever heard…
    No one is gonna laugh at jokes in a foreing language that need to be translated and then explained for cultural references or what the fuck, a joke is not a class or something
    And I can’t see how is it that someone misses to understand the donkey joke… donkeys are suppossed to be stupid, just like dogs are suppossed to be loyal and foxes are suppossed to be smart and so on… so, the only animal that marries is the stupid one… marrying is something only an ass would do… get it?
    Not the bomb, I know, but it is not that they laughing just because @simply the idea of a donkey being the only animal to get married@
    Wake up

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