2010.02.03 She who laughs, cries

Written by David Green.


My co-worker Sheri gave lovely little log-shaped fruitcakes as part of her Christmas gifts to us. She attached cute labels explaining that the contents of the package was some of her grandmother’s No-Bake Fruitcake.

In a dyslexic moment, I read the label as No-Fruit Bakecake, which made me laugh and immediately put me in mind of my Aunt Betty, one of my mother’s six sisters. A jolly woman, Aunt Betty always has a ready laugh and is easily entertained. I think I inherited from her the gene that makes me laugh uncontrollably at things not everybody else finds funny.

Once, when I was in junior high school, Aunt Betty was visiting and she really got me laughing over something I no longer remember.

But I’ll never forget the fuel she added to the fire when she said, “Oh, Colleen! You’re as nutty as a fruitcake!”

That set me off in new gales of laughter when, as a fruitcake novice, I assumed that fruitcakes didn’t have nuts. The idea of being compared to something that didn’t actually have nuts seemed profoundly hilarious to me. Aunt Betty had hit my funnybone and it was a long time before I stopped laughing.

In this era when so many people I know seem to be dying or suffering from illness, I’ve been thinking of laughter a lot. In depressing times I need shots of mirth to keep me going. I’m beginning to wish I had kept a laugh journal throughout my life—a document I could consult to remember all the past funny times during these more trying times.

Instead, I am left to rely on my own memory—which is kind of a laugh in itself because it isn’t very intact.

I can remember moments of great hilarity, times when I couldn’t stop laughing, but I am abysmal at  remembering what led to them and even more abysmal at remembering jokes. There are a few that remain etched in my head, so much so that I even repeat the punch line in casual conversation, unrelated to the joke itself.

“No soap, radio,” is one.

I was beginning to think my siblings and I were the only ones who knew the joke, but wikipedia says it’s been around since before I was born and is widely known—even part of popular culture, with references to it on The Simpsons and The Sopranos. But I can’t remember anybody ever getting the reference when I’ve said it. Here’s the joke:

Two elephants are in the bathtub and one elephant says, “Pass the soap.” And the other elephant says, “No soap, radio.”

Everybody but one person is in on the joke and they laugh uproariously when the punchline is told.

Wikipedia says this is an example of anti-humor. The joke has no meaning—it’s just a prank on the person who isn’t in on it. Deconstructed on wikipedia like that, it makes me think I must have been an awful kid. Still, I can say that line to my brothers and vice versa and we automatically start laughing.

More Bronx humor...which must have followed the 1969 release of the movie, “Krakatoa: East of Java.”

“What’s east of Java?” you ask an unsuspecting person.

“Krakatoa!” they say.

“OK,” you say, and you stomp on the person’s foot...trying to crack a toe.

Woo, that’s even worse than “No soap, radio.”

I think I must have gotten nicer by high school when I recall laughing all the time, but not at anybody else’s expense.

Sometimes just thinking about laughing can make me laugh...like the time I was on the Q-44 bus which I rode every day from my home in the Bronx to my high school in Flushing, Queens.

I can never remember what was so funny; I just remember going home from school one evening and thinking about something so funny that I started laughing right there on the bus with other passengers looking like me as if I were nuts (nutty as a fruitcake?). More likely they thought I was on drugs.

I tried to stifle the laughter, but the more I tried, the more it bubbled forth until I was crying with suppressed laughter. It was probably something my friends Sondra or Adrienne had said or done that day...they are two of the funniest people I know. I don’t remember what it was, but it made the 45-minute ride home one of the longest ever.

No joke, radio.

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