Robert Gallagher, Wake
Full Time Grandfather: Tri
Modern Radio and Corny Jokes
My kids remember granddad telling corny jokes on long drives. The longest trip they took with their grandfather was to the Prairie Home Companion show at the Wolftrap theatre. They heard old gags and old music on their way to a show full of classic folk music and small town stories. It was a tough show for them. Their grandfather had to keep explaining what was going on. Despite that and the summer heat, they have good memories of the trip.
He kept repeating his classic quips, most of them borrowed from old comic standards.
"Despite the high cost of living," he said many times, "it's still pretty popular."
Sometimes he turned his stories about teaching into classic jokes. About a student who never seemed to bright, he started,
"He was playing catch. Someone threw him a softball. I thought it was funny that he squinted at it like he was wondering why the ball kept getting bigger and bigger." He leaned closer for his punchline. "But then it hit him."
Sometimes the kids didn't get it, not even with a jab from his elbow.
"Sorry," he said once when he misspoke, "I guess that was a Freudian slip."
"What's a Freudian slip?" my daughter asked.
"Ah." The way he sighed, most of us understood that he was mentally shifting into a different mode. "That is when you say one thing and mean your mother."
The kids chuckled although it was what they did, sometimes, when they weren't sure what they were laughing about.
My father had it easier when he sat down to enjoy corny jokes with his grandchildren courtesy of radio or television. In fact, once he noticed how my oldest child liked an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, he bought the entire series that night. After that, he could lean back in his padded armchair, turn on the show, and make jokes along with the cartoon characters.
Rocky: Do you know what an A-bomb is?
Bullwinkle: Certainly. A bomb is what some people call our show.
The living room was cluttered and dark. The cartoon animation was crude. The puns were tortured. But the characters remained good-natured. They kept true to their heroic natures and stayed constantly in action. The television screen shone bright with primary colors. Sometimes my father laughed for different reasons than the kids. But all of them laughed.
Rocky: Hey Bullwinkle, we're in real trouble now!
Bullwinkle: Oh good, Rocky! I hate that artificial kind!
The context of the cold war has long been lost but the concept of doing good deeds was still clear to the kids. The heroic flying squirrel had an earnest, do-gooder intention that they could identify. Thankfully, there was no pretense from Boris or Natasha. They referred to themselves as the "greatest no-goodniks." Even if other things weren't clear, intentions were telegraphed like on other kids shows. The main difference for Rocky and Bullwinkle was their dad-joke style of puns, meant for adults. Even near death, the hero issued another dad-joke.
Bullwinkle: (as he sees Rocky lying unconscious on a pile of rocks) Rocky, buddy, speak to me! Don't tease ol' Bullwinkle! Say something!
Rocky: (regains consciousness) Something.
Bullwinkle: Well, that's something.
For a day, my father and my oldest son repeated, "Well, that's something" at every excuse. I hadn't seen the episode yet, so I didn't really understand.