I’m back. The bullet wounds are healing. Where was I? I don’t have a lot of time…
“It’s kind of a meta-joke,” I explained for the fourth time. “The graph is a joke about joke funniness over time. You tell a joke. It’s funny. Or not funny. It gets a reaction of some sort.” I pointed at the first trough in the graph. “Then it’s done, and if you repeat the joke it is absolutely 100% guaranteed to be not funny. You might get one retelling that’s not devoid of humor but after that, comedic value dips to zero. Are you with me so far?”
Manila Man scribbled feverishly at the bottom of a yellow legal pad, flipped the sheet over the spine and began again at the top of the next page. He was on page four. I had been attempting to explain this lame-ass frankenstein of a joke for the past twenty minutes. His pen, one of those cheap clear ball-points with no cap, wobbled clumsily as he wrote. It clacked against the trigger-guard of the gun which he somehow held in the same hand.
“Mhm,” he hummed at me, never looking up from his writing. “So first, the joke is funny. Then it’s not funny.”
I gazed at his writing/gun-wielding hand: transfixed, partially in awe of the circus-act going on in the hand and head of the man before me. Primarily though, I watched the gun. It was that very gun which had been held either in my face or against the back of my skull for the better part of the last 24 hours; and maybe I told you this already, but I wanted it. I was going to have it.
“But then it can be funny again?”
“Not for a little while.” I looked away from the gun. “You repeat the joke, over and over again, all along this line here,” I pointed at the bottom of the graph. “Around here, people think you’re an imbecile. ‘Didn’t he just tell that joke?’ they say to themselves.
“Here, they know you’re one.
“Around about here they start to hate you. ‘Why is he doing this to us?’ they will ask themselves and, later, each other. But here:” I pointed to the graph’s upward slope. “Someone hears you start it up again. That same. Old. Joke. The elements of surprise and humor no longer enter the equation. But something magical happens. This guy chuckles anyway. You’ve hardly even begun the joke and someone’s already laughing again. Why?”
The man didn’t answer, he just wrote and wrote, probably transcribing every word and missing it all. His jotting hand slid from one side of the paper to the other, the gun he held with it wavering from side to side. I swayed, keeping out of its aim. It was so close. I could see the red band around the safety switch (off), the grooves along the side of the barrel. I took a preparatory breath, then jerked when he spoke.
“I thought a joke was funny or not funny, how can it change like this?”
“The joke is not funny. The joke is dead. Long dead,” I explained, looking away from his weapon with affected casualness. “At this point it’s not the joke that’s getting laughs. It’s the meta-joke: the fact that you’re still telling this joke… is now the joke.” Manila Man was back to his writing, nodding absently as though he were “getting it.” He wasn’t getting it. Hell, I wasn’t getting it. This stupid ugly graph picture was supposed to be a joke based on the ridiculous notion of trying to explain comedy with a set of rules. Now it had itself become a joke repeated ad nauseum, the very concept it described. It had not yet gotten funnier over time.
Maybe that’s why I went for the gun.