Not long ago, I was at a dinner party in Borum Hill with some friends. Afterwards, we went to a bar in Park Slope. A friend of mine, we’ll call him “Miles” (that’s what people call him anyway), was very drunk. There were three guys outside the bar, and before we went in, Miles all of a sudden crouched down, pumped his fists in the air and went, “jerrrrks!” He was about seven feet from them.
The reason he did this was 1) he was very drunk and 2) he thought it would be funny to randomly yell “jerks.” He was right. It was very funny. He’s not a very threatening looking person—a sort of scrawny, red-haired 30 something hooligan (however he has a second head—a sixty year old black ex-marine—tough as nails.) We were standing far enough away from the three guys that it wasn’t clearly hostile, but close enough that what Miles did seemed weird. So my friend Brian and I tried to explain to three random guys 1) that Miles was drunk 2) what he said, because they didn’t clearly hear it and 3) why it was funny and not hostile.
Ultimately, the three guys were pretty confused. Brian and I explained that Miles was joking: he didn’t think they were jerks, because they’re nice people who he’s never met, and he’s drunk. Two of the guys, who seemed nice, got it, or didn’t care. It’s probably not the first time a drunk guy did something silly that made sense to him, but not many others. But one of the three guys wanted to get to the bottom of it—”What’s the punchline?” (Apparently, he had a rudimentary knowledge of comedy structure.) And we tried to explain what we thought Miles meant. Getting a little angrier, the guy was like, “If it’s a joke, what’s the punchline?” (For those who don’t know, the punchline is a conflict between a conventional and unconventional reality—but Mr. Angry had no interest in theory.) We kind of tried to explain it again. Then the guy gave it to us—BAM!—”Well, work on your Punchlines!” WHOA! After the smoke cleared—we all went in and began to frantically tighten all our jokes.
The funniest part was that Mr. Angry wanted to get worked up, but his friends didn’t care, we didn’t care, nobody else was invested. For me, one kind of punishment would be figuring out the point a drunk person was making. “A Toyota Corolla is better than Mulligatawny Soup? How? Explain yourself!” For Mr. Angry, it was sport.
If the guy had attacked Miles, or yelled, it would have sort of made sense—but to try to zing a drunk guy with a riddle seems ridiculous.
In the end, it turned out that the guy did seem like a bit of—a jerk.
In fairness to that guy, though, here is the same story from his point of view:
I was outside of a bar with two of my good friends—reminiscing about the Peace Corps—we saved a lot of babies (you’re welcome Nepal.)
All of a sudden three 30 something douchebags roll up—walking, not in a car, sorry. One guy looked straight out of Wet Hot American Summer—he crouched down, waved his fist and mumbled something. I think it was “jerk.” I have not devoted most of my life to public policy to be called a “jerk” at 1 AM by some Waspy jackass. The one who looked like a Jew (not a big deal) tried to pawn it off as a joke. A joke? Jokes have a structure. (Plus I just finished reading Freud’s Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious—so I couldn’t be fooled.)
“What’s the punchline?” I asked.
These “comedians” (I don’t know what they did for a living, but they looked like homeless business men) couldn’t tell me. They didn’t know that I knew that to make a joke you need two elements—a setup—and then—a punchline—or “punchword”—something that lets the audience know to laugh. I didn’t care about this red-haired charlatan’s setup—but I needed to know the punchline.
I asked again, this time, with my wit on red alert, “If it’s a joke, what’s the punchline?”
—Nothing. I waited a few seconds, took out my mind’s gun, and fired—”Well, work on your punchlines!”
Bullseye. Now to go home and beat my wife—in Boggle (I’m very smart!)
Hi. It’s me again! Eugene. I would like to say that I know that the guy who was angry really just didn’t hear Miles, probably thought some guys were making fun of him, and got upset, which is very reasonable. Still, it’s always funny to see how different people react to perceived aggression—and this guy happens to put on an arrogant thinking cap and get Zinging. Now, here is a video I made called Scotch and Soda in which I share drinks with a kid at a bar. The video was shot at the same bar where this happened.
Watch the video.