WHY DID NOBODY LAUGH? I was surprised by the puzzled silence after the punch line of the orange head joke. My friends had been laughing at the setup lines. An obvious possibility, of course, is that I didn’t tell the joke well. However, Klavan says that he’s been telling the joke countless times for ten years and almost no one else thinks it’s funny. The few who do like it think it’s one of the funniest jokes ever. Klavan theorizes that the people who like the joke are, like Klavan, story writers. He says that there are lots of critics who lay down rules for how stories should be constructed. He gives the example of a successful movie director he knows who “even has a chart on his wall showing precisely where the hero of a story must meet certain obstacles, reach the nadir of his adventure, begin his rise to redemption, and so on.” Klavan theorizes that story writers don’t believe in these rules, that they believe that “no narrative structure is big enough to contain the infinite perversity of the human heart.”

I can see that story writers might like the orange head joke because it reverses expectations. We are all familiar with the pattern of genie jokes (which have something in common with the Delphic oracles). The surprise ending pleases those, like writers, who like plot twists. However, I’m afraid that surprise is not enough. As my friends might say, a joke has to be funny.

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  1. Paul says:

    It’s more than that. I think it’s a joke about the frailty of the human mind, but more specifically about addicts. Life can be sailing along smoothly and then you destroy it -and you make that choice yourself. Could be anything: cigarettes, booze, drugs, cheating on your wife, gambling. You know it’s going to screw up your life, but you do it anyway. You have three wishes – you have everything – and you wish for an orange for a head.
    Now, you can say it with grandiosity: “no narrative structure is big enough to contain the infinite perversity of the human heart.” But, basically, you can say it this way: We’re all complete idiots, screw up our own lives, and make cages of our own creation.

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