In the end, everything's a gag. ~ Charlie Chaplin
Monty Python once did a sketch about the funniest joke in the world, which is developed during the war to use as a weapon, since anyone hearing it would laugh themselves to death. According to my wife, I know that joke.
The subject came up again the other night, and, as usual, it ended the same way, with my wife insisting that I once told her this incredibly funny story and with me insisting that I knew no such story. For you to understand what this is about, I have to take you back about 30 years.
Back in that bygone era of leisure suits and gas crises, I worked for small manufacturing company as a quality engineer. That's not particularly funny, but it's true. One of the production foremen was a fellow named Bernie, a robust man in his fifties, who I have mentioned before in this blog, in his role as a great golfer. Bernie was also one of the funniest people I have ever met. He wasn't a jokester in the sense of witty one-liners (although he could hold his own). He belonged to an older breed of humorist, the storyteller. Bernie knew about a billion funny stories, almost all of which could be told in front of children without serious editing, in a mixed group of men and women without anyone blushing, and in mixed ethnic groups without anyone getting offended.
About the only reason I belonged to the bowling team was because Bernie was a member. He would keep up a nonstop delivery of one story after another, which served to take my mind off my 135 average. I never heard him repeat a joke in the seven years I worked with him. I don't know if Bernie is still around, but I hope he is, because he'd still be making people laugh, and that's a precious commodity.
At least a couple of times a week, I'd pass along a Bernie joke to my wife, who loved all of them. Now, I'm not the greatest joke teller in the world, but my wife, bless her heart, is terrible. She's one of those people who's so anxious to get the punchline out that she loses half the joke. On the other hand, she generally remembers when she's heard a good story. So, if we were in the company of others, she would feed me cues to tell Bernie jokes. I know her ulterior motive was to keep me from boring guests to death with the latest science news or, worse yet, details about my job. Statistical quality control is interesting to those of us who had to work with it, but to the average human being, watching caulk set up is a lot more exciting.
At any rate, one evening I was running through my repertoire of Bernie stories. Everyone was chuckling up a storm, with even an occasional guffaw or two. So the wife says, “Tell the one about the little boy and his mother.” I thought for a second, remembered one that had a mother and son, told it, and got the requisite laughs. When she stopped laughing, my wife said, “No, not that one, the really funny one.”
“Faye,” I said, “that's the only one I can think of. Which one are you talking about?”
“Oh, I can't remember the whole thing, just the punch line. You just told it to me the other day.”
“Dear, I don't remember telling you any such joke recently. Can't you recall any of the gag?”
“All I know is the punch line.”
So, I asked her to whisper it to me to see if that would jog my memory. She did.
“Faye, I have never in my entire life told you a joke about a mother and son that has that punchline. You must have heard it from someone else.” I told our guests the punchline, but none of them had ever heard a particularly funny joke like that. She remained insistent but let it pass, because it's not nice to cold-cock your husband in front of guests.
The next day at work, I asked Bernie if he recalled the joke. After repeating the punchline thoughtfully a couple of times, he said, “Nope. I know a lot of stories, but I don't have one like that.” I dutifully reported this verdict to the wife, who remained adamant that I had told this story. It was, she stated flatly, stuck somewhere in my subconscious, and if I really concentrated, I could remember it.
Friends, I have tried for 30 years to remember that joke. I have asked every person of humorous bent if they've heard it. I have googled it. But no one, nowhere, no time, has ever heard a riotously funny story about a mother and son sitting in the kitchen talking that has the punchline:
That's what happens if you don't drink your milk.
Frankly, at this point, I don't think I want to know. I'm not ready to die laughing.