Anatomy of a joke

Person A walks onto the stage. He explains to the audience that although his Twitter name shares a word with someone else on Twitter, they are not to be confused. He then makes a gentle joke about how different they are by saying ‘He’s much taller than I am.’ (This is not a good joke and gets a murmur of a laugh across the audience. It is designed to be a gentle introduction. The audience are laughing politely and hoping things will get better soon.)

Person A then begins, in earnest, to talk about how he’s been looking at a lot of educational based research which is going to inform his talk. Person B enters and tells Person A to stop. He points out that he shouldn’t be doing research because, as we all learnt last year, this pretty much means you are a eugenicist. (This is a good joke for two reasons: firstly, it is a totally ludicrous suggestion in of itself; secondly, it harks back to a twitter-storm from the past that everyone in the room can remember. This joke will become funny again nearer the end of the talk for reasons we shall see later.)

Person B then reference the lame joke about Twitter names. He tells Person A that he has now been blocked. (This joke works because it recalls the sometime action of the referenced Tweeter and takes it to an absurdist level. Of course, the Tweeter would not have blocked someone for such a benign comment. The Tweeter only blocks when he has been insulted, trolled, threatened or vilified. He does it publicly with screenshots so everybody can see, hence why this joke gets a strong reaction. The audience are familiar with the context and are laughing at the exaggeration.)

Person A then asks for the reason that has been given for the block. Person B says that the reason for the block is because Person A has been antagonistic towards a Trad. (This joke works because it reminds the audience of the prog-trad wars that occur on Twitter. The joke would work with any combination of words as long as ‘trad’ was in there somewhere – or ‘prog’ for that matter.)

Person A then asks for the duration of the blocking and Person A replies that it is temporary. (This makes the audience laugh because it reflects one of the duration lengths that the referenced tweeter often assigns to tweets they have taken offence to. It also gets a laugh because Person B is using a dalek voice to deliver the line. This is funny, not because the referenced tweeter sounds like a dalek, but because it puts into the mind of the audience a picture of offending tweeters being exterminated, thus exaggerating the already ridiculous notion that such an innocuous comment would result in a blocking. The dalek voice also serves to lampoon the hysteria that the act of public blockings causes on prog-twitter. More importantly however, the dalek voice makes the word ‘temporary’ sound very funny.)

If you took the remainder of the talk and held up various sections as isolated segments, you could take offence, or at least be alarmed by, two leaders who, without any hint of irony…

  • Ask members of the audience to retrieve excrement from a bag.
  • Scream at, and berate, an unsuspecting member of the audience,
  • Advocate the forced tuition of yoga to teachers.
  • Recommend only doing things because people on twitter will like it.

If you saw the whole talk then you would have seen it build up to a climax with Person B admitting that they themselves had been conducting evidence based research in their own school. Riddled with self-loathing and stupidity, he then draws the only conclusion he can: he must be a eugenicist. (The audience find this funny because they recognise it as a call-back from the beginning of the show.)

Person A then explains to Person B how he is not a eugenicist and that he is a wonderful headteacher. (This is a joke because, as is revealed in the slides, Person A is only saying this stuff to increase his twitter following. This joke serves to undermine their entire talk and present them to the audience as two desperate social media ladder climbers. The show ends with Person B’s number of followers reducing to one solitary person. He has failed in his desire to use leadership in order to become popular.)


Taken out of context, few jokes work. If people want to assign meaning to other people’s words, that have been taken out of context, then they are free to do so. Nobody can really stop that. If a joke offends, when it is taken out of its context, then so be it. The Joker doesn’t need to apologise because to do so would require them to write out the jokes complete with a full contextual commentary in italics, and only an idiot would attempt this.

If a joke, within its context, offends then it may be because the subject is either too close to the bone (which may not necessarily make it a bad joke) or, it is just a bad joke.

Permission does not have to be granted for humour to be found in other people’s public actions. This is especially true if the purpose behind the humour is to drive home wider points within a specific context. But, of course, you won’t understand what that is if you haven’t been privy to the big picture in the first place. You will instead take the joke at face value, or at least, give it a value which suits your personal bias. The Joker cannot do much about this, that choice and interpretation has been yours and yours alone.

So, to conclude, if anyone wants to make a joke about anything I have ever publicly said or done then they are free to do so. I am fine with that because I understand that I write and say things in public. If it is a good joke, I’ll laugh along. If it’s not, and I am bothered by it, I may contact the joker personally and tell them I didn’t find it funny. They could then explain it to me, or apologise, or both.

If they didn’t, well, I could always block them.