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December 25, 2009

Next time you meet my mother, ask her to tell you a joke. I am not sure this is the only joke she knows, but it is definitely the only joke she tells. If she can contain her giggles, the joke would go like this:



Yes, that’s it. Whether or not you found it funny, you should still ask her to do it if just to watch her giggle herself silly. More often than not, she will find it hard to even say the first line, she will, upon merely thinking about the joke, get into a laughter-induced choke and when she finally manages to cough up the joke, the audience, probably like you, will not find it funny and her lone laughter will make the atmosphere even more comic. I have heard the joke countless times since I don’t know when and it is probably my first experience of what I understand to be “surreal humour“. Which Wikipedia defines as,

Surreal humour — sometimes referred to as “absurdist humor” — is a form of humour, stylistically related to the artistic ambitions of the surrealists, based on bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations and nonsense.

No, I don’t understand what it meant either. (Funny the last paragraph began with “Yes, …”) I came across the term when I was looking up a British comic double act called The Mighty Boosh on Wikipedia. When Siuto and I first watched them on TV, I was the only one who finds them funny. Like one would want to explain a joke someone doesn’t understand, despite knowing full well that by doing so, one is simultaneously ruining it, I wanted to explain why I find The Mighty Boosh funny – but I couldn’t. There was no punchline, no wordplay, no slapstick, no satire, no shock, no poopoo or even peepee. All there is is a bit of sheer fantastical weirdness and silliness, very much as in the 沖大海 joke. As far as I am concerned, that is what surreal humour is. I remember that as a small child, one of the things I found funniest was a line from the Disney illustrated book of Alice in Wonderland, where Mad Hatter demanded the Dormouse to be caught so that he can put jam on its nose (!?). (This might not be an accurate quote as my memory might be distorted due to the passage of time.) I now know that the original novel by Lewis Carroll is known as an example of surreal humour in literature. When I looked up Eddie Izzard on Wikipedia, a comedia I currently find quite wonderful, I found that his material is also categorised as surreal comedy.

Back to my mother’s favourite joke, I once tried to tell it to a German friend of mine. I hesitated, warning my friend that it isn’t that funny. Somehow I decided to tell it anyway. It must be a particular sequence in my DNA, but the moment I thought about the joke, I started giggling hysterically. Realising that I am setting a very high expectation on the level of funniness, I reissued the warning about the unfunniness, but my friend insisted that it must be at least a little bit funny to make me giggle. As you could imagine, upon finishing the joke, my friend froze in an anticlimactic breeze while I not-so-awkwardly laughed because I was genuinely amused.

This was made worse by the fact that I was telling the joke in English, which made the whole thing, if possible, even more bizarre:

A stupid man asks a stupid boy whether he wants to take a shower.

“Flush the sea!” answered the stupid boy.

How I managed to write a passage about humour yet sounding so dry is beyond me, so instead of the usual wordplays at the end of my posts, how about I encourage you to write about something that really tickles your funny bone but hardly anybody else gets? Before I finish, let me leave you with this photo that Soyin showed me a month ago, which I find truly captures the essence of surreal humour.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2010 10:32 pm

    I still don’tquite understand what surreal humour is, but I really want to recommend the best joke book I have ever read, which costs $48 only, and have new publication every year – 李居明’s 風水書. I have bought one, and successfully persuaded SJ to get one, 你今日買左未?

    • Miah permalink*
      January 2, 2010 3:39 am

      I am currently reading a book called The Naked Jape, which the Sunday Times apparently called “the best book about jokes ever”. Admittedly it is not actually a joke book, it is more about the theories behind jokes and the behaviour of joking, but it does contain more than a joke per page. So I will have to read yours to judge.

      The problem is I don’t want to support the living of a “Feng Shui master”. May I read yours, or Soyin’s? Can you quote a funny bit from the book?

  2. January 3, 2010 3:09 am

    When you and siuto come back for lunar new year, we may read it together. The funny parts of the book cannot be explained in words. You must read itXD

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