It will probably be clear that I am writing this post because I am currently reading 1941 daily strips from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner.
But I am definitely going to talk about corny jokes, not cheesy jokes, because I grew up in Iowa, not Wisconsin.
And, yes, that is example number one.
There is a certain way of telling a joke or tall tale that is unique to the farmyard. And it does not contain chicken poop, but rather, corn.
Of course, as you can see by this corn-colored definition of what corny means according to Collins Online Dictionary, the word is supposed to be an insult to corniness in jokery. That doesn’t sit well with the people of Iowa, where the tall corn grows. We are also obvious, sentimental, and not at all original. And we are proud of it.
To tell a corny joke right, you have to set a simple scene, and make it clear what happened, and give the audience a simple cue for when to laugh.
For instance, there was the time that Cudgel Murphy had a cat problem with his car, the 1954 Austin Hereford that he has driven since dinosaurs walked the earth. It seems there was this time in 1988 when he kept having engine trouble. The engine would sputter and cough and die, and when Cudgel opened it, he would find a half-eaten dead pigeon or other random bird carcass gumming up the works. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out how dead birds were getting into his car engine. But his grandson Danny happened to see the neighbor’s big tabby tomcat carrying a pigeon he had killed under the front of Grampy’s car, apparently enjoying a fowl meal in the dark with a nice warm engine to lay the food on. Sure enough, when they checked the engine later, there was the half-eaten dead bird laying across one end of the fan belt.
So Cudgel set up a vigil, assigning times for himself, Danny, and his younger grandson Mike to watch for signs of that damned cat taking another bird under the hood of the Austin. With only two day’s worth of watching under their belts, Mike came running into the Murphy kitchen with the news.
“Grampy! I seen that damned cat taking a dead bird under your car! He’s in there right now!”
So Cudgel rushed out, turned the engine on, and stomped on the gas.
There were some worrisome thumps and bangs under the hood, and then the cat shot out from under the front of the car spewing howls and cat curses all the way up the nearest tree.
Cudgel laughed hard and finally caught his breath to say, “How about that, Mike? I’ll bet James Bond doesn’t have a car that can shoot angry cats out the front!”
Now, before you chastise me for enjoying cruelty to cats, I hope you will remember that Cudgel Murphy is a fictional character, and I am merely illustrating the idea behind corny jokes. And, besides, that cat really had it coming to him.