Overanalysis of a joke; or…Killing humor for Science!

So this is a little embarrassing to admit but here is a joke that my mom shared with me the other evening on her smart phone just before she went to bed.  I guess she thought it was too funny not to share, etc.  It had been forwarded to her by one of her retired teacher friends or other peers.

I read the joke and did not laugh, did not “get” it until afterwards.  Perhaps it would’ve been funnier if it had been spoken on stage or by a storyteller with good comedic timing and a flair for zingers, who could hit the “punchline” just right.  As it was, in written form, it just fell flat for me.  Here was the basic structure of the joke; It’s not the precise wording because I just googled it instead of having mom forward me the specific text, but this is close enough for our purposes.

The joke that fell flat for me (probably because of my ASD)

The Hypnotist – joke

It was entertainment night at the Senior Center.

Claude the Hypnotist exclaimed: “I’m here to put you into a trance. I intend to hypnotize each and every member of the audience.”

The excitement was almost electric as Claude withdrew a beautiful antique pocket watch from his coat.

“I want you each to keep your eyes on this antique watch. It’s a very special watch. It’s been in my family for six generations.”

He began to swing the watch gently back and forth while quietly chanting, “Watch the watch, watch the watch, and watch the watch.”

The crowd became mesmerized as the watch swayed back and forth, light gleaming off its polished surface. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed the swaying watch. Suddenly, it slipped from the hypnotist’s fingers and fell to the floor, shattering into a hundred pieces.

“SHIT!” said the Hypnotist.

It took three days to clean up the Senior Center, and Claude was never invited back again.


I read this account, visualizing the action.  I finished it nonplussed and a little mystified.  It took a little talking back and forth with my mom for me to “get it”.  I don’t know why, but I just didn’t latch on to the “mass post-hypnotic suggestion” premise of the joke…quite possibly because I have such a rational frame of mind that I don’t really buy into mass post-hypnotic suggestion as a real thing.  I believe certain individuals may be susceptible to it to greater or lesser degrees, while other individuals can’t be hypnotized at all.  So as such I instinctively reject as irrational/false any narrative involving post-hypnotic suggestion for an entire audience of people.  I can’t even “suspend disbelief” for the sake of appreciating this joke, evidently.  Perhaps if had been told aloud, narrated to me in a quick, punctuated way, with the punchline told in a persuasive and amusing/surprising tone, I might have erupted with laughter.  But reading it off the sterile page, it failed to amuse.  Afterwords, when I “got it”, I chuckled briefly and could admire how the joke was constructed and the premises it was built upon, but I felt somehow “robbed” of a good laugh by poor delivery because of receiving it in writing and not eloquently spoken, and perhaps also because of my autistic brain and its intensely rational “default” framework for understanding the world.  Comedy is all about delivery and timing, about catching the reader or audience off-guard with a surprise turn in an unexpected direction.  Or explosive fart noises and dick & boob jokes.  Whatever.  I fully admit for a 42 year old male, I still possess a quite juvenile sense of humor and actually feel sorry for my NT peers who have lost theirs, whose sense of humor today is now so sophisticated they’re incapable of laughing at toilet humor.  The hypnotist-at-the-senior-center joke should be right up my alley in terms of content, but it failed to work for me because of my focused, rational frame of mind at the time I read it, and because it was in prose rather than delivered by an expressive comedian on a stage.

Anyway, it was an odd experience I had this week that I thought worth sharing.  It shows that although I’ve learned a lot about language and non-literal uses thereof these past 42 years, even still I sometimes overthink and am sometimes still too literal and trip up at times on account of my ASD, despite my best efforts.  It doesn’t happen often; I can usually roll with the best of jokesters and even tell a few zingers myself; but when it does happen it leaves me feeling alien and weird and disconnected for a spell.


One thought on “Overanalysis of a joke; or…Killing humor for Science!

  1. It might make a funny skit. I don’t believe that kind of hypnosis is possible either, but I guess I could put that aside for the sake of the joke. It wasn’t insanely farfetched, just a stretch of reality. Are you able to enjoy stories like Harry Potter even though you know that stuff is obviously impossible?

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