A Man Walks Into A Bar…

“A man walks into a bar…”

Those six words have filled many a bartender with dread and angst at the prospect of hearing yet another ancient, unfunny, or worse, offensive joke from a guest sitting at their bar. Bar jokes can inspire the eruption of laughter and the breaking of ice, or unleash the hurling of insults and the breaking of glass. Either way, it’s the bartender’s job to smile and nod approvingly or, if the joke is particularly bad, smirk and pretend that it falls into the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. A bartender is an audience of one that may let you get bombed, but won’t leave you feeling like your joke was a bomb.

I’ve heard a ton of bar jokes over the years. I’ve heard them from people of all professions: cops, lawyers, firemen, mobsters, construction workers, pimps, fellow bartenders, shell-shocked Vietnam vets, and on the list goes.  I’ve heard long one’s and short ones, silly ones and clever ones, chaste ones and crude ones, straightforward ones and ones that make you think. Hearing the words, “Knock , knock” on a lazy day while stirring a Manhattan will always make me perk up slightly, smile with anticipation and say, “Who’s there?,” for it’s the bartender’s job to listen to the unlistenable, laugh at the unlaughable and answer the unanswerable.

And as is the case with everything, it’s all in the timing. Anyone who wants to try and make me laugh before they’ve ordered a drink probably doesn’t have the money to pay and is looking to ingratiate him or herself before sharing this important fact.  So if someone walks up to my bar and the first thing they say is, “Why don’t aliens eat clowns?” my defenses will go up and I will respond drily with, “What’ll you have?” Pose the same question halfway through that first martini though, and I’ll be waiting for the punch line with bated breath. Or at least I’ll pretend to. A funny joke is a good opener, but that doesn’t mean it should be the very first thing you say. (The answer by the way, is because they taste funny”)

Two-liners tend to be the most effective openers, since they have a quick payoff and there is less opportunity for you to be interrupted by the drunk guy halfway off his stool at the end of the bar. Jokes about ducks, giraffes and grasshoppers walking into bars usually end well, as does anything involving Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. If they contain any three of those, well, you just might make beer come out of someone’s nose.  Men telling jokes to other men are low risk. Most men are acutely aware and sensitive to the fragility of the male ego in this context. However, men telling jokes to women, especially if they’ve just met them, pose more of a risk, but when successful, they can pay off tremendously. The only thing that works better than a good joke for meeting women in a bar, is a well-executed magic trick. (Yes, I’ve seen it done.) Unlike magic though, a good two-liner is easy to learn and not hard to properly execute. Making laughter appear out of thin air can help you advance your cause with the woman a few stools over, and you may curry a bit of favor with the bartender. Even the most cynical and jaded of us will often reward a good joke with a shot or an offer to buy your next beer. A good bar is a microcosm of the social ecosystem we all inhabit, and the right joke can bridge continents far and wide and make laughter rain down upon them.

Dirty jokes are a matter of taste, but there are some places you just shouldn’t go. Body parts and what might be done with them are best alluded to rather than directly mentioned. However, it is a bar, so some degree of raunch is warranted.  In my opinion, it is best to let the person’s imagination do most of the work and then zing them with a killer punch line.

Case in point, the Willie Nelson joke.

The Willie Nelson joke was told to me by a bartender friend of mine named T.J., and to me it is the perfect bar joke. It’s a two-liner, and while it doesn’t have Batman or Wonder Woman in it, it does have Willie Nelson. It’s clean enough that you can tell it in front of your grandmother, yet still bawdy enough to meet the raunchy standards of the local smoke-filled tavern. Two caveats though: One, while you can tell the joke to men, if you do so, you must tell it to them instructively, as though you are teaching them how to tell it to women. This doesn’t take away from its punch. It’s just a slight modification because the joke is really meant to be told to women. Two, and this is pretty obvious, the person hearing the joke must know who Willie Nelson is. They must be able to picture Willie Nelson looks in all his hairy, weathered, twangy voiced splendor. That means there’s no telling this joke to Sherpas from Tibet or time-traveling vixens from the past.

So, now that you’ve thoroughly profiled your audience member(s) you may proceed to the joke:

Question: “What’s the worst thing you can hear after having just slept with Willie Nelson?” (Pause patiently and give the listener time to try and picture herself actually sleeping with Willie Nelson)

Answer: “Ummm, I dunno.”

The punch line (delivered while leaning in close and whispering into her ear)

“I’m not really Willie Nelson.”

After the peals of laughter have subsided, take note of the shoulders that seem a little less heavy with stress, the posture that is a little less defensive. For a few moments you have pulled aside the drapes of cynicism, and opened a window to hospitality and conversation.

It is said that alcohol is a social lubricant. But humor oils the skids of social discourse. Nothing takes the edge off like a good joke.

Now, somebody please get this duck off of my head?

Cocktail Epilogue

Grasshopper

1 part Crème de Cacao

¾ part Green Crème de Menthe

2 parts Cream

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker along with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A grasshopper hops into a bar. The bartender says to him, “Y’know you’re pretty famous around here. We even have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Irving?”

Source: Unknown.

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Comments

  1. Always enjoy your read!

  2. hilarious stuff. keep’em coming, please.

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