When my oldest was just old enough to talk intelligibly, I figured out that it was ridiculously funny to teach her jokes that were challenging, even to adults. Jokes that required contextual inference that no child could perform. She didn’t understand why the jokes were funny, but she did understand that when she told them, the adults would crack up and tell her she was wonderful. I don’t know if this early experience helped turn her into the outgoing, confident young woman she has become, or if that was always in her nature. But I continued the practice with my other kids, and now all of them can tell a joke.
So when you read these, you have to imagine them spoken in the voice of a 5-year-old.
This was the first one I taught her. Like most pun jokes, it doesn’t make sense when you read it — you need to say it out loud. Get it yet? Pete. Sounds like Peat. Scotland is famous for having Peat bogs. A 2000 year old Scotsman would be decomposed at the bottom of one of those bogs. So you would call him Peat. Or Pete. Are you keeping up? Here’s another one:
This one I had to teach my youngest because it’s riffing on a bogus science story that was going around when she was little. Back in 2011 scientists in Switzerland and Italy convinced themselves (and pretty much nobody else) that they had witnessed neutrinos going faster than the speed of light. Of course, nothing goes faster than the speed of light. So this finding was obviously wrong. And eventually everyone figured out what their mistake was.
The conceit of the joke is that if something went faster than the speed of light, it would cause time-travel to happen. We all know this from the first Superman movie, when he orbited the Earth faster than the speed of light so he could go back in time, and not be late for his bar mitzvah or something. It’s science.
Speaking of science:
So this is another one of those jokes where you have to read it out loud. The first chemist orders water, but uses its chemical formula H₂O. I’m guessing you understood that much. The second chemist sounds like he is saying H₂O₂, which you may recognize (yeah, right), as Hydrogen Peroxide. Hydrogen Peroxide is a ridiculously strong oxidizer. If you get a drop of it on your skin, the cells die immediately and turn white. Drinking H₂O₂ would certainly kill you. And remember, there is nothing funnier than a 5-year-old making jokes about gruesome death. Nothing.
OK, so enough of the easy ones. Let’s get to the really challenging jokes I taught them:
The reason this joke is funny is because the second potato is surprised that the first potato is talking. Yet the second potato is also a potato. And it says something. Which means it is also talking. So why would it be surprised? Perhaps that second potato does not realize it is a potato. It thinks it is something else, like a human, which can talk.
So, at a deeper level, this joke is exploring the Self Concept. How does that second potato understand itself? Is it having an existential crisis? And since when can potatoes think and express themselves anyway? Perhaps neither is a potato. Perhaps both parties are actually human, but the second is in a delusional state. Perhaps brought on by a psychotic break, possibly through torture and isolation. Maybe in a Siberian prison.
Who knows? Anyway, the joke is rich with irony. And potatoes are rich with iron (9% of the US recommended daily allowance! Just eat 11 potatoes a day and you can completely skip the steak!).
Keeping on the topic of food:
This is yet another pun that you have to read aloud. I’ll wait. … … … OK, done? So the trick at the end of this joke is that “Catch-Up” sounds like Ketchup (or Catsup, which I personally think is a much cooler way to spell that word because it looks like cat soup, which is really gross). Anyway, that’s the overt joke. But the thing that makes this joke funny when a child tells it, is the underlying message of infanticide. That a mother is so sick and tired of her progeny falling behind that she kills them. Again, I refer you back to the lesson of the Hydrogen Peroxide joke: Kids telling jokes about death are fucking hilarious.
And that brings us to our final joke, which is actually a riddle:
Picture the scene. An adult hears the riddle. They think of brown sticky things. They filter out the ones that they think are not appropriate for 5-year-olds. They come up with some lame guesses. They give up. The 5-year-old delivers the punch line. You see, sticks are ordinarily brown. And they are sticks, which makes them stick-like, or as we might say, stick-y. So the adult realizes that they, themselves, were the brunt of the joke. And they are ashamed and embarrassed. So they laugh heartily to deflect the pain. They bury the pain and the shame deep, where nobody can find it. Because they are adults. And that’s what adults do.