by John Johnson, staff writer
FARGO, ND—An extremely elaborate joke involving aspects of particle physics, branches of microbiology, certain elements of world history and macroeconomics—even a dash of gastronomy—was told yesterday by Fargo resident Jeanette Wilcox to friend and colleague Sarah Ponson at a coffee shop near the office where they both work.The joke, which requires at least a post-graduate degree to tell, and a minimum of seven years of field research to understand, was “actually quite funny in the end,” according to Ponson.
Wilcox told The Teaspoon Times she does not have many opportunities to tell the joke, and was thrilled by Ponson’s interest. “It’s difficult to tell the joke at a get-together because not many partygoers have 2 to 3 hours to spare,” said Wilcox, “Let alone a pad of paper, a pencil, and a scientific graphing calculator. And even fewer have a simultaneous working knowledge of mycology, vector bosons, and the relationship between price indices and unemployment rates.”
Despite the joke’s complexity, Ponson had expressed genuine interest in hearing it, and that afternoon sat down with two calculators and several graduate-level textbooks, taking careful notes as Wilcox spoke.
Although the joke started out with a guy walking into a bar, it became slightly harder to follow several minutes later when it veered suddenly into the realm of microbial genetics. At that point, Wilcox was forced to stop and give Ponson a half-hour primer on biotechnology before continuing, which Ponson later said helped immensely.
As the joke went on, and the saga of a nomadic tribe from the Iberian peninsula figured prominently into the joke’s setup, both Wilcox and Ponson agreed it was time for a restroom break. When the telling of the joke resumed, Ponson was able to give her undivided attention to the story of that tribe, particularly to how its horribly grotesque demise in the late fifteenth century ended up setting the stage for the birth of the joke’s most important character, a Portuguese violin maker.
Yet not an hour later, the outcome of the joke suddenly seemed in doubt to Ponson. “I was totally with her up to the part where the gorilla ordered the lobster at the Japanese restaurant,” she said. “But when the lobster never came, I’ll be honest—I didn’t see how the joke could possibly work at that point.”
In fact, Ponson admitted thinking Wilcox had flubbed the joke. “I was sitting there, furiously crunching the numbers, and no matter how I worked the math, I didn’t see how the joke could possibly come out funny and still make sense.”
But the punchline, in which a woman in a pastry shop was shorted one sweet roll in her baker’s dozen, did in fact cause Ponson to giggle uncontrollably and gave the joke “a tidy sense of closure.”
“I might try to tell that one to my friend Linda some day,” said Ponson. “I’ll probably have to go back to school first, though. But I’ll find a way. It was just too funny.”
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