Mary Beth Writes

Humor 3/8/2023

I heard this joke in a sermon in 1974. I heard that highly revered minister preach at least a hundred sermons and this is the ONLY thing I remember him saying.  

A guy loses his job and is desperate for a new one with which to support his precious family. Nothing turns up until one day the newspaper Help Wanted Ads (so now you know how old this jokes really is) says the zoo has an opening. Guy applies. The HR person looks worried and then says the zoo changed its mind, the job is too demeaning. Guy says he’s desperate, will take anything.

“Well, okay then. Our famous and beloved ape has died. So many patrons came here to visit him and we can’t afford to lose that audience. So we taxidermized him into a suit and want to hire someone to wear it and pretend to be him”.

Guy says yeah, it’s weird but he will do it. Guy is VERY good at this job. He climbs, dances, hoots, and hums. People attend the zoo like crazy to see the amazing and entertaining ape. Then, one day he’s climbing the tree in his cage, goes too far out on a branch, and FALLS INTO THE LION CAGE!

He yells. “HELP! HELP!!!”

The lion rushes to him, opens his mouth, and whispers, “Shut up or we’ll both get fired.”


Humor relaxes the body, gets us to breathe, causes us to smile. For a moment we feel happy. This is probably why the humor (and music) of people who live under oppression is often the best humor. Humor and music are the homelands of people without a safe homeland.

Example: Rios Montt was a brutal military dictator in Guatemala in the early 1980’s; his two years in office were the bloodiest of Guatemala’s long bloody civil war (the US backed Montt in case you were wondering). Anyways, it was said of Montt that he was born with a twin – who was deceased with signs of torture.

The humor of the oppressed can be very pointed.

Humor can provide release and relief in tense or distraught moments and situations.

I learned at my brother’s funeral that for more than a year he had let his hair grow long enough to wear in a pony tail. One night he was out at a bar with friends.   (Well, to be truthful, he was out at a bar most of the nights of his adult life except when he had friends over to the bar in his house.)   Anyways, a guy just visiting his town happened to be at that bar that night and struck up a lively conversation with Paul. (A big part of this joke is that my brother could talk to anyone about anything and make them feel good about themselves in the process.) When Paul went to the restroom the guy asked someone at their table what “her” name was. Paul got a haircut the next day.  

Losing Paul when he was only 51 was awful and yet, that joke brings the best of him back to me every time.

Some humor provides a way to be superior to others. When your life causes you to feel like a loser, its easy to feel superior again by making fun of others.

This is a dangerous humor. Calling women Barbie's or Karen’s is humor until it is a toxic way to disenfranchise the voices of women - as several readers named Barbara and Karen understand.

Trump mimicking reporter Serge Kovaleski who has arthrogryposis in this arm. That year Merely Streep accepted an award at the Golden Globe with this: “That was the one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

Some humor - IMHO the best humor – is just nutty. It’s can be delightfully incongruous and memorable when unrelated ideas are mingled.

Oscar Wilde’s “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

Mark Twain on just about any topic. “I was educated once - it took me years to get over it.” “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” “Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

Random internet joke: My boss was honest with me today. He pulled up to work with his sweet new car this morning and I complimented him on it. He replied, "Well, if you work hard, set goals, stay determined and put in long hours, I can get an even better one next year."

Len just heard this with which we will end this important essay. “Getting lots of sleep helps prevent the ravages of old age. Especially if you do it while you drive.”







Leonard's picture

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Much of this made me smile and I laughed out loud at the ape and Lion joke!
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you, KAREN!

Attributed to either Will Rogers or Jack Handy: “When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.” ― Will Rogers

I was reminded again by this essay of Trump's reprehensible behavior when he made fun of the disabled reporter. I really loved what Meryl Streep had to say about Trump because it really was all about him and much less to do with the reporter. It showed us all exactly what he is made of. Ms. Streep put it more elegantly and precisely than I ever probably could, but I do remember my first thought at Trump's "performance": " This is a person stuck in eighth grade." Of course, I mean socially and emotionally. Having him in the most powerful position on this planet was of no comfort and frightening in so many ways. Wish I could come up with a joke to lighten my post up a little. I love jokes. I'm just not so good at remembering and then telling them.
Mary Beth's picture

Yeah, I was astonished so many times during Trump's campaign and administration at the truly ugly things he said and did, or that others in his milieu said and did. It was a wakeup call to the interior lives of many of our fellow citizens. There were and still are some incredible jokes about him, but they don't seem very funny. Maybe in a hundred years.

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Three Things


Three Things except it’s really more than that.

1. Earlier this year I read these two books by Palestinian writers and I recommend both. If you’ve read good books by Palestinian writers, maybe tell us about them in the comments?

The Confluence


(I’ve written about this trip before but it’s been a long time.)

In 2000 we did a wilderness canoe/kayak trip on Utah’s Green River. We did this with our three kids plus friends and their two sons. Our youngest was nine, the oldest was 16, and our combined three boys were slapdash goofballs.

Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

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