After practice last night, my Ultimate Frisbee teammates and I headed to The Ugly Mug for a beer. As Kevin, one of our single teammates, was trying to capture the attention of Haley, our lovely and sassy young waitress, a little white lie crept into the conversation. Serving as Kevin’s wing man, Worm said to her, “Seriously, Kevin is the funniest guy I know. He does comedy shows.”
This is not entirely true. Though Kevin occasionally delivers a witty one‑liner, his act is not stage‑worthy. He is a political scientist, not a stand‑up comic.
A little later Haley, unaware of the fib, asked Kevin, “So, where you do you perform?”
Kevin just smiled. “I don’t do comedy shows,” he admitted. “Worm was just messing with you.”
“But he has written a joke book,” said Rob, pointing an almost accusatory finger in my direction.
“Really?” asked Haley.
“Yes,” I admitted. “But it’s a math joke book.”
“A math joke book?” Pause. “Really?” she asked again.
“Yes, really,” I said.
“You mean like that joke about — what is it? — something about 7, 8, and 9?”
“Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9,” I reminded her.
“You have a whole book of jokes like that?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“So, tell me another one.”
Were I young and single, I would have killed for this situation. I am absolutely certain that no woman at a bar ever asked me to be funny for her when I was in my mid-20’s. But being old and married, I politely declined.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said.
“C’mon!” my friends shouted.
This is the definition of pressure — surrounded by shouting friends, urging you to tell a math joke to an attractive young woman, while a bar full of Marines looks on. (Oh, hadn’t I mentioned the Marines? Our practice was at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, and we were at the bar where off‑duty Marines get a drink. So, there were Marines in the bar. Lots of them. And those within ear shot were ready to be entertained by a good math joke… or at least by a numbers geek going down in flames trying to tell one.)
“No, no,” I said. “I couldn’t.”
“C’mon!” shouted some of the Marines.
(You ever tried saying, “No,” to a bar full of shouting Marines? Yeah, me, neither.)
“Okay, okay,” I agreed. “But just one.”
Surely in my repertoire of jokes I have one that would please this crowd. But which one?
The only one that came to mind was my favorite joke — but I didn’t think that a 23‑year‑old waitress or a bunch of Marines would appreciate a joke about actuaries. That’s when I remembered the Golden Rule of Joke Telling:
Know your audience, and adapt the joke for the situation.
So, this attractive young waitress goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “I’ve got some bad news for you, Haley.”
“What is it?” Haley asks.
“You only have six weeks left to live.”
“Oh, my God,” Haley says. “That’s terrible news! Doctor, what should I do?”
“Are you married?” the doctor asks.
“Then you should find a guy who wrote a book of math jokes, and marry him.”
“Why?” asks Haley. “Will that help me live longer?”
“Well, no,” says the doctor. “But it’ll feel longer!”
My friends hooted. “Well done!” Kevin shouted. Some of the Marines guffawed, and a few of the others chortled.
But the joke was for Haley, so I waited for her response.
“On that note…,” she said, and turned and walked back into the bar.
Ah, well. Win some, lose some.
So, I’m curious — what joke would you have told in that situation?