Monday, June 23, 2014

Three Men in a Boat: Favorite Jokes Project, part 4

Some last overall notes: Jerome K. Jerome fits with the tradition of comic low-stakes. We can laugh about the bumbling adventures of three twits because they don't have their hands on the levers of power. We could compare this to something like Dr. Strangelove, where the stakes are nuclear war, or Catch-22, where we're in the middle of World War II. It's a little more complex to make high-stakes comedy, I think, though in both these examples, a lot of the comedy comes from the nervous laughter of pushing high-stakes stories together with banal bureaucratic humor. In other words: twits are great for comedy.

So it's no surprise that a lot of Jerome K. Jerome's sense of humor often revolves around human incompetence. What's curious to me--and what calls up some of the humor of Douglas Adams--is how, in this book, to coin a phrase, hell is other people. People try to row together and end up fouling each other, making a worse mess together than they would have apart, even though they're both incompetent twits. It's not always a cheerful view of the world, even if the stakes are just bragging rights for who caught the biggest fish.

Chapter 15:
I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.  
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.  
And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.
I'm a sucker for this sort of joke: taking a common phrase or idea and twisting it. Instead of "I like work" as "I like doing things," we have the opposite: "I like work" meaning "I'm a collector of work." And then, just for fun, he runs the joke out: work fills up his house, he keeps his work close by, he preserves his work in mint condition.

Chapter 16:

The very short chapter 16 is likewise very short of jokes, though there is this one aside:
Anyhow, she had sinned—some of us do now and then—...
But I should add that this aside occurs in a story about a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock and committed suicide. So, not really a ha-ha moment.

Chapter 17:

After finding a dead body in the river in the last chapter, this chapter focuses on the ridiculousness of fishing and fisherman. (There is also one fun joke about the dirtiness of the river, wherein they try to wash their clothes and end up getting them dirtier.) Fisherman stories include: how often they lie about what they catch; a guy who started out committed to tell mostly the truth; a joke about how fishing is great if you don't want to catch fish.

My favorite joke is too long to quote, but it's a scenario where our twits see a nice fish up on a wall and a succession of natives claim to have caught that fish--and then the fish turns out to be ceramic.

Chapter 18:

In describing the effects of Time in destroying the ruins, J goes on to note
But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled Romans to dust; and on the ground, in later years, fought savage Saxons and huge Danes, until the Normans came.
Which I probably like more than you because I love when British people poke fun at British history as something pure and simple. It reminds me of Defoe's "True-Born Englishman" poem, which goes on to note how "Englishman" are really heterogeneous mongrels born of war, invasion, and--horrors!--immigration.

Chapter 19:

And so, at long last, we come to the end of our boat voyage, largely due to a lot of rain and the sudden remembrance that the city is full of good food and entertainment, whereas the boat has neither and is wet. First, thought, we get a section describing what bad condition the boats to rent are in, which leads J to offer this advice:
To those who do contemplate making Oxford their starting-place, I would say, take your own boat—unless, of course, you can take someone else’s without any possible danger of being found out.
Which could be Wilde on a middling fair day.

No comments:

Post a Comment