Guy walks into a bar and ... oh, what's the point?
Apr. 1, 2004.
April the 1st, how appropriate.
My dental team is down in the dumps.
Dentistry is the most depressing job going. Even the most enthusiastic dentist can tell you every single interesting thing he has to say about teeth, and even gums, in 30 seconds. Dentists are the only people on Earth who don't talk shop. Not even they can stand the subject.
Instead they tell jokes. My gum guy and my root-canal guy and my cavities-and-fillings guy are on the phone to each other five and six times a day with the latest zinger.
They used to be, anyway. The lines have gone dead.
Real estate agents can't talk religion with buyers. They can't talk politics. They don't want to talk real estate prices, the one thing everybody else can't stop talking about, because it frightens the buyers out of their wits.
So they tell jokes. Brian Ross is famous in the real estate business far beyond Riverdale where he concentrates his knockout comedic virtuosity. He always has a joke. Not just a joke that's the funniest thing you've heard in years, but a joke you've never heard before. That's no easy thing. It's why he's so famous.
The last time I saw him he looked like he was about to take up a petition to get the suicide barrier removed from the Bloor Viaduct.
"What's the matter?" I said.
"I'm dying," he said.
"You've got some incurable disease?"
"There aren't any new jokes."
Dentists, real estate agents — just two of the victims of the global joke drought.
Many reasons are given for the joke drought — 9/11, the Iraq war, the treacherous (even when everybody obeys the law) stock market, Paul Martin. Paul Martin's business card reads, "Stop me if you've heard this one before ..." Why is nobody laughing?
Disasters, imminent or otherwise, wars, dodgy economies, irritating politicians — there was a time when they produced at least bleak laughter, a killer line from the gallows. Will the last person to leave Toronto kindly turn off Mel Lastman's laugh track?
If some snappy Afghani said, "The trouble with the Yanks is they're overpaid, oversexed and over here," you wouldn't hear laughter, you'd hear the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raise the threat level.
Funny things do happen.
When a 76-year-old Mason on Long Island, N.Y., pulls the wrong gun out of his pocket — his own, personal fully-loaded .32 instead of the intended blank-firing starter's pistol — in a secret initiation ritual and blows the brains out of a new Mason, that's funny.
When the investigating detective says of the Mason who made the fatal mistake, "He was quite upset," that's really funny.
Who knew Freemasonry could be so funny? It's just not a joke.
Alan Abelson is the dean of Wall Street commentators, a long-time bear in the china shop. Last year he devoted an entire column in Barron's to the following:
A guy is in his living room watching television when he feels a tremendous blow on the side of his head. Stunned, he looks around and realizes his wife has whacked him with a rolled-up newspaper.
"Why'd you hit me?" he says.
"Because I just found this in your pants pocket." She hands him a piece of paper on which is written "Lola Laflamme."
Recovering quickly, he says, "Oh, I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. This is the name of a horse. A guy told me to be sure and bet on it the next time it runs."
His wife apologizes.
A week later he's watching television when he is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he looks up and sees his wife standing over him with a baseball bat.
"Why'd you hit me?" he says.
"Your horse just phoned," says his wife.
Abelson said he stuck this in his usually deeply thoughtful space because it was the first new joke he'd heard in ages. More important, he'd heard it from an analyst in a hotshot investment shop. These places seem to be the source of an awful lot of new jokes, but for a long time — so long, in Abelson's experience, that he was starting to worry — nobody had come up with any.
It was good news. It was important news. It was encouraging. It was worth reporting. The joke drought might be ending.
It turned out he was wrong. It was more like a last gasp — the Dead Cat Laugh.
Cheer up, things could get worse?
Slinger's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.