For all your April Fool's Day greetings!

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But are we laughing at these soup jokes? No. They just aren't that funny. Really, let's be honest: is there a knee slapper in the bunch?

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Soup Jokes

(e-SoupSong 12: April, 2001)

ONCE UPON A TIME, a waiter brought a bowl of soup to a customer...and it had a fly in it.

What was it doing in the bowl? "Looks like the breaststroke, sir."

Badaboom. Not very funny.

What if it's a dead fly? Then the waiter says, "Well, you asked for something with a little body in it." Or, "It must have committed insecticide." Or, "Yes, sir, flies aren't very good swimmers."

And what if the customer merely exclaims, "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!" Then that witty waiter might say: "Don't worry, sir, the spider in the bread roll will get it." Or, "That's possible, the chef used to be a tailor." Or, "Now that fly knows a good soup." Or, "No, sir, that's the essential vitamin bee." Or, "Don't worry, it's not hot enough to burn him."

Worse and worse. Are you detecting a pattern here? These jokes are not funny.

So let's change genre. How about soup jokes that insult the cook?

  • "He found a great way to eat his wife's soup. He pretends it's mud."
  • "I once cut my mouth on my wife's soup."
  • "She loves to make soup-especially cream of yesterday."
  • "Everything she cooks turns out tough. Can anyone lend me a soup knife?"
I'm not making these up. I have culled them from our finest stand up comedians. And they are just not funny.

Okay, you need a break. I know if I don't make you laugh soon, I'm going to lose you. Let's try soup jokes that exaggerate.

  • "I put instant soup in a microwave and almost went back in time."
  • "I make soup so thick that when I stir it, the room goes round."
  • "We were eating in this open-air café when it started raining. It took us an hour and a half to finish our soup."
  • "She's such a noisy eater that when she started on the soup, six people got up and started doing the polka."
Still with me? I didn't mean to get your hopes up.

Here's two that concern soup etiquette, from opposite sides of the social spectrum:

  • A middle-aged man was sitting in a truck stop when three mean-looking bikers walked in. The first walked over to the man and stubbed a cigarette out in his soup. Then the second biker spat in the soup. Finally the third biker picked up the bowl of soup and threw it on the floor. Without saying a word, the man got up and left. "He wasn't much of a man, was he?" sneered one of the bikers to the waitress. "Not much of a truck driver, either," she said. He just backed his truck over 3 motorcycles."

  • There once was an ambitious young waiter who left the Regents Palace Hotel in London to join the staff of Claridge's. On his second night in the dining room, as he was serving soup to Lord and Lady Thingummy at table 14, he noticed that one of her ladyship's breasts had fallen out of her decolletage and was, as they say, hanging loose. With perfect aplomb, he replaced it in her bodice with a soup spoon and returned to his station, where he was met by a glowering maitre d'. "That may be how they do things at the Regents Palace Hotel, Higgins," he snapped furiously, "but in Claridge's, we would always use a warm spoon."
So what IS humor, anyway?

As Melvin Helitzer writes in Comedy Writing Secrets, there's really not all that much literature on the psychology of comedy. Aristotle studied it and Socrates debated it. Hobbes reflected on it in the 17th century. Darwin and Bergson wrote theories of humor in the 19th century; Freud, Eastman, Koestler, and Woody Allen tried to explain it in the 20th. Now that we're in the 21st century, of course, we've gotten much much smarter. Consider the recent Alden-Mukherjee-Hoyer study on "The Effects of Incongruity, Surprise and Positive Moderators on Perceived Humor in Television Advertising":

Although affect-inducing factors such as playfulness have been discussed in the academic literature (cf. Nilsen 1993), incongruity theorists have tended to emphasize cognitive influences and processes in their models of humor (e.g., Raskin 1985). Paralleling other contemporary research streams that have emphasized the role of affect (cf. Oliver 1994), this paper is one of the first in advertising to report significant roles for affect-inducing moderators along the incongruity pathway to humorous evaluation (see also Speck 1987). As evidenced by a higher beta coefficient in Table 4, ad warmth appears to play a particularly important role in this regard. Future theorists will need to validate these relationships and determine optimal levels of each variable.
Now that's funny.

Basically, humor theory says we laugh--that incredibly human and endearing response--for 8 reasons:

  1. Because we're surprised into it. "I went to a restaurant that serves 'lunch at any time.' So I ordered bean soup during the Renaissance." (Stephen Wright)

  2. Because we enjoy feeling superior: "In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations: it's cold, half-French, and difficult to stir." (Stuart Keate)

  3. Because we're biologically hardwired to substitute laughter for assault. "There are two types of people in this world: shlemihls and shlimazls. A shlemihl is the person who always spills soup, and a schlimazl is the person he spills it on. I'm the shlemihl and you're the schlimazl." (Bernstein to Archie Bunker in the tv show "All in the Family")

  4. Because our perception of incongruity triggers an emotional reaction: "The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup at a deli." (Seinfeld)

  5. Because we react emotionally when we feel ambivalent: "You ever wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup?" (John Mendoza)

  6. Because we need a mechanism to release stress: "A retired printer went into the restaurant business. One day one of his customers cried, 'This is an outrage-there's a needle in this soup.' 'Merely a typographical error, sir,' said the printer, 'should have been "noodle."'"

  7. Because we react with emotion when we have sudden insight into a puzzle. "The cannibal wiped his mouth daintily and said, 'My wife makes great soup. But I'll miss her.'"

  8. Because, as Freud noted, we need a mechanism that lets us express our infantile regressive behavior. "What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?" "Anyone can roast beef."
But are we laughing at these soup jokes? No. They just aren't that funny. Really, let's be honest: is there a knee slapper in the bunch?

Here's my theory: Soup gives off too many warm fuzzies. It's the ultimate comfort food--warming, evocative, thrumming with memories of mom at the stove on a cold day...special dinners...feeling good. It takes us from cold and hunger and illness and sets us right. It's just not a good set up for those extreme contrasts, that angst, prejudice, and paradox that genuinely set us off laughing.

Okay, let's hear one from the master of crude and outrage, Milton Berle:

Checking the menu, a restaurant customer ordered a bowl of vegetable soup. After a couple spoonsful, he saw a circle of wetness right under the bowl on the tablecloth. He called the waitress over and said, "It's all wet down here. The bowl must be cracked." The waitress said, "You ordered the vegetable soup, didn't you?" "Yes," he replied. "Well, maybe it has a leek in it."

Badaboom. Think "soup joke"--think oxymoron.

For the full unfunniness of soup jokes on this April Fool's Day, run don't walk to

Best regards, Pat Solley

p.s. Prove me wrong! Show me! Send me your soup jokes (in any language, but with an English explanation, please). If any make me laugh out loud, I will immediately send Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup ballpoint pens as prizes to the lucky winners.

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NEXT MONTH: In honor of my baby granddaughter born in Yokosuka on 3/30/01, JAPANESE SOUPS AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS.