Joke's on Us: We asked top comics to tell us their favorite zinger

Photographer: Press photos

It’s April Fools’ Day, the day dedicated to celebrating pranksters, practical jokers and comedians. Don’t worry, though – we’re not going to prank you. Instead we dived into our archives to find past interviews with comedians and entertainers and hear some of their favorite jokes and what they had to say about comedy. Also, be sure to check out Fly’s exclusive interview with Taylor Swift, who called in to tell us some unbelievably offensive jokes. That’s coming later today…


1) Steven Wright on inspiration and words

Features Editor Mike Andrelczyk got a chance to interview (his favorite) comedian, Steven Wright, back in November of 2013. Wright’s jokes are full of absurd word play matched with a monotone vocal delivery and impeccable comedic timing. Here Wright talked about inspiration and his love of weird words.

Mike Andrelczyk: What’s the most recent joke you’ve written?
Steven Wright: Let me look on my phone. I write them on my phone. It’s about these guys singing “Death row row row your boat.” I don’t know where I’m gonna put it, or how it’s gonna fit. It’s like I’m a receptionist in my mind. I’m just like minding my own business when all a sudden it’s like, “Oh death row row row your boat.” That’s how a lot of jokes happen.
MA: Your jokes are full of word play.
SW: Absolutely. I love words. Sometimes I’ll write a word down because I like it, I like the meaning of it and I don’t even know how I’m gonna use it later. I’m just like, “Ok this needs to be written down.” I used to have a joke [about] a pony in an electrolysis accident and that entire joke [came about because] I was looking through the paper and saw an ad for electrolysis. I was like, “Look at that word, it’s an interesting sounding word and what it means is weird.” So then I wrote [electrolysis] down and the next day that whole joke {came} from that word.

2) Penn Jillette tells us a [very] dirty joke

Penn Jillette – the speaking half of the magic and comedy duo Penn & Teller – pulls the f-word out as casually as he might pull a rabbit from a top hat. Penn is so into dirty jokes he co-produced the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, about perhaps the most famous dirty joke of all time. During our interview with Penn last May, he told us a joke about the Big Orange Head. Rather than print it (and possibly all get fired), we thought we’d let Penn tell it himself.

Warning – This clip contains: nine f—bombs, one genie, three wishes and an orgy with a ’90s pop group. Listener discretion is advised…

3) Speaking of dirty jokes… Joan Rivers

Features Editor Michael Yoder interviewed the legendary late, great Joan Rivers back in April of 2012. Here, the original bad girl of comedy discusses her first swear word … and mothers.

Michael Yoder: Do you remember when you said your first swear word?
Joan Rivers: It probably came very late. I came from a lovely, very nice upper middle class background. My father was a doctor. My mother had two girls who were raised with very good manners – thank you notes, patent leather shoes and little white gloves. No swearing in my house. Now I think I take the Guinness Book of World Records for swearing on stage.
MY: Did your mother ever say anything about your stage show?
JR: My show has evolved over the years. Comedy is wild, rough and crazy now, so what my mother saw and thought was outrageous is now adorable. I remember when I was pregnant with Melissa, and I couldn’t say I was pregnant on television. I had to say, “Soon I will hear the pitter-patter of little feet.” Now, my God, you can talk about vaginas. I have a joke that my vagina is like the Mojave Desert – barren and dry – and you can say that on television and people laugh. So it’s come a long way.

4) Mike Birbiglia and 5) Tom Green on influences

Mike Andrelczyk interviewed funnyman Mike Birbiglia back in September. They talked about the great Mitch Hedberg:

Mike Andrelczyk: I know you’re a fan of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg. Have you ever tried to write in that short surrealist style or have you always preferred storytelling?
Mike Birbiglia: When I started out I was really mimicking Mitch Hedberg. Even on Two Drink Mike, my first album, you can hear traces of Mitch’s delivery. I had to find my own voice over the years and that’s how I landed where I did. It’s hard when you’re first starting out. There’s no college for comedy. You’re just watching people you admire and Mitch’s style is infectious. It’s very addictive. It’s fun to speak like that. His album Strategic Grill Locations is one of the best comedy albums of all time.
MA: He has a joke where he says something like “If I think of something funny and the pen is too far away then I have to convince myself that it just isn’t that funny.”
MB: That’s like one of the greatest jokes of all time about writing. He had some of the great all-time lines.

Michael Yoder interviewed Tom Green – the ultimate prankster – in February. Green talked about seeing some of his favorite Canadian comedians as a kid. Yoder also asked Green about his greatest prank – The Slut Mobile.

Michael Yoder: Was there any stand-up in your early days that made you want to pursue it as a career?
Tom Green: I had so many influences growing up. I grew up looking at the big comedy shows – all of the great comedy shows that we all grew up watching like Monty Python and Saturday Night Live and SCTV. When I was a kid, I was really in to a lot of Canadian stand-up comedians that I’m still in to like Norm Macdonald and Harland Williams, who I was a fan of before they became movie stars. I used to go down to the comedy club in my hometown and watch them perform, and I’d think, “Wow, that’s amazing to be able to tour around the country doing jokes. That seems like the most amazing thing ever.” And, of course, I grew up watching David Letterman and The Tonight Show and found inspiration in so many places. It also boils down to the fact that I’ve always been a little bit of an extroverted, goofy kid who liked to get a laugh from my pals and decided to turn that into something I would do for a living, and it’s been fun.
MY: What ever happened to “The Slut Mobile?”
TG: The hood of “The Slut Mobile” is hanging on the wall of my garage in Los Angeles. It is something I get a good chuckle at every day when I pull into my garage. That was a big part of my life – to be able to pull that prank on my parents the first time. When I did that, it was really a life-changing thing. That was probably the single bit that was instrumental in getting the show picked up by MTV in 1999 and getting my comedy piped out around the world. And now it’s allowed me to do stand-up comedy around the world. So it’s an important prop to me, and I’ve made sure to keep it in a safe place.
MY: I was hoping it wasn’t painted over.
TG: No, it was not. The way we actually did that bit – the way we pulled it off, which is not widely known – was in order to have the paint dry in time and in order to effectively surprise my parents and to also make it less of a mean joke than people realize, we actually purchased an alternate hood. We had the painting done a week in advance, so in the middle of the night, we swapped the hood out. When my parents got up and saw the car, they saw what they believed was their car that had this painting on it, but really we just swapped out the hood. After we got all the reaction shots and everybody was sufficiently upset, we surprised them again off camera and put the old hood back on, and everything was back to normal within minutes.

6) Musician Keller Williams tell us a joke

In addition to his amazing musical chops, one-man-jam-band Keller Williams is known for his sense of humor. With song titles like “Inhale to the Chief,” “God is My Palm Pilot” and “Butt Sweat,” it’s fair to say that Williams doesn’t take himself super seriously. We spoke with Williams in January of 2014 and he told us his favorite joke. Apparently music isn’t the only thing Williams does solo.

A guy goes to the doctor and the doctor says, “Well, first of all you need to stop masturbating.”
The guy goes “Why?”
And the doctor says, “So I can exam you.”

7) Poet Aaron Belz on witty, comedic poetry

What’s the only way to segue out of a masturbation joke? With a lesson on puns from a Ph.D., that’s how. Aaron Belz is a poet and professor at Durham Tech in Durham, NC. His latest book of poetry Glitter Bomb was published in 2014. While earning his Ph.D in American Literature from Saint Louis University, Belz wrote a dissertation on the influence of comedy on modernist poetics. We interviewed Belz before an appearance in Lancaster earlier this year. We loved his hilarious book of poems so we emailed him to see if he could school us on the science of silliness. Replied Belz:

“There are so many different kinds of comedy it’s impossible to make a rule or rules for what will make people laugh. Comedy is an ever-changing ecosystem in which, at best, we can observe principles. The principles behind verbal comedy (a distinct strain) include equivocation (among others) which accounts for the comic effect of puns, wordplay, double-entendre and a number of other varieties of verbal comedy. Sorry, I’ve taught college courses on this shit.”

Tuberculosis Day (from Glitter Bomb)

The acronym
we’re going to use
for Tuberculosis Day
is TBD.

8) Dana Carvey on political comedy and impersonating a president

In November of 2011, Michael Yoder interviewed Dana Carvey, the comedian who’s most famous for his SNL characters like Garth Algar from the Wayne’s World sketch, the Church Lady and of course, former President George Bush Sr. with his famous catchphrase “Not going to do it,” which eventually became “Na ga da.” Here Carvey talks about political comedy and hanging out with a former president.

Michael Yoder: What are the boundaries of comedy today?
Dana Carvey: Right now the real edge in the clubs is political, and those are the lines that are most dangerous. Everyone will say the C-word – I won’t say it. Even white comedians will use the N-word, but not correctly. When you see young comedians, you’re learning things about the colon and anatomy you never knew. But that’s not the edge. There’s a real edge around this leftist-rightist politik, Obama and what’s going on around the world. I don’t want to be shooting fish in a barrel, like OK, I’m a liberal, and I’m going to attack George W. Bush and Michelle Bachmann, and you’re all going to go crazy. Or, hey, I’m a conservative and I’m going to attack Nancy Peloisi and Barney Frank, and you’re all going to go crazy. I love things that are right in that sweet edge of the note – it’s not completely flat, but it’s right in there.
MY: Did you feel that edge when you were doing your George H.W. Bush impersonation on Saturday Night Live? I always felt in a way you helped to turn the ’92 election a little bit.
DC: These pieces of history are so interesting. If you look at the early George Bush Sr. impersonations – which I collaborated on with Al Franken who’s on the left and Robert Downey who’s on the right – they were just about how good things were going. [In the voice of Bush Sr.] “Without Bush – Berlin Wall. With Bush – no Berlin Wall.” It became an abstract character.
MY: So you don’t think you played a role in his demise?
DC: There were a lot of factors, but basically, we hit a recession, and that was probably the number one thing. Bush Sr. and I still hang out together. He said [in the voice of Bush Sr.] “Well, you never hit below the belt. You know, never went down town. Kept it on the up-side.” The fun thing I do now is W. calling his dad and feeling kind of left out over the whole Osama bin Laden thing. [in W’s voice] “Think I’ll get credit, daddy?” [Bush Sr.] “Well, a little bit. But usually it goes to whoever’s watch it happened on.” [W] “But daddy, I put in the apparati.” [Sr.] “Well, doesn’t matter.” [W] “But daddy, I started Gitmo. He said he didn’t want Gitmo, and then he’s still doing Gitmo.” [Sr.] “Well, doesn’t matter.” [W] “But daddy, I did a surge. He said I shouldn’t do a surge, and then he took my defense secretary and my general and did his own surge.” [Sr.] “Doesn’t matter.” I don’t have any axe to grind, but I’m just pointing out that President Obama essentially has the same foreign policy as George W. Bush. And that’s one of those wha-wha-wha-wha-whaaaaa! moments. But I give Obama credit for getting in there and saying, “Holy shit!” I talked to President Bush Sr. about that. I said, “What happens? You’re elected president, they sit you down, the threat assessment comes in, the Joint Chiefs come in. What happened?” He said [in the voice of Sr.], “Very sobering.”

9) Marco Benevento on why his record label is called The Royal Potato Family

We interviewed keyboard wizard Marco Benevento in October and he told us this joke that eventually led to the name of his record company.

“[Friend and musician] Matt Chamberlain was on the road with Edie Brickell when she was opening up for Bob Dylan. Normally [before the show] there’s a big meal where you just eat food together. Towards the end of tour Bob Dylan decided to sit down right next to Matt and at the end of the meal he turns to Matt and says “Do you want to hear a joke?” And Matt was like “Yeah, sure.” And Dylan goes:

‘There was a royal potato family – a King potato, a Queen potato and a Princess potato – and it’s time for the Princess to get married. So the Princess goes out on a date with a guy and she brings him back to the King and the King doesn’t approve. So she goes out on another date and it goes well and she brings him home to meet the King and the King still doesn’t approve. She finally goes out on a third date with Dan Rather and she really likes him and she brings him home. And the King says you can’t marry him. He’s just a common ’tater.’

Every time I tell that joke people are like ‘That joke is the worst.’ It’s more the story of it.”


Do you have a favorite joke? Tweet us @FlyMagazine or visit our Facebook page and tell us.

Looking for more comedy stories? Check out our interviews with Ron White; Jimmie Walker; Kathleen Madigan; Eric Wareheim (of Tim & Eric); and Central PA’s own improv comedy troupes, The Oxymorons and TMI.


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