It has long been agreed in academic circles that the joke about the French Prostitute and the Poltergeist is the best yet conceived. It’s subtle blend of smut, schadenfreude and spoonerism coupled with a punch line that works equally well in French, English or German make it the “The World’s Best Joke”.I won’t waste your valuable reading time retelling the joke as everyone already knows it and you have Dickens, Tolstoy and Proust piling up on the shelves waiting to be read.
The world’s worst joke is much more difficult to nail down but we can be pretty sure that it is German. The worst joke I ever heard was delivered by Barry Humphreys. Right at the start of a show, in his Les Patterson persona, he told a joke that was so disgusting that even I, the most unsqueamish of men, cannot bring myself to repeat it. Suffice it to say that it involved a Christmas turkey and geriatric gynaecology. I was at the back of the house on the first night and as the punch line came across the footlights a ripple of frost ran through the audience, it was as if the Queen of Narnia had popped into the stalls for a few moments. I thought immediately that the joke would get the heave-ho but as I stood in the wings on the second night Barry repeated the joke with even greater relish, the audience squirmed with embarrassment and as I looked closely I saw a gleam of satisfaction in his eye. Mission accomplished as far as Barry was concerned.
My wife has just looked over my shoulder and said that she doesn’t know the joke about the French Prostitute and the Poltergeist and could I include it anyway. Well I would love to but there is a problem. This particular joke is the subject of legal action between Gaspard Batarde, who claims to be the originator and copyright holder of the joke and Duane Heartfelt, a professor of Oral Humour at the University of Uppsala, who wrote his thesis on this particular joke and has subjected it to rigorous analysis running to nearly 300 pages not including footnotes and appendices.
Batarde, a short squat evil smelling Frenchman in his eighties, claims that the publication of this thesis has destroyed his career, the joke having been the centre piece of his act for nearly 60 years. He claims that he created the joke as part of a sketch that he performed with Zaza Mamelles at the Theatre Civique in Biarritz in 1949. Heartfelt has produced volumes of evidence and coach parties of academics and humour professionals to support his counterclaim that this particular joke has been around since the dawn of time. There is evidence that Hannibal told his cavalry commander Maharbal a version of this joke on the eve of the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. The original hearing took place in the Central Court in Leipzig but it was felt that such was the importance of the case for world humour, that, with the agreement of all parties concerned, the case was transferred to the International Tribunal for Comedy & Humour (ITCH) at the Hague. This august body combs out the knots and tangles of international comedy and on occasion repairs its split ends. It has also taken on the task of classifying jokes into classes A B or C. Thus a stand-up comedian can be required by his contract to deliver a certain percentage of Class A jokes so that a promoter can be sure of what he is getting. Obviously the French Prostitute and Poltergeist joke is a Class A, whereas my daughter’s favourite, “Why did the banana go to the doctor? – Because it wasn’t peeling very well,” is undoubtedly a Class C joke. In recent months ITCH have had to deal with a plea from Denmark for a 5 year moratorium on bacon related jokes and a demand from Serbia that any joke that includes a reference to killing Turks should automatically be graded ‘A’ regardless of is it’s comic quality.
So if, dear reader, we were sitting in a pub, or playing Canasta in an old folks home, or in the playground waiting to pick up our children from school, I could tell you this joke, but if I were to write it down in this widely read Blog I could be held to be in contempt of the ITCH.