Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
22 August 2005updated 24 Sep 2015 11:31am

Go on, tell us a joke

Tessa Mayes asks: what's your favourite joke?

By Tessa Mayes

Bernard Manning, comedian
I’ve got a few favourite jokes I tell my mates. Here’s one:
I went to see Pavarotti sing last week. Terrible, miserable man. He doesn’t like you joining in, does he?!

Or another one:

Richard Branson was asked to take over Manchester City football team. He said, “I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t have Virgin on the shirts of a team that gets fucked every week!”

I make them up with my friends, Manchester United supporters.

George Monbiot, campaigning author and Guardian columnist
A Buddhist monk goes into a pizza restaurant. The waiter comes up and says, “Sir, what would you like?” And the monk says, “Make me one with everything.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

I read that joke in a book called The Future of Money, by a professor of economics. I just like it because it’s simple, it’s harmless, and it does what I enjoy doing most, which is playing with language.

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

Shazia Mirza, Muslim comedienne
I don’t have a favourite joke. I usually tell my friends observational stuff – things that make me laugh – and then I’ll probably tell it on stage. People laugh more in normal life than at jokes. Jokes are funny at the time but they’re really difficult to retell. You end up saying, “The guy that told me told it better.” Jokes don’t really affect you, so you don’t remember them.

Roger Alton, editor, the Observer
A man is shipwrecked on an island. He’s the sole survivor, until miraculously, another shipwreck happens, and crawling through the waves is another sole survivor – Claudia Schiffer! They start to get to know each other and really like each other. After a bit, they begin to have a sexual relationship. It’s heaven and goes on for years. It’s fantastic. After a time, though, he starts to look anxious and moody.
“What’s up?” she says.
“Well, there is something . . .” he says.
“What? You know I’ll do anything for you.”
“Well, you know that man’s suit in that trunk, and the shirt and tie ? Well, could you put them on?”
Claudia looks a bit anxious. But she does what he says, and dresses up as a man in the suit, shirt and tie.
“Fantastic,” says the bloke. “Now could you sit down on that tree trunk we use as a bench?”
She does so, sitting down dressed as a man.
He sits down beside her, turns to her and says, “Here, you’ll never guess who I’m shagging . . .”

Joke-telling is a fantastically authoritarian form of discourse. A person (almost invariably male) says: “Here is my joke. Now everybody else shut up until I have finished, then laugh . . .” I really don’t like it. I feel similarly about anecdotes. When people embark on anecdotes your heart sinks. Almost all jokes are phenomenally unfunny, and most people telling them are absolute shits and bores.

Simon Blackburn, professor of philosophy, Cambridge University
Two men meet in a pub. One says to the other, “Do you know the joke about Tony Blair having to leave office and become a lavatory attendant?” “No,” says the second. “Neither do I,” says the first, “but I just like the way it starts.”

I first heard this joke in Romania, where it used to be told about Nicolae Ceausescu (or his wife).

Grayson Perry, artist
Irish guy goes on to a building site and the foreman says, “Ooh, we’ve got an Irish guy here. I better give him an intelligence test.” So he says to him, “Can you tell me the difference between a girder and a joist?” And the Irish guy says, “Let me think about that now. Is it Goethe that wrote Faust and Joyce that wrote Ulysses?”

I can’t remember the last time I even told a joke. They’ve become terribly non-U, really.

Helen Hawkins, Perrier Award ex-chair
“My grandad just died. My gran did her best. She smeared him with lard – he went downhill fast after that.”

I’m a notorious forgetter of jokes, and actively dislike one-liners. This is the only one I don’t seem to have dislodged from my head. It’s from that lugubrious punster Milton Jones, delivered deadpan.

Austin Mitchell, MP
In a gloomy rain-sodden Yorkshire mill town, down a long row of terraced houses comes an old bloke, walking slowly downhill to the house right at the end. Knocks on the door. Which is opened by a grey-haired lady wiping her tears away on her apron.

“Is Jack in?”

“Eee, it’s awful, he’s just died. Ah war sending for t’ doctor.”

“Eee, I am sorry to ‘ear that. Did ‘e say owt about a pot of paint?”

I was first told it ages ago! Now I tell it incessantly.

Germaine Greer
I don’t know that I have a favourite joke at all. I think it’s a bit tragic when you’re with your friends and you have to tell a joke. It means the conversation has kind of run out of steam. One of the things that annoys me is that men think it’s important never to be entirely serious. And I tend to agree with them – you’ve got to be amusing before anything else. Whereas women tend to want to communicate, so the conversation can become extremely heavy, men want to keep it light. And there doesn’t seem to be any communication between the two. Women aren’t getting funnier and men aren’t getting more sincere.

Mark Thomas, comedian
How many Labour MPs does it take to change a – oh, who gives a fuck?

Austin Williams, director, Future Cities Project
Q: Did you know that Ken Dodd died?

A: Did he?

Q: No, Doddy!

I heard it in school.

Gyles Brandreth
What’s the difference between the erotic and the perverse? With the erotic, you take a feather and use it tenderly, delicately, teasingly, playfully. You trace designs with it, and use it to play with your lover. With the perverse, you use the whole chicken.

The joke is definitely still alive – it’s a tool which funny people can use skilfully.

Interviews by Tessa Mayes