Formulas for Funny and Insults for the Ages

I invented a new saying I’m hoping will catch on:

“Yeah, but what are your real problems?”

The normal context for such a remark would be when someone is complaining at length about something. And that happens a lot!

Unfortunately, this might be a bit too insulting for use outside of the northeastern United States, LA, and Israel. Those smarmy Canadians and Midwesterners will never take to it.

But I know it’s mine because I googled “but what are your real problems” in quotation marks and got zero results. Now if you google it you will get this page and this page alone. That means I own it.

The reason I’m hoping it will catch on is because—I don’t know, really, I guess just to invent something and have some credit with myself—to hear me come back to me on the lips of someone else and be able to say to myself that was me.

Because there have been all sorts of “formula jokes” in wide circulation over the years, changing with the times:

  • “Oh, it’s one of those.”

This was a joking rejoinder used in the 80s when someone was describing something weird as if it were more normal or typical than it really was. (And being normal was important back in the 80s.) E.g.:

“She was like this Valley girl chess champion on steroids.”

“Oh, one of those.

This is the ironic strategy of over-agreeing. As if: not only do I understand what you’re describing, I even know of this entirely improbable category of things just like it.

Later on, in the 90’s, there developed a much more concise form of humorous over-agreement, but it really only works well with a thick Italian-American accent. Someone says something improbable, unfeasible, self-defeating, or obviously inaccurate, so you reply in an overly agreeable tone (preferably with a guido accent):

“Yeah, huh!?”

From the mouth of a qualified guido it can be pretty funny.

  • “—from Hell.”

This was such a formula joke back in the 80’s that the demographic computers which wrote the scripts for the TV show thirtysomething even picked up on it. I think the line was something like: “It’s the latest Yuppie marketing strategy from Hell.”

And no, there was no intended irony there. Demographic computers couldn’t do that back then, only real writers, which thirtysomething lacked.

Unfortunately, this trend of using demographic computers as “creative” writers has continued apace since the hellish days of thirtysomething. All of the jokes in the GEICO television ads, for instance, are generated by computers trying to replicate the “typical” things that “typical” people say when they’re trying to be funny or responding to something funny:

“Yeah, I guess I walked right into that one…” or “…I get the gist.” etc.

  • “Is that a cry for help?”

As we moved out of the selfish 80’s into the touchy-feely 90’s, this line became a new formula for humorous disparagement. So for example:

“Is that a garage sale or a cry for help?”

Or someone does something strange and you say:

“Well, we all have our ways of crying for help.”

This suited the 90s better than the harsher put-downs of the 80s (e.g. “You’re hurting!”) because, while disparaging, at least it purports to be empathetic and with a mind towards “therapy,” however sardonic the intentions.

So it’s in that same vein that my new formula put-down (“But what are your real problems?”) carries itself:

You’re trying to help and to listen (snicker) but at the same time you’re insultingly implying that the listener is a fucking mess and that the things they’re complaining about are just tip-of-the-iceberg indications of some much deeper problems.

Concise insults like that deserve wide circulation. Now go use it to put down your friends. Use it before GEICO grabs it and wears it out.


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