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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Words and Phrases I’d Like to See Less Of

Game-changer:  Life is no game and games that don’t change aren’t any fun and aren’t really games.

Closure:  According to my Oxford Universal Dictionary from 1955, psychological closure did not exist back then. No one had it. Now suddenly no one can live without it. I need some closure on “closure.”

Empowering:  In a social setting, “power” means power over other people. One cannot have power in a social sense without some poor chump losing power. The Tennessee Value Authority, the Rural Electrification Program–now that was empowering!

Sea-change:  Other than pollution from human beings, the sea never changes; it’s always the same every time I look. It’s a biological fact that evolution occurs much slower in the ocean than on land. Witness the horseshoe crab–you couldn’t get away with that kind of static bullshit on land.

Cutting edge:  With so many people claiming to be cutting edge, it’s amazing the whole universe hasn’t been shredded yet.

Alpha male:  What’s wrong with the old-fashioned term “asshole?”

Climate change:  Let’s go back to “global warming” because that’s what it is and to hell with all the anti-intellectual stooges and the moneyed interests who have confused them with bullshit.

Medical science:  They’re just guessing and they’ve been guessing wrong for millennia.

Personal validation:  I wouldn’t mind this phrase if I were given a large red stamp that read “IN-VALID!” that I could stamp across the foreheads of the world’s six billion assholes.

Make love:  I prefer fucking. And when we fight or when you claim you have a headache, are we “making hate?”

Girl power:  See above comments on “empowering.”  Also, if we just got rid of all the “alpha males” (Pol Pot-style) everything would be all right, including gender relations.

Words and Phrases I’m Glad Are Dying:

Black-on-black crime:  What about White-on-Indian crime? Oh okay, that’s just American History. Or what about Jew-on-Jew lawsuits–now there’s a rampant problem!

War on terror:  This might be okay if we also had a war on anxiety and a war on boredom. Because I’m never terrified but I’m frequently anxious and bored. Even after 9-11 I wasn’t terrified.  And by 10-11 of the same year I was bored with the whole thing and very anxious about where our country was headed.

Family values:  Instead, let’s have “single guy values” and “pussy-whipped values.”  I’d also advocate for having “single woman values” but unfortunately all they seem to value is starting a family. What’s a “pussy-whipped value?” Well, for one, being so terrorized by terrorism that you’re willing to give up all your freedoms and privacy. Or hearing on the intercom that your commuter train will be delayed by five minutes and immediately getting on your cellphone to tell your spouse that “Honey, I’m going to be five minutes late.” Or take modern country music written by men–in the old days, it was all about fucking and fighting and gambling and rambling, but now it’s all about “Honey, I bought you these flowers to show you how sorry I am…”  Yeah, you’re sorry all right: Whip-crack!