Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fortune cookies

Johnny Carson would often refer to his college thesis on humour. There are only fifteen jokes in the world, or something close to that. They are then like equations where you change the values (by 'plugging in' new variables) to get a new laugh. Johnny was on the Tonight Show for over twenty years, and I had neighbours who used to still refer to it as the Jack Paar Show. I would expect someone to call it the Steve Allen Show. Whiny Long Jaw just does not cut it, David Letterman does and he went to CBS.

Well, there are set jokes I have always found amusing. There is the light bulb joke, "How many Xs does it take to change a light bulb?", and the elephant joke. The poor pachyderm, to have been hijacked by such a vile political party; well the rattlesnake is far more appropriate. I always thought they were a nest of vipers and scorpions. Knock, knock jokes are not new. Shakespeare had a series of them in Macbeth Act II (in my book it is numbered in the middle of scene i; in other editions, it begins scene iii), it crossed into the St. Peter joke, which usually has some one trying to gain entry into heaven. Peter is both janitor, and porter, and sometimes accountant. Back to Will, in the mystery plays of his youth, there was a porter at hell-gate as counterpart to Peter at heaven-gate. In Macbeth he gets a jab in on a Jesuit (equivocator) and other sinners.

Here's a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. Knock Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i’ the name of Belzebub? ...
There is an old saw, "Humour is where you find it". Which can mean nothing, or that funny just happens. Fortune cookie messages are not really soothsayers predictions, but a riposte to smile at. How they got to us first is, perhaps, forgotten.

American chinese restaurants are required to have fortune cookies gratis, no not by law, but by american custom. How did we get there? In the old country, the chinese have not done this. Somewhere in California, probably before the second world war, some japanese bakers began this. There must be an old movie clip, perhaps even a silent movie clip to evidence this, or a newspaper, or magazine aside in an article mentioning their existence. You can see some one in the old country thinking. "They want the newspaper in their pastry, with their tea; no...no...you mean they read the paper with their tea and cookies."

They are one print avenue that has not been taken over by commercial advertisers, I thought; then I read one, "Chinese food is good for you." Some are written as faux-confucian proverbs, and witticisms; and are enjoyed for their lame humor by people finding them quaint. I should have saved this legendary one, which I think, I did crack open and find, "Help! I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery."
That last one I remember comedians referring to. The one that is supposedly never been printed is, "You have just been poisoned." Now, that would be falling off the stool funny for some, while others who are in constant fright mode would have a paroxysm or conniption. Novelty shops sell cookies with rude sayings. I could see it as a writing assignment in school.

Now dear reader, if you could contribute a not particularly rude one that entertained you ...
postcriptum:  recently, i have encountered these cookies. After breaking the cookie, and looking at the paper, it just as well could have been "have you considered wearing glasses?", or "old man needs glasses"; for at that point i could only be somewhat sure that the printing was in a roman script, well possibly cyrillic.
Another one, that i've seen, i am reminded of is "Only listen to the fortune cookie; disregard all other fortune telling units."
If writing for fortune cookies is evaluated as other jobs, then the honest writers would be fired, "The meaning of life is not printed on the smallest of papers".

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