Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious by Sigmund Freud
|A young Sigmund Freud inspecting a joke-manufacturing machine, Vienna, 1876.|
Lo and behold, this book was the exact opposite, being an examination of the psychology behind jokes using some rollicking good examples like:
Customer: How much is that herring over there (pointing to a herring over there)?
Shopkeeper: That's no herring. That's my wife.
Customer: Oh, in that case, how much to have her pickled and brined?
It was that joke alone that put Vienna on the map back in 1809 and soon people from all over Europe were making the journey to the strudel and herring besotted capital of Austria to visit the location where this joke was first uttered just outside of Herr Herman's Herring Emporium. The emporium itself soon became the focus of yearly pilgrimages of hairy and smelly Europeans in heavy overcoats who loved a good joke and a good plate of herring to go with it. Sometimes they stored extra herring in their coats, which is probably what made them so smelly in the first place, especially if you're taking the slow train from Belgrade to Irkutsk in an overheated coach car.
|Some happy customers outside of Herr Herman's Herring Emporium, circa 1900. The lineups became so long in and outside of the shop, sometimes running around the block, that Herr Herman added an outdoor herring cart to deal with the overflow.|
Which leads us further into Freud's text and the idea that jokes, by nature are a judgmental impulse rooted in the unconscious where dissimilar thoughts find humorous purchase when combined absurdly and then spoken by a person with a mouth full of herring. Or a ventriloquist's dummy with an Oedipus Complex. Or an enormous man whose jowls resemble the mudflaps on a semi-trailer. As Freud himself so aptly put it in his book, "sich etwas zuruckgelegt mitzhoofen Schenectady einschlafreig tuchas schaden schmutz koffen mit ordentlich vasht kuglefloffen," that translated reads "though you dreamed that you once owned a dry-cleaning business in Schnectady, the only pants you're fit to press are those on the hind quarters of an incontinent walrus whose rear end can barely fit into those slacks in the first place and so eventually you're forced to take a job in a denture cream factory working the viscosity machine and secretly rubbing your man-nipples against the molar adhesion metal testing plates." What does Freud mean by this? Simply, the vehicle for obtaining and discharging pleasure and laughter in the first place is created from an intimate connection to a disturbed psychological condition manifesting itself first in the joke and then in the elicited response, a distribution of energy that in a sense is a reaction to repression, both sexually, culturally and in some instances agriculturally like when a farmer wants to grow, say wheat but his banker says, "There's no money in that, grow soybean and if you don't I'll repossess your farm and by the way, I had sex with your daughter and also your ox and I'm still not sure which was better."
"She's a real looker," the rabbi says to him.
"Especially if you have cataracts," the butcher replies as he sees the daughter for the first time.
"What, you don't like her hump?" the rabbi inquires.
"It's not the hump," the butcher responds. "A little hump is nice. It shows hard work, diligence, a sense that with a hump you have nothing to hide or inclination to do so in the first place. My first wife had a hump and I was very fond of it, stroking it at night and talking tenderly to its cartilage."
"That's very touching and very wise," the rabbi replied.
"Yes, but what is not so wise," the butcher continued, whispering now not to be overheard by the daughter, "is that your daughter is old, she squints, she has bad teeth and her mustache is but barely a wisp on her wrinkled face."
"You need not lower your voice," the rabbi said, "since she's also deaf."
Part of the joke here plays on the conceptual framework of the closeness in sound of two words with different meanings, thus in German, "dist fluchbranggen schvitz halfinbrot kunst mit gimmelflaushcen," works on the premise that the words "dist fluchbranggen" or "little hump" is similar to "dost fluchblangitten" that means "mouse diarrhea" and so the double meaning adds a second layer of humour whose psychology is at once both playful and equally traumatic as mouse diarrhea is not a thing to be taken lightly, especially if you step in it in the middle of the night on your way to the bathroom but when you yell, "Yeech, I just stepped in mouse diarrhea," that will naturally elicit guffaws and knee-slaps. Secondly, schvitz, or sweat is close to Schmitz, a famous janitor in Germany known for being the guy responsible for cleaning Hitler and Eva Braun's bunker and on the day they committed suicide Hitler turned to Schmitz and said "Please do a good cleanup, Herr Schmitz because Eva and I are going to commit suicide and there's no telling how the cyanide will effect us but I'm guessing we are going to shit our pants profusely and we don't want to be found like that. We've eaten a lot of bratwurst, sauerkraut, sauerbraten, spatzel and strudel the past few days and it's not going to be a pretty sight. I'm pretty sure our deathbed will be a stench-filled swamp from the great gushes of diarrhea our Nazi bodies will eject." This revelation caused Schmitz to sweat uncontrollably, giving rise to the phrase "you're schvitzing like a Schmitz who has stepped in the fuhrer's feces," and it's at this precise point where Freud's theory of the "two-headed meerschaum pipe dilemma" finds fruition based on the layering of meanings and innuendo and the double-edged interpretations of common phrases that lead a listener into the fulcrum of the joke, the resting spot from which all of the machinations begin turning in the search for laughter or its most treasured result, the spit-take.