From the cocreator of the celebrated Big Book of Jewish Humor comes a “funny…geezer-licious” (Jack Handey, author of Deep Thoughts) collection of jokes about growing older that makes fun of memory loss, marriages, medicine, sex, the afterlife, and much more—a perfect gift for almost anyone who was born before you were.
Growing older can be unsettling and surprising. (How on earth did this happen? Where did the years go?) So what better way to deal with this new stage of life than to laugh about your new reality? Die Laughing includes more than enough jokes (not to mention cartoons!) to let that laughter burst out.
Whether it’s dealing with doctors, dating in one’s seventies, or unexpected bodily changes (not to mention funny noises), some things are easier to face with a smile of recognition. That’s why Die Laughing is the perfect gift for your parents, anyone celebrating a significant birthday, or any boomer with a sense of humor whose age begins with a six or higher.
Die Laughing INTRODUCTION Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis.
Although I’m not exactly old, I seem to be headed in that general direction. I was born in 1948, which brings up an important question: How much longer can I still pretend to be middle-aged?
Growing older was something that happened to my grandparents. Like so many of my fellow baby boomers, I thought our generation would remain forever young. Apparently we were misinformed. And now that I’m finally coming of age, I’m starting to experience some of the symptoms I’ve been hearing about for years, such as misplacing my car keys, forgetting names, and noticing various aches and pains that seem to have no rational explanation.
I’ve been vaguely aware that a growing number of the jokes that friends were telling me, or passing along over email, had to do with things like memory loss, Alzheimer’s, long marriages, or other concerns of older people. Even so, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that any of this had much to do with me.
But all of these clues must have been loitering in my unconscious mind, because early in 2015 it suddenly occurred to me to compile a book of jokes about growing older. After all, I couldn’t be the only one who would appreciate a chance to laugh about the approach of sixty, seventy, or some other significant birthday. So I started looking for jokes on age-related topics, and when I finally had enough, I selected the best ones, along with some wonderful cartoons, for this book.
Remember jokes? A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. Three nuns meet Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Although comedians stopped telling them long ago, jokes are still around, and one purpose of this book is to make sure they stay around.
With a sensitive subject like aging, it may be worth pointing out that jokes just don’t portray the full scope of reality. They ignore a great deal that is true and reassuring because those things don’t happen to be funny. And the point of jokes and cartoons, and certainly the point of this book, is to make you laugh.
Laughter may not be the best medicine, but a growing body of research is showing that it has some real health benefits:
It strengthens the immune system.
It relaxes the body and reduces stress.
It lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow.
Laughter also increases the ability to tolerate pain. This brings to mind Norman Cousins, longtime editor of the Saturday Review, who famously checked himself out of a hospital and into a hotel in the mid-1970s after being struck by an especially painful and life-threatening form of arthritis. After putting himself on a regimen of Marx Brothers and television sitcoms, Cousins described “the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect that would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
But wait—there’s more. Much like exercise, laughter expands the blood vessels and helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
Some researchers think it may offset memory loss.
It releases endorphins, which improve a person’s mood.
Laughter promotes optimism, which in turn improves resiliency.
It is also thought to stimulate learning, productivity, and problem solving.
And according to a seven-year study of more than fifty thousand Norwegians, older people with a sense of humor had a lower mortality rate than their counterparts who did not laugh easily at daily events.
Now, even if only half of these claims are actually true, the jokes in this collection should have a real health benefit. Of course, a lot of things have a real health benefit. But how many of them are this much fun?
The jokes that follow come from a variety of sources, including other books. (All joke books “borrow” from previous collections, although almost none of them admit it.) Some made their way to me from friends and fellow collectors, and others turned up on the internet, often in several different versions. In almost every case I have rewritten them. And all of the cartoons first appeared in the New Yorker.
A number of these jokes will be familiar, and I hope readers will greet them as old friends. Others, I trust, will be entirely new, and still others might strike the reader as completely wrong, because most people prefer the version of a joke that they already know.
None of the jokes carry an author’s name because, unlike comic routines, one-liners, and cartoons, jokes don’t have authors. As the legendary folklorist Gershon Legman observed in Rationale of the Dirty Joke, nobody has ever told a joke for the first time. Or, as the old saying goes, there are no new jokes—only new audiences.
Quotations do have authors, but a few of the one-liners in these pages have often been credited to the wrong people. (George Carlin was very talented, but he didn’t come up with all the lines that are commonly ascribed to him.) Where it was impossible to determine the author of a quote with any certainty, no name is listed. Corrections from readers are welcome, but please be careful: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.”—Abraham Lincoln.
There are jokes and cartoons here about many things, including death. A certain amount of bad taste is unavoidable and even necessary in this book because life is full of bad taste. But I have mostly avoided crudeness, vulgarity, and four-letter words unless they were critical to the joke.
There are also jokes here that depend on wordplay. It’s easy to disparage puns, or to treat all puns as bad puns, but I side with the satirist Jonathan Swift, who observed long ago that “punning is a talent which no man affects to despise but he that is without it.”
Puns may also be good for you. “Wit and puns aren’t just décor in the mind,” writes Adam Gopnik. “They’re essential signs that the mind knows it’s on, recognizes its own software, and can spot the bugs in its own program.”
I have introduced each chapter with a very short essay that I hope will provide some context and, from time to time, some cheerful news about the subject at hand. But if you’d prefer not to read anything serious in a book like this, be my guest.
When a character’s age isn’t mentioned, please assume that the person is no longer young, and in some cases may actually be old. And by “old,” I mean a few years older than you are.
Finally, I decided to conclude each of the introductory essays, including this one, on a lighter note. I’ve put these jokes in italics so they’ll be harder to miss.
When Larry’s primary-care doctor referred him to a cardiologist, he thought the man’s name sounded familiar. And when he showed up for his appointment and noticed the framed diploma on the wall, he recalled that a tall, dark-haired boy with that name had been in his high school class.
But when he met the doctor, he saw that although the names were the same, that was just a coincidence. This balding physician with a wrinkled face was clearly too old to have been his classmate.
Even so, he asked the doctor where he had gone to high school.
“I went to Memorial,” the doctor said.
“So did I,” said Larry. “And did you graduate in 1964?”
William Novak, who was born in 1948, has written or coauthored some two dozen books, including the bestselling memoirs of Lee Iacocca, Tip O’Neill, Nancy Reagan, the Mayflower Madam, Oliver North, Magic Johnson, and Tim Russert. He is also the coeditor with Moshe Waldoks of The Big Book of Jewish Humor. He and his wife, Linda, live in the Boston area and have three grown sons, all of whom are writers.