A: Just one. But it'll take him 11 tries to get it right.
Before I get to Xinjiang, I wanted to publish a bit of data that I gathered last week. Against all my better foresight, I taught a lesson on jokes. Bar jokes, lightbulb jokes, chicken jokes, yo mama jokes.
I started by talking about Chinese jokes that some of the English Corner students had translated for me. For instance, there was one about an eagle who wanted to catch a rabbit. The rabbit said one sentence that caused the swooping eagle to crash and die on impact. Can you guess what it was?
"You forgot your bra!" imitate eagle pulling in wings to cover breasts
Hm..... In Chinese, jokes like these are called "cold" jokes* and I don't think they are funny at all. Yet when I retold them to the Senior 2 students, uproarious laughter ensued, even though many of them hadn't heard the Chinese version before.
I continued with a Powerpoint during which I defined joke and punch line and told several jokes using photographs to introduce new vocabulary (like bartender, ladder, mop, etc.). Then I passed out slips of paper, each of which contained either the set-up or the punch line to a joke and told them to get up out of their seats and find their partners who held the missing half of their jokes. Then they would sit down together and think of how to explain them to their classmates. Because I have 11 class sections throughout the week, I had 11 tries to get my patter down and figure out which jokes fly and which jokes sink. Here's a cross-section of the results of this experiment:
A panda walks into a bar and orders a meal. When he's finished, he pulls a gun out of his fur and shoots two people dead. He walks out of the bar and the bartender follows him. "Who do you think you are?" shouts the bartender. The panda replies, "I'm a panda; look it up in the dictionary." The bartender goes home, finds a dictionary and reads, "Panda: large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal that lives in China. Eats shoots and leaves."
The kids freaking loved this one. It's got all the stuff they like: Violence, puns, reference to the motherland... I didn't even have to explain "shoots" to most of them. Apparently "bamboo shoots" appears early in the Chinese high school English curriculum.
What do you call cheese that doesn't belong to you? Nacho cheese.
Completely bombed. Chinese students try to speak very clearly, so to them "not your" doesn't sound like "nacho" at all. Also, there is very little cheese in China. What was I thinking....
Two cows are eating grass in a field. One looks up and says to the other: "Hey, are you worried about this mad cow disease thing?" The other replies, "What do I care; I'm a helicopter!"
This is probably my favorite joke ever, so I couldn't help but be a little disappointed at the mixed reviews. One class practically peed their pants, and to another I had to explain, "no, see, the second cow already HAS mad cow disease!" before I got a few polite chuckles. It definitely helps if you do the helicopter noise and spread out your arms when you tell it; just like in America, but even that's no guarantee.
Q: How many Chinese Communists does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Thousands, to give it a Cultural Revolution!
Don't tell this joke in China.
What did the elephant say to the naked man? It's cute, but can you really breathe through that thing?
One by one, the boys in the class began to erupt. Most of the girls covered their faces.
Yo mama so fat, she went to the movies and sat next to everybody.
My students loved the yo mama jokes. Go figure. I hope to see them insulting each other's mothers in the hallways next week.
How does a Chinese mother name her children? By throwing a fork down the stairs and listening to the sound it makes.
Convinced that this is a funny joke, I told this one at every class and very few students laughed (the ones who raise their hands, by some odd coincidence...). Fearing that I had offended them, I explained that Chinese has many "ing" and "ong" syllables that sound metallic to the Western ear, and most of them nodded with sincere interest but little laughter.
And finally, the clear winner of the week:
A blind walks into a bar with his seeing-eye dog. He reaches the middle of the room, grabs his dog by the hind legs and starts swinging it in circles above his head. The bartender yells, "Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?" The man replies, "Just looking around."
Woooooooo! Cruelty to animals scores a big one in Guangdong province! Actually, come to think of it, who DOESN'T think that joke is funny?
* When the students realized that a joke is really corny, they say "Ooh, so cold!" I explained that in English the proper response is actually non-verbal groan, but now I'm starting to think that "cold" is a pretty good description of the atmosphere after a bad joke.