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  • So when I was a freshman in college, like the little nerd that I am, I joined the literary club. Uh, and the way the club worked was that every month we would focus on a different author, and then at the end of the month we would have a meeting and we would have a guest lecturer come in and talk to us about it. Um, and so January rolled around and we were talking about my favorite author—Ernest Hemingway—and we had just gotten done reading the book For Whom The Bell Tolls. And so the day of the lecture came, uh, I go into the auditorium and it’s a UT professor that’s going to give the lecture. And it’s this young, uh, cool looking blonde-haired guy, he seems pretty hip, uh, and he starts telling us this story. He says that he used to live in Dallas, near the toll way and one day he was near the toll and he met this beautiful woman and fell in love with her. But the problem, he said, was that he was married at the time he met this woman. And so by that point I was just like ‘Oh my God this is too scandalous, I don’t want to hear about your love affair; this is not appropriate’ um, kind of freaking out. So, he continues to tell the story, it’s a really long story probably ten minutes long, and then by the end of it his wife had found out about the other woman and she confronted him. And she said ‘James, it’s not about for whom’s the toll bell, the toll—the toll bell’s not for you’. And I just started cracking up. What a, like what a hilarious pun. I was washed with relief that he wasn’t being serious about his, um, his love affair. And, you know, I think the reason he told us, uh, that story was because it was an open discussion and he wanted to get everybody kind of relaxed and in a good mood. Um, it was probably the funniest joke I’d ever heard. I thought it was so funny. So I go home that night and me and my best friend Bailey are watching Jersey Shore and during one of the commercial breaks I remembered the story. And so I was like, ‘Hey Bailey I have to tell you this hilarious story, you know, a UT professor told me this today; so he liv-‘. And I start telling this story and then I got to the punch line and it’s just, blank stare. No laughing, no smile. She looks at me and she says, ‘so did his wife divorce him? Or did he end up with the girl from the toll?’ And I was like, ‘No, it’s a joke; it’s a pun! Like For Whom the Bell Tolls! It’s a joke; it’s supposed to be funny’. And she was like, ‘Oh, okay I mean yeah I guess that is funny’. And I was really disappointed because I wanted to get to share that really funny, humorous, story with someone and see them laugh too. Um, but I think that there were two big problems with it. First of all, the context was wrong. You know, she was not flooded with relief and humor that this really highly inappropriate, uh, story was just a joke. So I think that was part of what made it so funny for me was the relief aspect. Um, also when I retold the story I omitted the middle part because I thought it was boring and she has a short attention span. And so I was trying to make it, you know, a quick funny joke. And I think maybe part of the humor of the story came from the build up of this really long story that turns out to be about nothing; it’s just a joke. And then finally, you know, when I heard that story, Hemingway was on my mind because I was at a Hemingway discussion. For her, she was thinking about Guido’s and drinking on the beach, not about the book that she had just read, which was For Whom the Bell Tolls. So, you know, I didn’t get the reaction I wanted from her; I told it to a lot of my friends and family—didn’t get good reactions from them either. I guess, um, nerdy humor combined with poor story telling um, makes that joke not funny to most people. But, hopefully one day I will be in the position where the joke is just right and I tell it perfectly, and people think it’s funny. But I will remember to tell the whole thing, and I will remember to somehow subtly remind them before I tell the joke about the book For Whom the Bell Tolls.
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