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What are the Different Types of Jokes?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many varying types of jokes have been a part of the human experience for millennia, and likely were used before our oldest historical records were made. The usual intent in telling a joke or in playing a joke on someone is to produce laughter, and to portray human imperfections in a humorous light. The types of jokes enjoyed by modern cultures include puns or plays on words, practical jokes, clever observations about similarities and differences, and simple question/answer jokes, among others.

A pun is a play on words that takes advantage of similarities between words or phrases. One of the most commonly known puns is a play on the name of one of the bones of the upper arm, called the humerus. This bone is popularly referred to as the “funny bone,” due to its proximity to a sensitive area of the elbow and a pun between “humerus” and “humorous.”

Several types of jokes are not necessarily verbal in nature, but are jokes nonetheless, and these are collectively known as practical jokes. In a practical joke, an unsuspecting person is led into a frustrating or uncomfortable -- but ideally harmless -- situation. Once the person realizes he has been used for a joke, humor ensues at that person’s expense.

An example of a practical joke would be what is sometimes called the invisible rope trick. In this joke, two people stand in the middle of a residential street at dusk, and when a car approaches, pretend to stretch a rope across the street in the path of the car. Due to the low light, the driver of the car cannot see that no rope is present, and will often slow down or stop, sometimes becoming angry at the two individuals, while their friends look on in laughter from a short distance away.

Many comedians make liberal use of funny observations regarding similarities and differences between people and things. The comedian Demitri Martin, for example, has written an entire comedy song in this vein, called “Sames and Opposites,” in which he observes, “An ex-girlfriend is the same thing as an okay movie. I liked it at the time but I don’t want to see it again.” These types of jokes tend to be among the most common and the most timeless.

Ethnic jokes often poke fun at perceived differences between people of different ethnic heritage. These can be considered offensive, and are best used among close friends rather than in mixed company. Self-deprecating humor can be similar in some ways to racial jokes, but in this case, the humor is directed at oneself, rather than outward, avoiding the possibility of offense. For example, the billionaire investor Warren Buffet was once told by a reporter that people in the financial world watched his every move. He responded, “Believe me, I’ve been watching my every move for years, and I’m not that impressed.”

Question/answer jokes can serve a variety of humorous purposes, and can incorporate other joke types in them. For instance, jokes that begin with a question such as “How many ______ does it take to replace a light bulb?” may involve puns or taboo humor in them, as well as cultural observations. This question/answer format is among the oldest types of jokes that are still in use.

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Discussion Comments
By RoyalSpyder — On Feb 07, 2014

Have you ever noticed that you become more self aware and paranoid when you're doing something you know you're not supposed to do, especially when it's a prank? That's generally why I can't bring myself to play practical jokes on others, especially if they're not supposed to know about the joke.

As an example, during my last year of college, I was going to play a senior prank than involved taking someone's clothes out of the dryer, and putting them in the fridge. It almost worked, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. My conscience was creeping up on me, and to top it all off, I barely even knew the person. It would have been different if they were a friend of mine.

By Viranty — On Feb 07, 2014
When I was at college, one of my favorite things to do when I was bored was to prank others. It wasn't easy, but surprisingly, I never got caught. Out of all the pranks I've done, the one stands out to me the most was during my sophomore year.

One Friday night, when my friends had left for a few hours, they had left their dorm room door unlocked. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity for a prank, I gathered several of my other friends, and we covered their room with toilet paper, from top to bottom. Thankfully we never got caught, although when they got back later on, they did question my roommate. He's a lot rowdier than I am, and seemed like more of a suspect.

By Chmander — On Feb 06, 2014

@suntan12 - I agree with you about "You've Been Punked" on MTV. There's nothing wrong with playing a practical joke, but there's always a line you shouldn't cross, and that show definitely crosses it. Sometimes, if you plan to play a prank, it's definitely a lot more helpful if you know the person, as they might not get annoyed with you, especially when compared to a random stranger.

Second, it's an even better idea to play a prank that's safe. There's nothing wrong with using a can of fake snakes, or even dousing someone with a water balloon, but once again, there's a line that shouldn't be crossed. Accidental or not, injuring someone can have severe consequences. After all, you don't want to get sued and/or arrested, right?

By RoyalSpyder — On Feb 05, 2014

Jokes come in all shapes and sizes, ha ha. Speaking of which, I'm surprised that no one here has mentioned April 1st. Though April Fools Day only comes once a year, it's completely unpredictable. The main reason why is because you never know when it's coming. Sometimes, you might even forget what day it is, and then when the prank is pulled on you, you realize that it's that time of the year again. If you plan to prank someone on April Fools Day, always make sure to be ready, as it only comes once a year.

By suntan12 — On Oct 14, 2010

GreenWeaver-I agree with you. They do stunts like that on the radio too where they will call someone up and put them in a very uncomfortable spot on the air.

It is really uncomfortable for me to listen because although every one but one person is in on the joke, I still feel weird listening. The people get so worked up, I feel embarrassed for them.

What I rather see if something like Candid Camera where people were recorded and placed under unusual circumstances. For example, there was the mail box that moved around. People were startled for a moment and then laugh. This show was entertaining and there was benevolent humor.

No one was being made fun of or told something bad was going to happen to them.

By GreenWeaver — On Oct 14, 2010

Cafe41-I have seen those. They are really funny. I wanted to say that the only types of jokes that I really don’t like are practical jokes.

My husband thinks they are really funny and apparently a lot of other people do to which is why you see shows like “You’ve Been Punked” on MTV.

This is a show that actually performs practical jokes on celebrities. Some of these jokes to me seem a bit cruel. For example, there was one case where a celebrity was told that they owed taxes and were receiving an IRS audit.

To me that temporary panic is not funny. I never watch this show because of it because laughing at someone when they are put on the spot seems a bit too cruel for me to laugh.

By cafe41 — On Oct 14, 2010

Subway11-There are a lot of free funny jokes and even holiday jokes online. A site called Jib Jab allows you to crop pictures of your family or friends and depending on the time of year they can create a skit with your loved ones pictures in which the pictures are singing and dancing.

Sometimes the pictures are related to a holiday and other times it is related to the political season but these pictures are so funny you will not be able to stop laughing.

They are especially cute to send during someone’s birthday. These pictures are free you just have to sign up on the site. They also email you to let you know when they have new skits.

By subway11 — On Oct 14, 2010

Jokes are funny when we can relate to the situation. Most stand up comics develop their dialogue to discuss everyday occurrences that people can relate to.

Being able to relate to a comic or a joke actually makes the joke funnier for example.

When a comic makes fun of standing in line at the DMV or the Division of Motor Vehicle or the Post Office for example, we can all relate to how slow the service seems no matter how many people are in line.

Sometimes the jokes are one liners in which the joke and the punch line are mentioned in the same sentence. Funny and jokes should really relate to the punch line. Some jokes that poke fun at religion or politics can be offensive to a larger audience while some of the population may find the joke funny.

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