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What I Really Know About Telling Jokes: A Father's Legacy

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Jo Ann Nicoteri Considine of Clarks Summit, Pa., shares what she really knows about telling jokes.

My father certainly was an experienced joke teller. My brothers and I grew up learning that a joke does not have to be off-color to be funny, and that 95 percent of the humor in a joke is in the delivery. Timing is everything. Dad would choose just the right moment, sneak the joke into the conversation and burst into laughter himself directly at the end, leaving the listener with no choice but to laugh with him. He provided his own canned laughter and laugh track.

As Dad aged, the new jokes became few and far between, but the old standbys were repeated often. His grandchildren learned his comedic methods and would sometimes finish the joke with him.

Two days after Dad passed away, I found a neatly typed joke in his drawer. I wondered if he kept it written so he wouldn’t forget the punch line, but I also took it as a sign from him: It would fit perfectly into the eulogy at his funeral Mass because it was about a Catholic dog. Our local priest was very willing to oblige.

To this day, my whole family uses his oft-repeated jokes and phrases, and we all smile each time with fond memory. I even have my favorite joke selected for my own eulogy!

There is no right or wrong time or place for humor. It’s all in the feeling of the moment.

Tell us what you really know about our October topic: Presidential campaigns. E-mail your essay of up to 400 words to Or mail it to What I Really Know, AARP Bulletin, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. Please include your name, phone number and e-mail address. Deadline for October submissions: September 1, 2008.

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