Deconstructing a Joke (or why I’m no fun at parties)

on Mar 18 in Flotsum & Jetsam by

A man was at the country club for his weekly round of golf. He began his round with an eagle on the first hole and a birdie on the 2d. On the third hole he had just scored his first ever hole-in-one when his cell phone rang. It was a doctor notifying him that his wife had just been in a terrible accident and was in critical condition and in the ICU. The man told the doctor that if his wife awoke, to inform her he’d be there as soon as possible. As he hung up he realized he was leaving what was shaping up to be his best ever round of golf so he decided to get in a couple more holes before heading to the hospital.

He ended up playing all 18 holes, finishing his round shooting a personal best of 61, shattering the club record by five strokes and beating his previous best game by more than 10 strokes. He was jubilant . . . then he remembered his wife. Feeling guilty he dashed to the hospital. He saw the doctor in the corridor and asked about his wife’s condition.

The doctor glared at him and shouted, “You went ahead and finished your round of golf, didn’t you? I hope you’re proud of yourself! While you were out for the past four hours enjoying yourself at the country club your wife has been suffering in the ICU! It’s just as well you went ahead and finished that round because it will be more than likely your last! For the rest of her life she will require ’round the clock care. And you’ll be her care giver!” The man was feeling so guilty he broke down and sobbed. The doctor snickered and said, “Just messin’ with you. She’s dead. What’d you shoot?”

It’s about selfishness, right? The tendency we mortals have to look at news, no matter how good or bad, in terms of self-interest. The wife is critical, but so is the man’s golf game, and on this fateful day, he indulges himself rather than doing what duty and morality would dictate. The doctor seems to be the voice of conscience, but the joke turns, as jokes often do, when he shows his own willingness to kid around, empathizing in the end with the husband’s golf score.

Is there something else going on? Is there a strand about husbands and wives? Is this after all, a marriage joke? Are we laughing that a guy could be so bored and disinterested in his wife, that his golf game becomes more important than her life? Maybe it’s just me – once divorced, privy to many a locker room full of guys cutting jokes — reading into this.

I tried substituting the husband for the wife. Maybe she’s shopping when she gets the call. Maybe it’s 50% off at Wal*Mart of Henri Bendel. She wants to go to the hospital, but she can’t bear missing the sale. Does this translate? Here too it would seem to be about selfishness, but does it come with a little barb about females shopping. “Isn’t it just like woman to be so single-minded about filling her material needs as to let her husband suffer and die alone! At least golf is a sport. A contest.”

What if we make the woman a real estate agent closing on a million dollar property? That doesn’t quite equalize things either. In this instance, she becomes money and power-hungry, as compared to the guy, who is (somewhat) innocently just pursuing his personal best golf score. Lastly, I tried making it a bridge hand she was playing, which seemed to line it up pretty well.

What’s the deal with this though? Am I overthinking it? Is my problem that I’m a guy reading this through a guy’s lens? What’s a woman’s take on the original joke? Maybe as is often the case, it’s simpler than it seems.

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