Couldn't get this 80s or 90s Reader's Digest joke

Decades ago, the humor sections in Reader’s Digest were almost all real-life anecdotes, not the jokes that they are now.

Sometime in the 80s or 90s, someone told a true anecdote that was published in RD’s joke section and I have never figured it out:

I was a pizza delivery guy. One time I delivered a pizza to a lady, and she gave me a $20 bill and told me to “keep the change.” Delighted at such a large tip, I took the bill and went back into my car, only to have her come and knock on the car window and clarify: “what I meant was, keep the change.”

Is there some hidden meaning here?

Change can mean the only the coins, not the bills.

Not that i think it’s very interesting or clever but I’m presuming the second definition is relying on “loose change”, i.e coins. She was planning to tip 99 cents or less depending on actual price of pizza.

My take:

He thought she meant he could keep all the left over money but she meant he could keep all the left over change (ie coins).

Coins vs notes is obviously the only explanation. But unless U.S. colloquial usage has changed in the last few decades, the ambiguity required in the phrase “keep the change” for the joke / amusing anecdote to work does not really exist. So I think OP’s puzzlement is justified.

I hate to disillusion anyone, but many of those “real-life” anecdotes were made-up by writers.

The joke would make more sense if the price of the pizza had been included. Something like:

One time I delivered a pizza to a lady, and the cost was $12.75. She gave me a $20 bill and told me to “keep the change.”

So he walks off intending to keep $7.75, but she only intended for him to keep a quarter.

I said it would make more sense; I didn’t say it would be any funnier. It isn’t. :-1:t3:

I think the customer didn’t want the coins. Just the paper money.

Really? That’s interesting. Do you have a cite for this? I’d be interested in learning more. RD used to have a huge circulation, and people were always saying, “You should send that in to Readers Digest!” when someone told a funny anecdote. I always assumed they had plenty of actual material. Why would they need to have professional writers make them up?

Easier and quicker than going through thousands of letters, 95% of them unsuitable.

My real-life anecdote published there was something that actually happened to me.

I say “keep the change” all the time at drive in windows. Or if I didn’t hear the cost clearly I will ask, “what was the change” and get back, “forty three” cents. And if the change is say less then five cents they will sometimes ask, “Do you want the change”?

Yes, that’s why I said “many” rather than “all.”

I wish I could remember the exact place I read this. Basically, it was some writer remembering his early days and how he made a bit of extra money submitting to RD.

If it was a real story it would have been a letter to Penthouse!

I don’t doubt that some people, including writers, made up anecdotes they submitted, but I can’t imagine a substantial number of them were invented. One I recall from my youth concerned a woman checking a carton of eggs before putting it in her cart and a young man doing the same, then whispering to her, “What are we looking for?” Not a knee-slapper. They weren’t bad jokes; they were barely-amusing, mundane incidents, which would actually be harder to make up.

I thought you meant RD had professional writers on staff, which, AFAICT, they did not.

What everyone else said. “Change” as in “coins” vs. change as in “the difference between the price and the amount tendered.”

I shall now proceed to explain beat the humor entirely out of this and every similar joke.

I don’t know how old you are. In the early 70s, a reasonable tip might indeed have just been the coins. Then we had almost a decade of severe inflation.

Which means by the late 80s you’d have younger people who’d only lived in the new high priced era and many ordinary middle-aged adults who were still reeling from the inflationary changes in the value of money that had been stable throughout their childhood and young adulthood.

In that era there were lots of jokes or rueful sayings about incongruous prices that just didn’t make intuitive sense any more. e.g. “$10,000 for a new car? I remember when a new house cost $8,000!?!”

So I think one way to understand the pizza joke is the 50-ish lady thinking $0.75 is a decent but skimpy tip and a 17 yo pizza guy thinking $6.75 is a generous, but not insane tip. For the same pizza. Misunderstanding ensues.

A lot of RD’s audience was the 50+ set. This was true even back in the early days. As such items about the “generation gap” or “those darn kids these days” were perrenial themes of RD’s insipid brand of humor.

Reader’s digest had a pay scale for all of that stuff. ‘Humor in Uniform’, ‘Life’s like that’, etc. I believe the vast majority of those are real submissions. I knew people who submitted anecdotes to them. As I recall, you could get $10-$30 for one of those.

The joke would make more sense if the price of the pizza had been included. Something like:

One time I delivered a pizza to a lady, and the cost was $12.75 . She gave me a $20 bill and told me to “keep the change.”

Maybe it did originally, but this was The Reader’s Digest, so the editors condensed it.

Correct. But I do recall that they and other magazines were aware they received many of their jokes and anecdotes from the same sources. And I don’t think they minded because that material would have been better than the random submissions. Anyway, I know someone who was an editor there, I’ll see if I can find out.

I have a friend who had a story about a family camping trip published word-for-word.

Notice I didn’t call it a funny story. Even then, we knew we were scraping the bottom of the barrel if we were going to The Readers’ Digest for humor.

(Which is why God stepped in and invented the Harvard Lampoon…)