Stop me if you've heard this one...

Hi SD,

What do you do in this situation? I am a joker/comedian in my daily life, and I know a lot of jokes. There’s usually a good chance I’ve heard a joke before.

So say someone tells me “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” They start the joke, and I immediately recognize it.

If I don’t say anything and laugh obediently at the end, I’ve wasted both our time. It’s also possible that if I don’t laugh hard enough the joke teller might be insulted. I’ve also explicitly disobeyed the person’s request to stop him/her. By even saying this, the person must value their time…they don’t want to waste time telling a joke that the audience has heard before.

If I do say I know the joke, it leaves that awkward moment where the jokester feels like they’ve failed and have nothing left to offer. They say something like “Yeah, isn’t that funny?” but are now possibly upset that you, the listener, rejected their honest attempt at entertainment. They feel embarrassed and ashamed that something they thought was innovative and clever and new is something that they happened upon late in the game, making them appear out of touch. The awkwardness may grow into resentment because already 3 minutes of a joke, and the subsequent plans for followup conversation about the joke, have gone to shit. The jokester has not prepared to talk about something else so quickly!

So Dopers, how do you resolve this situation? I realize this is stupid, but it came up today where I had to break the bad news to someone that I’ve heard his joke before. The conversation resolved into a sticky morass of awkwardness that never quite recovered.



Well, can you flip it? “I have heard that and it reminds me of this one. Have you heard this?” Keeps the conversation moving along, maybe gives them the chance to think of another joke while you’re telling yours.

As always with conversation, the first question is whether the person is serious, or just saying the expected words. The right answer to the question depends on tht.

e.g. when somebody asks “How are you?”, that’s conversational filler. They don’t really want to know you about your bunions & hemorrhoids. They want you to day “Fine. And you?” With that little conversational lubricant out of the way, you both can proceed into the meat of the convo. Or part ways, if the whole meeting was just chance and pro forma. OTOH, when your mother asks “how are you?”, she probably really wants to know how those bunions are doing.

Answering Mom like you would a receptionist or vice versa is a faux pax.

So when some amatuer jokester says “Stop me if you’ve heard this”, your job is to decide whether he means it or not. Getting this wrong is the cause of your problems.

Since you’re a pro, you could think a bit on how to riff on this question to humorously determine if he’s serious. Like let him get about 2 syllables into the joke, say “I’ve heard it. But you’re telling it wrong.” and see how he/she reacts. As you can see, I suck at humor. But you can probably see where I’m trying to go with this. A funny interruption could trigger a telling response and now you know how to proceed.

Heck, maybe as soon as he says “Stop me if y” yell “Stop” right there waving your arms madly.
And as I’m sure you know, you’re going to spend a lot of your life listening to badly told tiresomely familiar stale jokes. Just suck it up. In my line I get to listen to the same stale tales told at every cocktail party or whatever. Over and over ad nauseum. It’s just the circle of life; each of us trying to provide relevant conversation to folks we don’t really know about stuff we don’t really understand.

The smoothest thing I’ve seen people do in this situation is say “I have, but keep going anyway” and if you are prepared to white lie a little you can say “It’s been ages since I’ve heard it” or “remind me how it goes” or something.

This gives the joke teller options; they can stop if they want but you’ve also given them permission to go on if they want. And if you don’t laugh too hard at the end they are going to understand why.

It often goes, “Okay, three men and a nun…”

“Oh, I know that one!”

“Right! It ends with the bathtub ring, right?”

Let’s face it, when you’ve heard a couple of metric tons of jokes, you can usually get by with the punch-line alone.

(Or the joke number. “771.”)

Its an awkward situation. We have all been there. What matters is the presentation. If they are a good joke teller, enjoy the moment. If they are not, move to a different table.

If in a group audience, I keep my mouth shut. If it’s a one on one joke delivery?

“Twenty dollars, same as in town!”

I don’t need a disclaimer. I agree that it’s a waste of both of your time and that it’s awkward, so I cut it short.

Reminds me of an old Mad Magazine pictorial article by Dave Berg, “The Lighter Side of Dentists”. A patient is wasting his and the doctor’s time by telling one dentist joke after another, to which the dentist responds by politely chuckling. After the third or fourth joke, the dentist says:

"Say, you’re really a funny guy. That’s the first time I’ve heard those jokes . . .


It’s a judgment call.

If it’s one on one I lean towards stopping him. However if he’s a better comic than I am I’ll let him go to hear his version.

In a group let him go because I don’t know if the others have heard it. However if I know he botches jokes I might step in and take over at that point.

The beauty of this approach is that it allows the joke-teller to put his or her own spin on the telling of it. So, even though you’ve heard it, you haven’t heard told by Jim! Everybody wins, theoretically.

This is true. “Remind me how it goes” is probably the most diplomatic answer. You’re not admitting how much you know of the joke, plus you’re letting the joke teller take control. It’s putting you, the listener, in a voluntarily subservient position. Also, it’s fun to hear the way a joke can become completely a new story except for the punchline you know. In other words, the setup can be completely different from what you know and can be amusing in itself. You need look no farther than the Aristocrats for proof that the setup can make the joke. Some of the best jokes have laughter before the punchline, preferably several times before the punchline.

In my opinion, a joke isn’t always about being fresh and making the other person laugh, though they usually are best when they’re new and funny. Sometimes a joke gets an interesting twist in a particular context or with a particular telling. Sometimes the joke itself isn’t all that funny but the context in which it’s given makes it amusing. After all, isn’t that how inside jokes and recurring jokes work?

I also consider the whole “Have you heard this before?” as, like someone said upthread, akin to “what’s up?” in that the response isn’t necessarily yes or no, though it does give you an out, I suppose, if you recognize it and don’t like it or think they’re doing a bad job. And that’s how I approach it, if I’ve heard a joke, sometimes I still want to hear it, sometimes I don’t. And if I don’t, I’ll throw out the punchline and play off of it or the like.

Aren’t you overthinking this a lot? I doubt such a situation involves any embarrassment on either side. Personnally, I’ll tell the guy I know the joke if I’m alone with him, let him tell it if there are other people besides us. It never occured to me that anybody could be the slighest bit bothered if told “yes I know it”. It wouldn’t annoy me at all, in any case.

When I was a kid, I prided myself on knowing tons of jokes, and would often blurt out the punchline for jokes others were telling. I remember my dad observing that very few things require less effort, and have greater benefit, than letting someone tell a joke w/o interruption, and laughing politely. makes the other guy feel good at next to no cost. These days, the only time i’ll stop someone is if I know the joke is going to take a long time to tell, or if it will be off-color or otherwise inappropriate for a particular audience/situation.

You anti-dentite bastard!

I usually let them finish. It is amazing the ways people can find to screw up a good joke. From telling the whole joke, then realizing they have forgotten the punch line, to totally not understanding that the whole joke relies on withholding some piece of information until the end. I’d never stop someone from telling me the “I think I may have run over your cat…” joke, gotta see them make the faces.
So Superman is up on the Empire State Building…

With increasing frequency at work when something is not going to work out for a customer we’ve been saying “Someone has to tell them the cat is on the roof”.

Oh yeah? Well there was once this convention of comedians …

You never know - see one example here.

I would never follow the advocates of saying you haven’t heard it. Who said I lied? Because I’d never, never. Who said I lied to her?