What a Joke

the maddening serendipity of what works

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by Joe Váradi

Now that I’ve reached the minor milestone of 100 readers applauding one of my stories, I’ve also arrived at a minor existential crisis of sorts.

Why that particular post?

Why that one?

Seems rather serendipitous.

Over the past year and change, I’ve translated into English and published on Medium over two dozen works of poetry — a time consuming labor of love — and written another three dozen original poems. In addition, personal essays, rants, news analysis, political satire — over 150 posts in all.

And the piece that goes viral(ish) is, wait for it — a joke.

Ok, it’s a bit more than that.

It’s a joke I’ve told many times for over a decade, tweaking and refining the delivery, plus the story of how and where I first heard it.

It is a punchline wrapped in flash fiction wrapped in personal history.

And to be truthful, I am proud of it, as I am proud of everything I publish, because I know I put in the effort, mulled over each word choice, each phrasing, each punctuation.

The real kicker — the punchline about the punchline, if you will — is that I didn’t write it in a vacuum. I wrote three very similar pieces within the span of five days. Roughly the same length, same structure — a personal anecdote setting the stage for the joke — and similar suggestive action-oriented cover photos.

One really took off. The other two did okay, then faded into obscurity.

Here they are, in the order published:

So now, with the hindsight and perspective of four months, this jocular ménage à trois presents a neat little case study in what makes a story stand out from a crowd of peers. You may see something I don’t, but I’ll venture to make the following observations:

  • Of the three jokes, “Ski Lift” — the winner — uses a scenario to set the scene that perhaps more readers can personally relate to than the other two;
  • The contained joke is the cleanest, and ends with emotional catharsis, whereas the other two take a steady descent into vulgarity;
  • It was published on a Wednesday — maybe there’s something about hump day and reader engagement?
  • Ann Litts gave it her stamp of approval early on — could it be that she is my lucky charm … ?

Beats me …

Written by

Editor of No Crime in Rhymin' and Language Lab | the Woke Bloke ..."come for the sarcasm, stay for my soft side"

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