Wednesday, January 19, 2011


One of the jokes that gets trotted out at most events on my side of the family goes like this:

A man is sitting at home when he hears the doorbell ring. He opens the door and it’s the Western Union guy.
“Telegram!” the Western Union guy says.
“Is it a singing telegram?”
“No, just a regular telegram.”
“I’ve always wanted a singing telegram. Could you sing this one for me?”
“No, sir. I really don’t think you want me to sing this particular telegram.”
“But I’ve never had a singing telegram before.”
“No. Really. I couldn’t.”
“I’ll give you twenty bucks if you’ll sing me my telegram.”
“Well, okay. Here you go: Bum-bum-bum-bum – your sister ROSE is DEAD! … “

And we all laugh uproariously, every time.

Nobody sings that last bit quite the same as anyone else, either. We slide up or slide down, with different pitches and rhythms, and it makes it just that much more entertaining.  And no matter who sings it precisely how, your own tune then gets stuck in your head for the next few days and you find yourself sitting at traffic lights or standing in grocery lines humming that one little refrain and trying not to cackle maniacally because, seriously, how could you explain that to a judge and not end up in a quiet cell medicated to the gills?

Humor - it's a dangerous thing.

Somehow this joke came up at dinner tonight, and thus I found myself explaining to my children just what on earth a “telegram” was.

They’d never heard of it.

On the one hand, I can kind of understand this. Telegrams were obsolete technology even when I was their age, and that was decades ago. I’m not even sure Western Union exists anymore, or if they do whether they still actually deliver telegrams at all, let alone singing ones. Seriously – we can send photographs instantly without wires to our music players these days. What space is there left in our communication sphere for telegrams?

On the other hand, it’s kind of sad to see telegrams go the way of rotary phones and sealing wax. I spent a portion of my freshman year of college delivering singing telegrams, which most people enjoyed getting and the rest were willing to put up with, no matter what I had interrupted – and on a college campus, that covers a lot of ground, especially since most of these were for special events anyway. Some of those events were awfully special.

I don’t even know how you would translate that joke into modern terms. What form of communication could you use to get that set-up other than a telegram?

At least it was a good history lesson.

And we still think it’s funny.

1 comment:

Beatrice Desper said...

Issam and I got a telegram on our wedding day. I was disapppointed that it wasn't special delivered. It came by the USPS.

As for humor, it's one of the last things in me to change. Being in the land of many stinky cheeses (as opposed to your cheeses)for so long, I now think physical humor is funny. The Three Stooges, bring it on!