You’re inside your house, or you’re inside an office, and suddenly, someone knocks. [knock, knock] You don’t know who it could be, so you ask, … “Who’s there?”
This is the way we start a classic American joke, called the knock-knock joke.
The knock-knock joke requires participation on the part of the listener. The joke-teller starts by saying, “Knock, knock.” During the joke, the listener has to respond twice. You can ask any American you know, “Knock, knock,” and he or she will play along with you because they’ve been doing this since their childhood.
To demonstrate, I’m going to ask one of our camera crew to help me with a joke. [Chris], thanks for helping me. Everyone, this is [Chris]. So, here we go.
Alan: Knock, knock.
Chris: Who’s there?
Chris: Boo who?
Alan: Why are you crying?
Now, if you didn’t understand the joke, there will be an explanation on our website as well as some of my favorite knock-knock jokes for you to try on your friends.
The structure of a knock-knock joke
The knock-knock joke has five parts, as you can see above: 1. the joker, 2. the recipient, 3. the joker, 4. the recipient, 5. the joker. Line 1. is the invitation to participate in the joke, and line 5. is the punchline.
The logic of a knock-knock joke
If someone knocks (or telephones), you can answer by asking who it is. If the caller only gives a first name, that might not be enough information for you to know the person, so you ask “[name] who?” In a knock-knock joke, the answer is a surprising twist on what the listener thinks of the name or word given.
What’s So Funny?
In the joke above, the listener expects the meaning to be something scary because “boo” is what ghosts say to frighten you suddenly. The word “who?” in the response also sounds like “hoo”—which is the way English speakers represent crying: boo-hoo. When I give the punchline, Chris turns away and says the joke is terrible. This is an appropriate cultural response, signaling that the listener thought the joke was a little bit funny, but also a little bit corny. “Corny” means silly or unsophisticated. Other appropriate responses to corny jokes would be rolling the eyes or groaning (as if in pain).
Knock-knock jokes are popular with children. Jokes are great tools to teach children the social and cultural ritual of joke-telling. They also teach children that some words can sound alike but have different meanings.
Some examples knock-knock jokes
Ada. (pronounced /eida/)
Ada burger for lunch. (I ate a burger for lunch.)
Alaska to see if she knows the answer. (I’ll ask her to see….)
Canoe. (pronounced /ka’nu/)
Canoe help me with my homework? (Can you help me…?)
[Joker doesn't give the punchline but instead starts the joke again:]
[Joker repeats this until the listener starts to get annoyed that the joke keeps repeating without end. Then, the joker tells the final version like this:]
Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana” again? (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say…?)
Here is a website with many clever knock-knock jokes: http://www.funology.com/knock-knock-jokes/. If you don’t understand some of them, ask your American friends or co-workers to explain them to you.