October 1, 2008

Inside Joke

When I was a young, impressionable kid, there was this silly Maxwell House (I think) coffee ad on television. This was the mid-80s so I'm working off of memory and I know my details are shakier than an OJ alibi but here's what I remember:

A middle class home, middle class family, middle class clothes. It must have been after dinner or during breakfast because the entire family was seated around the kitchen table drinking big steaming cups of coffee. Someone made a positive comment about the coffee. Or maybe pointed out that it was decaf. The head of the household, hearing whatever comment had just been made, states, deadpan, "well, I guess I need a bigger mug."

Okay, okay. I'll admit, that sounds about as funny as Al Gore doing stand-up (I saw last comedy tour - called An Inconvenient Truth - but honestly, I thought the punchlines were weak and, frankly, it was a little too risque for my taste. Gore shouldn't work blue.). But the humor of the ad really came from the way in which the "bigger mug" line was delivered. Or maybe we were just high. Still, it cracked my parents and I up and became a go-to inside joke. If you were hungry in my house? You need a bigger mug. Need more of anything? I'll get you a bigger mug. Want more, uh, coffee? Let's find a bigger mug. Okay, the humor still isn't obvious but that's what makes an inside joke an inside joke. Trust me, it was funny.

Sometimes, though, I wonder how the bigger mug joke managed to survive the last twenty years, especially in the face of some other opportunities for potentially better inside jokes. Like the time my dad rushed out of the house in order to face off against the SWAT team. It was an uneven match since he was armed only with one powdered sugar doughnut. There was also that time he locked his keys in his car. Sadly, it was running. He went after the back window with an axe. The neighbors might have thought he was a little nuts. Once, a big jug of acid for our pool spilled in the backseat of my dad's Buick Land Yacht and I got to spend the better part of a year siting back there literally watching the road pass underneath us through the hole in the floor. Now that I think about it, my dad could have been single-handedly responsible for lots of good inside jokes but, for some strange reason, for years and even today, that bigger mug thing remains are go-to family inside joke.

I'm personally of the opinion that every family has an inside joke or two. What are yours?

Posted by Chris at October 1, 2008 6:15 AM

A month ago, or so, my sisters and I were working to move the youngest of us into her University dorm. We were getting tired, and a bit cranky, so I tried to perk us up a bit - "Hey, but when we get these last boxes upstairs, we can have pizza!" (Yeah, dorky enthusiasm included.)
I can't remember what my sister said, but it was something mocking my ebullient comment, to which I replied, "Oh come on, I'm just staying positive!"
"Yeah," she said, "And I'm just staying funny."
That one's lasted a while so far ;) A little while afterwards, my other sister had as her facebook status, "Bev is staying funny." So it will make us giggle for a while to come, I think!

Posted by: Heather at October 1, 2008 6:31 AM

There's a Southern comedian, James Gregory, who talks about stupid warning labels on products. He has a bit about a can of shaving cream having a warning on it that it's flammable and not to use in a fire. And he says, "You know what that means? Sometime in the past, some nut said to his wife, 'Honey, I think I'll shave sitting in the fireplace." He has several bits like that, and so my parents and I, whenever something stupid is said on the news or in public, look at each other and go, "You know what that means? Sometime in the past..."

Posted by: Stephanie at October 1, 2008 7:01 AM

One time when my parents were in Cozumel, there was this woman who would call EVERYONE "Honey" in a very loud, squeely high pitched voice. Needless to say, this tends to get repeated in our household quite frequently... Cracks us up every time.

Also, the stereotypical making-fun-of-Canadian's by putting "eh?" on the end of every sentance... Because we met a group of Canadians down at a timeshare we had at New Smyrna Beach who would put eh on the end of everything they say, and by the end of the week, you'd find yourself saying eh on everything, as well.

Posted by: secha at October 1, 2008 7:01 AM

when we set the time to "meet" (i met my wife on the internet) 8 years ago... we met at a shop she "said" was on Ford Rd..which at rush hour can be VERY busy... she gave me intersections within a mile of each other... one being the main street i lived off of... i drove up and down mile 6 TIMES in RUSH hour, and even went past on the one street cuz I wasn't sure what was past it... because for the life of me i never saw the shop..needless to say I was LATE... i stopped at a gas station located on one of the aforementioned corners...and called information for the number and had them connect me... when they asked where i was, i told them very STERNLY that i was on one of the main street corners of the street they "should" have been located on!!! she told me the restaraunt they were located next to... which was NOT on the street i had just spent the last 45 minutes going up and down, had never been to, and had no clue where it was located... she said "come down to Warren"... just a 1/2 mile away... not only did I spend 45 minutes up and down that road.. my wife did too.. only to go home and was gonna stay there (called the information and told them they were lying when they told her it was on Warren)found the card for the shop... to see that information was right, and was not gonna venture out again cuz she was like and hour or more late... her friends encouraged her to go anyway... and here we are ... and the standing joke is... "is it on Ford Road? we'll never get there!" or "it must be on Ford Road!"

Posted by: the unicorn at October 1, 2008 7:18 AM

My dad is a minister. A fairly liberal one, but a man of the cloth nonetheless. And, he has a deep appreciation for Church architecture. On road trips, didn't matter where we were or where we were going, if we passed a church, he'd point it out to us. "Look kids, there's the Catholic church." "Look kids, there's the Baptist church." Etc. So we tease him about it now. I knew my husband could be part of the family when on a road trip with my parents he piped up, "Look Fred (my dad's name), there's the United church" as we passed a church...

In my husband's family, my father-in-law is a lovely, goofy man, who will frequently come across as not too bright. We were playing Euchre one night, when my FIL made a particularly dumb move that blew the game. He was my partner and when I complained to him, he said to me, "Well, the sun's gone down, what do you expect?" We all looked at him quizzically and I sputtered, "What? Are you solar powered?" and so now the inside joke is that my FIL is solar powered... again, really only funny if you're in on it.

Posted by: suze at October 1, 2008 7:48 AM

I honestly cannot think of any... but I had a weird childhood, so... it doesn't surprise me. I guess it's fair though, my closest friend and I have enough inside jokes to make up for my humorless family.

Posted by: Sarah at October 1, 2008 8:07 AM

My two sisters and I are the most unathletic trio you will ever meet (but we were cheerleaders so that must count for some athleticism..) anyway, we used to play wiffle ball when our families got together camping and in one game when one of us managed to catch the ball it was revealed that she was "the athletic one" which I think had 12 people including children on the ground laughing. Now when we're all together there's usually a mention of the "athletic one" followed by "but at least I'm the pretty one"!
I grew up in the town we live in...Main Street becomes North Main Street. At the monument you can either curve right onto Mapleview or (ok) turn left (with no stop sign for you) and then at the stop sign turn right onto (wait for it) North Main Street Extension. Giving my husband directions when we first moved there I said keep on North Main at the monument and then turn right so he headed to the right. I was all "nonono! Stay on North Main Street!" He likes to remind me about my direction giving skills when we drive that way together.

Posted by: NancyJak at October 1, 2008 8:10 AM

I can think of two. One is when my family was driving somewhere (probably Six Flags) when my dad mentioned something about a "berm" (you know, a buildup of dirt that creates sort of a barrier). For whatever reason, we found the word hilarious, and even funnier that he insisted on using it. It of course, isn't even funny thinking about it now. But I remember we used to erupt in giggles and shout out "berm", or his other favorite word "tarmac".

The other is more obvious. On a family vacation we went to this church in Iowa and the priest used a metaphor that, to this day, will never be forgotten. I can't remember the point of his sermon, but it was how something was "like a burr on the pantleg of life". That would get us laughing until crying for years afterward.

Posted by: Amy at October 1, 2008 8:45 AM

My sisters and I overheard someone after a Fourth of July fair scream out, "Tootsie's car is in your mother's driveway." And somehow that became the in thing to say.

And then Beth and I were in the car with my mom, and Mom gets cut off by some asshat coming out of TGIFridays. "Excuse me, you dink," she shouts out the window, which of course becomes our new favorite exclamation.

My favorite, though, is my husband and I, before we were married, drove from San Francisco to Vancouver and then across country to move to DC. When we were driving somewhere in the Northwest of our beautiful country, we came to Yachats. I think in North CA. They had those crazy banners on all of the streets emphasizing what a wonderful town it was. They all said "La Di Dah, Yachats." You'd be surprised at how often people still say La Di Dah. And the two of us turning to each other and mouthing "Yachats" still reminds me of our great two months being nomads. Especially now, where we haven't had much of a vacation in years, and haven't camped since that trip, 6 years ago.

Posted by: Jeanne at October 1, 2008 9:33 AM

My wife is not too good with directions. One day while at the Museum of Civilizations, she suggested we walked to the Coffee Time for a coffee and muffin. "It's right around the corner, 5 minutes away!" she said. "It's 4km away!" I replied. It is 4km away.

So now when we have to go somewhere, it's always "right by the Coffee Time".

Posted by: Mike at October 1, 2008 9:34 AM

well this is a little horrible looking back on it, but at the time (and yes, now, because we do still say it occasionally) it was pretty funny.

My brother was always the "good" one and I was always convinced growing up that my mom loved him more etc etc. But there was one joke my mom would do that was kind of anti-brother and so of course, I loved it.

If he said something a little dumb or stuttered or forgot what he was going to say (or anything like that) my mom would look solemnly at me and say, "Don't make fun of him Cassandra, it's probably the brain op..." and then hold her hand up to her mouth as though she'd let something slip (implying that my brother had had a secret brain operation at some point). Or if I got to it first I would say it to her. For some reason my mom and I always thought it was hilarious and it would put my brother into a rage almost every time (which of course just made us laugh even more because it was so ridiculous).

Posted by: Cassandra at October 1, 2008 9:37 AM

My younger sister and I have a few:

For a few years, my younger sister lived with my uncle and I lived with my grandmother. We used to get to school extra early, before the building even opened, so we could see each other. We maintained the ritual through all seasons. It was a sad time for us, but those mornings together were special. We would tell each other stories, etc. My sister told a story using different voices that ended with "Mac give me a hamburger!" We still laugh whenever we hear/say that line even though we can't remember the rest of the story. It could mean you're talking too much, you need cheering up, or I'm hungry.

When we were in grammar school, my mother was taking us to the movies one Saturday. It was the 70s and my sister was wearing a highly sought after jelly jacket. She was skipping along as we walked singing "I have a jelly jacket." My older sister and I told her that it was really called a condom. (We didn't know what it meant, but we knew it was bad.) She starts skipping around us singing "I have a condom." Needless to say we didn't get to see a movie that day. "I have a jelly jacket" can mean just about anything, including I need to laugh, I'm lying to you, so clueless, stopping being a pest, etc.

The last one is a family joke. One Christmas eve my mother decided at the last minute that we should attend midnight mass since my older sister was singing in the choir. Some family members had been imbibing and should have been left at home, but my mother insisted that everyone attend. During a lull in the service, my tipsy cousin sits up from his slumped position, points to the alter, and starts laughing and saying loudly on repeat "that tree has blue balls. It has BLUE BALLS." A friend of the family starts laughing uncontrolably. "That tree has blue balls" can mean I'm frustrated, you're an ass, etc. and always makes us laugh.

Nice post, Chris.

Posted by: Maria at October 1, 2008 9:46 AM

Magic music. I'm not sure how it started, exactly, but one time we were at a Mexican restaurant and I started doing magic tricks for my parents in time to the Latin music. And by magic tricks, I mean showing them a knife, holding up my cloth napkin, and obviously putting the knife in my lap. That kind of thing. So now every time we hear Latin music, we all say, "MAGIC MUSIC!!" and just burst out laughing. It's awesome.

There are many others but I can't think of them now.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at October 1, 2008 9:48 AM

If you want to get my Mom and her sisters going, all you have to say is "Poor old Ken doesn't have a head!"

Posted by: Sandy at October 1, 2008 9:49 AM

I have a really goofy family, and although we all seem pretty buttoned up, we're actually pretty freaking nuts. GOD we have so many one liners and inside jokes....but here's one that about sums it up:

My sister and I have birthdays about a week apart, and we are also very close- my sister marches to the beat of her own drum and is pretty outspoken while I'm a little quieter and tend to think like my parents. We've each always been this way, and it matters to the story (seriously, she used to call family meetings to discuss situations she perceived as a problem and make the rest of us sit through it and discuss). So generally speaking, now that we're all grown up, we celebrate both birthdays together. Well my Mom is pretty sensitive to getting screwed out of your own birthday (since hers is so close to Christmas) so she at LEAST makes sure to give us different cards. This one year in particular, I think it was the birthday before last, so we were turning 29 and 32, my parents gave up our birthday cards. Mine was to a "Wonderful" daughter, and my sisters was to a "Special" daughter. Harmless right?

Well my sister immediately wanted to know why she was the "special" one, and I was the "wonderful" one, and she actually got a little worked up about it, which my parents and I thought was hilarious. So from now on, my sister will always be the "Special" one in our family. ;)

Posted by: chatty cricket at October 1, 2008 9:50 AM

Blue Squirrels

When I was about 7, and white pants were all the rage, I wore a pair of white pants to school. Upon returning home, my mother and sister died laughing and starting pointing at my pants. APPARENTLY, I had worn my undies with blue squirrels print all over them under my white cotton pants. They were so glaringly obvious once they pointed them out.

So, from then on (even to this day), if someone's undies are hanging out, showing through, or in any other way inappropriate, you just say.....BLUE SQUIRRELS. That was over 25 years ago.

Posted by: Jen at October 1, 2008 9:53 AM

My brother has three nipples. Not really an inside joke but it is funny.

Posted by: William at October 1, 2008 9:54 AM

I swear we are related....I too as a child had a car that you could see the pavement in...that car went on to be my first car.lol I think the most enduring joke in our family has to do with Mums. When I was little my dad bought my mom some mums to plant in the fall. for this joke to make sense yo'll have to know that my father was a telephone guy and came home with free crap all the time...via the garbage dumpster at a site or guys giving him things.
so the day that my dad came home with mums for my mom she asked....did those fall off the back of a truck at work? needless to say he was pissed but we still laugh about it 20 years later

Posted by: becky at October 1, 2008 10:10 AM

My best friend in college used to respond to any insult/criticism with, "well, your forehead (fill in the blank)." So, say you tell her that that yellow shirt just doesn't work well with her skin color. Her response: well, your forehead doesn't go well with your skin tone.

So, fast forward to ten years later. I now respond to every insult with "well, your forehead (fill in the blank)." My husband...does not think this is funny. But my sister had my husband and I fill out these surveys right before we got married and under favorite body part both of us put forehead!

And, just like everyone else is saying, this isn't nearly as funny in the retelling.

Posted by: NGS at October 1, 2008 10:24 AM

Before we get into this, you need to remember that I live in the boonies where people kill furry things for dinner. (Which I'm totally cool with, btw. For the record. Don't shoot me, hunters.)

Okay, onward.

My father was an old-fashioned man with many old-fashioned turns of phrase that he would pull out at any opportunity. One of his favorites, which he let loose whenever he thought we were being ungrateful, was, "I bust my aggots for you kids and you don't even appreciate it!"

One day we were driving down the road during hunting season and passed a deer tagging station. Except the "T" had fallen off the sign, so it read "agging station." My sister said quietly, "That must be where Dad goes to get his aggots fixed." And we all died.

Any mention of aggots or agging stations results in sheer hilarity. And I think of him every time I see a tagging station sign.

Was that story too country? Sometimes I can't tell.

Posted by: Alias Mother at October 1, 2008 10:31 AM

My mother has a lousy sense of humour. She'd often tell us some story that happened at work, about something funny and either miss the punchline or screw it up. Not to worry - she'd punctuate every story by ending "and we all stood around laughing!" while making this hand gesture that can be best described as 'jazz hands'.

Nowadays whenever my sister or my husband or I tell a story that is marginally funny or no one gets, we rush to do 'jazz hands' and add "and we all stood around laughing!"

Posted by: Jacqueline at October 1, 2008 10:48 AM

When my dad was about six years old a girl who lived across the street from him showed him her underpants. For some reason he has always remembered that Judy Blank (I won't put her name here in case some family member reads your blog and would be mortified) has a birthday exactly one week after his. So when his birthday is coming, we don't talk about his birthday, we say that it's almost Judy Blank's birthday and then we all trash her for being the tramp of his first grade class. One year I even found my dad a birthday card with a picture of a little girl lifting her dress to show a little boy and the boy looking horrified. He about died laughing and I think he still has the card.

Sounds so stupid to write it down, but we tend to think it's the height of hilarity.

Posted by: donna at October 1, 2008 10:57 AM

We recite lines from Fawlty Towers (amongst others) in my family. There is also the 'it depends what you mean by xxx' line, which is down to my grandpa. My stepdad was encouraging my sister to eat the skins on the potatoes, saying 'that's where all the goodness is, isn't that right Grandpa?'. My scientist grandpa launched into a discussion of 'it depends what you mean by goodness' and whether potato skins were good for you etc etc.

Posted by: Katherine at October 1, 2008 11:18 AM

one time my mother got extremely pissed at us kids for something....broken window, stolen bike, who knows, but she tried to scream and flick us off, but it ended up coming off wrong and it looked more a messed up Italian (hand under the chin f you)...but not. we of course cracked up- making her even more pissed. Us kids, all grown up, use this hand gesture, and the one the Gellars (on Friends) use, knocking fisted hands together? My mom even cracks up now.

And then there is also what I do with my kids...when one asks why they can or cant do something when their brother or sister can? I say, because I love them more...it stops them dead in their tracks, makes them think for a sec and makes them laugh...

Posted by: shannon at October 1, 2008 12:01 PM

"It's the least I could do." Whenever we do something sort of nice for one another and get complimented. Someone said it at a funeral of a relative, and they'd done pretty much NOTHING helpful, so that's our go-to.

That, and we were fond of making up words. The best one is "burrzen." Meaning, brr, it's freezing outside. We did grow up in Minnesota after all.

Posted by: k8 at October 1, 2008 12:37 PM

You caused me to write my own blog post about this today - thanks for the memories. I had a good chuckle.

Posted by: Sharon at October 1, 2008 1:40 PM

Ok, not so much an inside joke as an obsession of being utterly silly and goofy! We like to do dialogue from movies. My husband and I like to do several lines of dialogue (or a scene) from Forrest Gump, Top Gun or Zoolander. There are more but those are the ones that come to mind. Depending on the situation or time of day. We look and sound silly but it keeps us amused. :)

Posted by: Julie Andel at October 1, 2008 2:12 PM

When we were younger we were sitting at the table eating dinner. My brother (he was about 5 or 6 at the time) asked, "Can I have the Al sauce?" He wanted the A1 sauce... but to a 6 year old it looked like Al. So now whenever we go anywhere to eat someone has to say, "I hope they have Al sauce."

Another time at dinner my father and I were bantering back and forth and messing around. I pointed my fork at him and said, "Fork you!" My mother was horrified, but to this day if someone is being a pain, we'll hold up a fork and just glare at each other.

Posted by: Kate at October 1, 2008 2:30 PM

Hot dogs.

Although, quite frankly, we have a bunch, and usually they revolve around someone's misunderstood hearing.

But my dad, who is hard of hearing was always good for a laugh:

Me: Where are you going?
Dad: No thanks, I ate at the club."

Posted by: statia at October 1, 2008 4:16 PM

"He's jumping-off-the-roof-smart."

After my brother's stupid friend who decided jumping off the patio cover into the pool wasn't cool enough - he had to one-up everyone and jump from the roof.

Once it was determined that he was ok, my dad threw him up against the wall and threatened his life if he did anything stupid like that again.

I can't remember his name, but I do know when I ran into him somewhere - I said "I'm Richie's little sister - and YOU are jumping-off-the-roof-smart!"

Posted by: Mindy at October 1, 2008 4:34 PM

My brother(6), myself(4), my parents and grand parents were driving in the car in Edmonton. There was some sort of sign with a big bear on it. My brother made quite a big deal about this bear. we all talked about it for a few minutes then went on to a new subject. About 15 minutes later my grandfather made a comment about the bear. my brothers response... what bear? ever since then, if someone forgets something in a short period of time, we all look at eachother and say "what bear?"

Posted by: kari at October 1, 2008 6:59 PM

My brother(6), myself(4), my parents and grand parents were driving in the car in Edmonton. There was some sort of sign with a big bear on it. My brother made quite a big deal about this bear. we all talked about it for a few minutes then went on to a new subject. About 15 minutes later my grandfather made a comment about the bear. my brothers response... what bear? ever since then, if someone forgets something in a short period of time, we all look at eachother and say "what bear?"

Posted by: kari at October 1, 2008 6:59 PM

Every year my grandma requests Christmas lists from all 28 of us in September or October. 2 years ago my uncle Mike had asked for a set of red wine glasses. Grandma then spent the next three months searching for Red colored red wine glasses! She ended up buying clear wine glasses and apologized to Mike on Christmas Day for not being able to get him what he wanted. Last year we found a set of red, red wine glasses and gave them to her as a gag gift.

Posted by: Colleen at October 1, 2008 7:41 PM

Ours is the Diversion Queen, it's survived all the way from back in the day to us texting it back and forth to each other nowadays. Started out with a simple misunderstanding over a poster of Queen Elizabeth . . . The Virgin Queen . . . Get it?


Over the years it has developed into this elaborate gotcha game/ritual. Great fun for us. But very lame to all outsiders. : )

Posted by: OS at October 1, 2008 11:41 PM

During our first time at a rental ski house with now-husbands family, we went into the house after the long 5-6 hour drive, and the pipes were frozen. My now father in law yelled out, very seriously, "everyone, grab a vessel!" None of us had a clue as to what he was talking about, it took him a few times of saying the same thing and finally explained to grab a bucket, etc. He was shocked that we had no idea what he meant. And to this day we bust on him for it. He still doesnt think it's very funny, but we all do.

Posted by: Danielle at October 2, 2008 12:45 AM

It's actually from my botching a Bill Hicks joke from back in the day about smoking. I tried to tell my uncle, but I was laughing too hard and only croaked out "Smurfs!" He eventually saw the bit, but still will randomly say "Smurfs!" and pretend to laugh hysterically 20 years later.

Ah, family. But it was good practice for my own standup.

Posted by: alektra at October 2, 2008 5:59 AM

I was on my way to Orlando to meet up with my family five years ago. I'm not the greatest with directions. Ok, Ok, I get lost in my own neighborhood. So needless to say, I got lost. Frustrated and tired, I called them to say, "I'm going home!" "You're going home?" My Mom asked. "But you're IN Orlando!" "Yeah, but the only place I know how to get back to is home. So, I'm leaving." Thankfully, they didn't let me. They met me off the road somewhere. But to this day they always warn me, even if I'm just going to the gas station, "Now, don't go home until you get there, Ok?"

Posted by: Tink at October 2, 2008 9:05 AM

Ours is from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which my dad let us watch starting in infancy, to my mother's total disgust, which is sort of its own family joke, I guess. She still gets all pissed off anytime we talk about how we were allowed to watch this SICK movie and every sick part just went right over our heads. We thought the whole thing was a riot!)

For some stupid reason, we often ask, "you didn't weigh the chain, did you, Doc?!" It's suprising how often that question actually makes sense in our conversations!

Posted by: Sabrina at October 2, 2008 11:43 AM

One time when my family was flying back from Las Vegas we were in a bookstore and my sister found a book that had different nickname things (sweetie, baby, hunny, stuff like that) in different languages. One of them was me-ya-mor-kov-ka. It meant my little carrot. Sometime while we were on the plane one of us said me ya mor kov ka I want to dip you in ranch and bite you. Then we started laughing a lot. I think there was also a picture involved possibly. You might think it's kind of not funny, but typing it just now made me laugh.

Posted by: Zandor at October 2, 2008 3:52 PM

Ah, yes. I just blogged about them this week...




Have fun!

Posted by: Scattered Mom at October 3, 2008 7:26 PM