from Success Magazine
The Funniest Stories I've Heard
by Ellis Parker Butler
Every man likes a different kind of story, and I have always got more solid comfort out of Irish stories than out of any other class. I like the story of the baggage master who was called upon to decide whether a tortoise that was being taken home by a traveler could be checked free or came under the head of animals that had to pay a small additional fee, as dogs did. He looked at the strange creature, the like of which he had never seen before, and brought all his past experience to bear on the case. The only rule he had to go by was the one that said dogs must pay, for much was left to the common sense of the baggagemen, and he gave his decision: "Oi niver had t' decoide on wan av thim things before, but dogs pays extry, but does it come in th' classification of dogs Oi dunno." He called the stationmaster, who was also an Irishman. The stationmaster looked at the tortoise. "'Tis not a dog," he said, promptly. "Dogs is dogs, and cats is dogs, and squirrels in cages is dogs, but that there animal is an insect and goes free."
Not Irish, but delightful, is the story of the automobilist who, in making a cross-country tour in Dakota, had the misfortune to have his machine break down. He saw a small house not far off and cut across to it. The only man about the place was a Swede, who was much amused by the sight of the strange rig the automobilist wore. "My friend," said the automobilist, "my machine has had a bad break and I would like to know if you have such a thing as a monkey wrench about here." The Swede looked at the automobilist with greater curiosity than ever, and then laughed. He had met some strange folks and heard some odd things since he had come to America, but this was the worst! "Monkey wranch?" he asked, sarcastically. "I got sheep ranch, and my cousin Ole he got cow ranch, and Meester Ferguson he ban have wan pig ranch, but I tank annywan start monkey ranch in Nord Dakota ban wan fool!"
The story of Tim Hooly, who came to America as an emigrant, is not so bad. He had the Irishman's successful combination of luck, pluck, and industry, and prospered. Everything seemed to come to him that he wanted, and as he gained in wealth people gained in the respect they paid him.'
"'Tis marvelous t' behould," he told a friend shortly after he had been elected alderman, "th' gradation av th' manner av addressin' a man they have in this counthry. For iv'ry station in loife there bes th' proper way t' spake t' him, and 'tis blame near all av thim Oi have had called at me; but fer politeness th' Apiscopalians do take th' cake. Whin Oi was frish landed off av th' steamer from th' ould counthry, 't was glad Oi was t' git a job on th' sewer, and shure Oi was no wan then but a greenhorn, and th' boss adrissed me as such. 'Twas 'Hey, ye Mick, do this,' and 'Hey, ye Mick, do that,' from wan day's end t' th' other.
"And nixt," continued Mr. Hooly, "Oi got t' be th' boss av a gang mesilf, and then 't was 'Tim' here and 'Tim' there, until Oi took a hand in th' contractin', and wan and all adrissed me as Misther Hooly. Thin nixt 'twas nawthin' w'u'd do but Misther Hooly shud run fer alderman, and Oi did, and 't was elicted Oi was, as ye well know, and then 'twas 'th' Honorable Timothy Hooly' be day and be noight, and whin me fortun' grew big and ivery wan knew th' ward wint as Hooly tould it t' go, and th' city wint as th' ward wint, then nawthin' was too good fer Tim, and th' ould lady
fair swelled up wid proide. 'Tim,' she says, ''t is but roight we sh'u'd take th' position in society th' wealth and prominince of us lades folks t' suppose belongs t' us. And th' swell four hundred,' she says, 'all belongs t' th' Apiscopalian church,' she says, 'and so sh'u'd we.' Wid that Oi gave her a look and Oi says: 'Th' Apiscopalian church is not for th' loikes of us, Bridget. Them swells w'u'd be laughin' at us.' But she w'u'd not have no for an answer, so Oi says: 'Well, anny how 't will do no harrum t' thry ut wance, and if they do not show disrespict for th' alderman av th' city, we will see.' So th' nixt Sunday we wint t' th' Apiscopalian church, and th' reciption they gave me was beyand me imagination in th' idolatry av ut. Mebby Bridget had let out t' some wan we was comin'. Oi dunno. But annyway 't was a grand reciption they gave me and beyand anything Oi ixpicted."
"And what was it like, Mr. Hooly?" he was asked.
"We was a bit late loike," said Mr. Hooly, "and as we come in th' front dure what do ye think thim Apiscopalians did? 'T was no 'Mick,' nor 'Tim,' nor yet 'Mr. Hooly' they adrissed me wid, but as they saw who Oi was up jumped th' choir and sings out: 'Hooly, Hooly, Hooly, Lord God Almighty!'"
I hope that story is not sacrilegious, for it was told me by an Episcopalian clergyman.
I do not remember who told me the story of the Irishwoman who was accused of having stolen an iron soap kettle and cracked it so that its usefulness was forever ended. Her defense was that she was innocent on three counts. "Oi have witnesses here, yer honor," she said, "t' prove, first, that Oi niver had th' kittle in me possession; sicond, that Oi returned it t' Mrs. Casey widout a crack in it; and, third, that th' ould kittle was cracked whin Oi sthole it."
I can still get up a laugh for the story of the Chinaman who was going along the street on a chilly winter day, with his bag of soiled linen over his shoulder and the wind blowing his flapping blue blouse, and who met Mrs. Casey carrying a basketful of clothes. John was as polite as a Chinaman always is, and he paused long enough to say pleasantly, "Belly cold today, ma'm." Mrs. Casey looked at him with all the contempt that an Irishman has for a "foreigner." "Belly cold, is it?" she said, scornfully. "Well, ye hay then, if ye tucked yer shirt into yer pants loike a Christian, yer belly w'u'd n't be cold."
I had a friend who took to local missionary work like a fish to water, and it was his pleasure to teach a Chinese class in one of the Sunday schools. It shocked him to hear the Chinamen say, "lice" when they meant "rice," and, as they could not pronounce the "r," he taught his class to call its staple food "ice." It was aesthetic, but, like the man who stole chickens, it might lead to misunderstandings. This man got into court on the charge of chicken stealing, and his lawyer had a good chance of getting him free, but unfortunately the first question asked the prisoner was: "Now, sir, are you the defendant in this case?" The man shook his head angrily. "Defendam? Defendam? No, sir. I ain't no such thing as that. I ain't the defendam. I's the man what stole de chickens."
An absent-minded man met a friend and asked after the health of his family. "They 're all well, thank you," said the friend, "except Martha. She's better than she was, too, I guess. She's dead." "Too bad! Too bad!" said the absent-minded one, and went on his way. A few hours later he ran across his friend again. "Why, how do you do!" he exclaimed, "How are the children?"
"They are still well," said the friend.
"And Martha?" asked the absent-minded one.
"She's -- she's still dead, thank you."
One of the funniest stories ever concocted is the story of the man who entered the restaurant and took a seat at a table and began to read his paper. The waiter came obsequiously, rubbing his hands as all waiters should. The man did not look up, but continued to read his paper.
"Beg pardon, sir; but may I take your order, sir?"
"Yes. Bring me two eggs, one fried on one side and one fried on the other." The waiter went out. In a few minutes he returned and approached the man gently, but with confidence.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, politely, "but would you mind repeating that order, sir?"
"Certainly not," said the man. "I want two eggs. One fried on one side. And one fried on the other." He took up his paper again and continued to read. The waiter was gone ten minutes this time, and when he came out of the kitchen he looked worn and flushed. His brow was creased and he seemed worried. He hesitated, and then boldly took a step toward the man, stopped short, and then went up to him.
"I -- I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but would you mind repeating that order just once more? The cook doesn't seem to understand it."
The man laid down his paper with a patient sigh.
"I want two eggs," he said, slowly and distinctly. "Two eggs. I want one fried on one side. I want the other fried on the other side. Do you understand that?"
The waiter bowed.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Two eggs. One fried on one side. And one fried on the other side. Yes, sir."
He went out of the room repeating the order. He was not gone long. There was a noise like a riot in the kitchen, and the brass-covered door swung open and the waiter fell out on the dining room floor. He picked himself up, looked toward the kitchen and then at the customer, who was calmly reading the second page of his newspaper. Then he brushed off his knees, tried to arrange his coat, which was torn down the back, and walked up to the man at the table with a cringe.
"I beg pardon, sir," he said weakly, "but would you mind changing your order to scrambled eggs? The cook and I have had a little dispute."
There is another story, so old that it is in "Joe Miller's Jest Book," but which I heard and laughed at before I read it there, so I presume I can add it to this collection of venerables. Pat, a hod-carrier, bet Mike that he could carry him in his hod to the top of the eight-story building on which they were working. Mike bet he could not. With difficulty Mike climbed into the hod, and Pat started. Eight stories is a long, hard climb, but Pat made it, and set Mike down on the eighth floor. "I done ut!" he gasped, in triumph. "I own ye done ut, Pat," said Mike; "ye've won th' wager, but whin yer foot slipped there at th' sivinth floor I had hopes."
In the field of pure nonsense I know nothing funnier than "Brick" Pomeroy's introduction to his book, "Nonsense." It is too long to quote, but the desired effect is gained by keeping up the nonsense at great length. It goes somewhat in this manner: "In the first place I did not write this book. And the reason I wrote it was simply this: In 1817, my father owned a large peach orchard in New Jersey. At the same time he owned a yoke of oxen and a large, covered wagon. At this time my uncle lived in Canada, adjoining the town nearest the one he resided in. He owned a span of horses and a garden. There was not then, and it is safe to presume there is not now, any resemblance between the wagon of my father and the garden of my uncle. Why this was so I never knew, as the nurse left the day beforehand, so I determined to adopt the wisest course, thinking it would be the best. The result was all I wished and more. In 1821, the physician moved away, and left the place. My father determined to bind me out to a fine old gentleman whose daughter was in love with a young man who lived with his father down the river which in the springtime was so swollen by the rains that it was important not to cross it in a skiff tied to a buttonwood tree by a chain which cost five dollars at the hardware store on the corner of the street in the village where each Sabbath morning the minister told his many congregation which would have been larger had it not been for the habit so many people had of staying away from all places of good instruction without which not a single person in the village would have been safe for a moment from the members of a band of desperadoes whose retreat was in the bowels of the huge mountain on whose healthy sides the birds sang all day long as if to remind the weary traveler that in all well-regulated families there exists a cause for the effect be it great like the late war which was a fearful struggle on both sides for the original position held by the covered wagon of my father."
But this is getting out of the field of stories I have heard into that of stories I have read, and once I do that I may as well say that the funniest story I ever read was by Mark Twain, and so was the next, and the next, and the next, for even in the realm of pure nonsense he has a better example than that I have given from Pomeroy, in the tale of Jim Blaine's ram, in "Roughing It." I think that all the best stories are by Mark Twain. He is not only, in my opinion, the greatest storyteller for the laugh's sake that we have ever had, but he is the greatest the world will ever have. So long as the present epoch of humor lasts Mark Twain will still be the funniest storyteller, and when the style does change the reverberation of the gigantic laugh he created will keep him in mind, and new humorists will warm his jokes over.