Banjo Joke – Not funny?

From Coolhand LukeI read this to my wife last night and she did not laugh. It is therefore either hilarious or outright offensive. You decide!!!

A jazz guitarist and a banjo player are waiting on Death Row.

The warden says to the banjo player, “do you have any last requests before we execute you?” “Yes,” says the banjo player, “I would like to accompany Tom Jones singing The Green Green Grass of Home one last time on my banjo.”

Surprisingly, the warden says OK and then turns to the jazz guitarist and asks, “do you have any last requests?” The guitarist replies, “yes, KILL ME FIRST!!!”

7 thoughts on “Banjo Joke – Not funny?”

  1. That’s a nice clip, I hadn’t heard Steve Martin playing clawhammer before. Old-time banjo does sound less like a machine gun and more like rain falling on a tin roof.

  2. Sorry for rattling on about this, Al. But one last thing before I shut up: I get that there are contexts where a banjo joke is just another nice bit of ammo among friends who all give as good as they get, who will shoot something right back at you as you’re sparring with friendly surface disrespect that builds trust and comfort within the group. I get that it’s a bonding thing and a social lubricant, like “Your mother’s so ugly” does in other contexts. I’m not suggesting that some site administrator should ban banjo jokes, or viola jokes or accordian jokes or drummer jokes or singer/songwriter jokes from musical message boards. I’m just writing about why I think you shouldn’t be surprised if sometimes you let one fly and not everybody is laughing. When I talk about we/they humor, I mean humor that reinforces stereotypes. Which I think ranks with the lowest and cheapest ways of getting laughs. Reminiscent of the now-passe (and it’s about damn time) Polack jokes. I think the good stuff is the humor that turns a stereotype on its ear, that makes you rethink your preconscious biases. Often jokes where the point of view flips toward the end, where the presumed goat of the story lands the killer last line. The banjo jokes that I hear never do that. They reinforce the Deliverance banjo boy image. Which is ironic, because that Deliverance scene itself, in context, was all about turning a stereotype on its ear. The unsmiling, silent kid who looked like his family tree didn’t fork properly, who floored them flat in the impromptu musical duel.

    1. Hello again Joan, thank you for your comments. Burt Reynolds once said that of the hundreds of films he made, the one that everyone remembers him for was Deliverance and of course that banjo music! I hope you get a chance to hear the clip of Steve Martin, his reply is far better than any words I may have on the subject.

  3. Getting back to my friend who plays banjo, most people would probably advise him to lighten up. But people are not all wired the same, and you never know where the sore points are unless you start poking. I think he’d much rather just roll with it, but it’s a genuine effort for him to try. It’s not a rage thing, but he’ll never not be annoyed.

    I don’t think you’re an ass, I just think banjo jokes are a we/they thing that pokes fun at outsiders. Usually. I hear them sometimes from banjo players too, but not that often. We don’t tell we/they jokes about blacks or gays or Polacks, like people used to unrestrainedly, and this feels not identical but related. We choose the musical instruments we play. That makes it harder to understand how it can get under people’s skin, I think. It just is what it is.

    I have the same first and last name as a dead senator’s troubled ex-wife. People delight in pointing this out to me for some reason, and I don’t exactly mind. But it’s just so unfunny and unoriginal, it gives me a poor first impression of people who bring it up. That’s what I meant by “he’d think you’re an ass,” if that was his first impression of you: making fun of his instrument of choice. I don’t think we/they humor is funny, and it feels like banjo jokes qualify. Some of the same jokes circulate with lawyers as the butt — What’s the difference? Is the difference that lawyers occupy a relatively high social rung, so the teller is an underdog taking a shot at someone higher up? Whereas banjos are associated with the unwashed, inbred and uneducated, not to mention the the boy in Deliverance? I don’t know, but it’s probably worth trying to figure it out. And I haaaaate “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” so the joke was a little bit funny for me.

  4. I don’t play banjo, but I know banjo players who are unhappy at how banjos are most especially considered fair game for dumb jokes. I’m thinking of one sensitive guy everyone turns to look at when someone yet again lets fly with some unfunny banjo gem about the difference between a skunk and a banjo. He says nothing but his face goes red and the vein on his forehead pulses. People who wouldn’t joke about race, rape, religion, sexual orientation or nationality think nothing of straying into banjo land. Most banjo players seem to take the attitude of “I’ll just let it slide and pretend I don’t mind. I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.” Like they just did to him! There’s a fine line between playful and teasing, and a finer line yet between teasing and bullying. Even if the banjo player in the room doesn’t rise to the bait, he probably still thinks you’re an ass.

    1. Thank you for posting Joan. Seriously concerned that I accidentally strayed into banjo land. I can understand your feeling about this, but really once we step out on to a stage we are all fair game. There are also plenty of cheap drummer jokes and I have been insulted more times than I care to remember when I play guitar.

      I know some people think that I am an ass, but in my opinion people who attend bull fights are far worse and genuinely more deserving of criticism, but as yet, my anti bull fighting thread has been largely ignored by nearly every visitor to this site. Oh by the way, what do you call a thousand banjos at the bottom of the sea? Answers please (on a post card)!

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