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What’s the worst joke you’ve ever heard?

When I say worst, I mean worst. A joke with no redeeming qualities.

Here’s my contender, from the book “1000 Knock-Knock Jokes for Kids”:

– Knock Knock.
– Who’s there?
– Ann
– Ann who?
– An apple fell on my head.

There’s something beautiful about this one. It’s the clerihew of jokes. Zero cleverness. It lacks any sense of inevitability, in that any sentence whatsoever could work here, as long as it begins with the word “An.”

103 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Possibly not the worst ever, but it has stayed with me since I heard it from my instructor during an undergraduate class in the 1990s: “Statistics is boring, but it does have its moments”

    • Sudip Bose says:

      That reminds me of:

      Q: What question does (Augustin) Cauchy hate to be asked?
      A: “Got a moment?”

      The colleague who told the joke, and I, both found it amusing,
      so to me it’s not really a candidate for “worst ever.”
      Others might disagree!

  2. Radford Neal says:

    In declaring the “worst X”, you have to limit consideration to those X that somebody seems to think are good. Otherwise, the worst joke is “pigs green overboard”. Makes no sense at all…

    By that standard, I think by far the worst joke is “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”.

    You hear people repeating this line from Monty Python all the time. They seem to think it’s funny and clever. I don’t get it. I think lots of people in Spain DID expect the Spanish Inquisition. I mean, after a few public executions, their presence must have been pretty generally known. And of course, the “joke” is deeply offensive, about like “jokes” about the Holocaust. But not offensive in a FUNNY way…

    • Andrew says:

      Radford:

      Interesting point in your first paragraph. I’m reminded of the old math joke about how there are no uninteresting numbers.

    • Kyle C says:

      Sounds like you just don’t like absurdist humor. This is not a bad joke. It’s a burlesque of a phrase that seems to have been common in the 1970s.

      From Wiki:
      This is a recurring sketch always predicated on an unrelated sketch in which one character mentions that they “didn’t expect a Spanish Inquisition!”, often in irritation at being questioned by another. At this point, the Inquisition …. burst into the room to the sound of a jarring musical sting. Ximénez shouts, … “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

      A hotel-booking website is trying a similar thing in ads with the phrase “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” but they’ve bungled what could have been a clever schtick IMHO.

      • Phil says:

        Kyle gave a succinct explanation of the Spanish Inquisition joke, but perhaps it is too succinct.

        AFAIK the origin of the joke is a Monty Python sketch, or (as the Wikipedia article says) a recurring series of sketches. Here is an example, though I’m not sure it’s the first of them.

        I think it’s funny.

  3. zbicyclist says:

    The surgeon comes out to talk to the wife.

    “Your husband survived and his heart and lungs are fine, but he lost both legs and both arms and his face is paralyzed. You’ll have to do everything for him for the rest of his life.”

    The wife is understandably distraught.

    The surgeon then says, “Nah, just kidding. He died.”

  4. Kyle C says:

    I think my dad knew all the worst jokes. I nominate, “What’s that shirt made of?” [Reaches out and feels it.] “Oh, it’s felt.”

  5. BobW says:

    Q: What’s got four legs and chases cats?
    A: Mrs. Katz and her lawyer.

  6. Adam says:

    I had a friend who was a master of the bad jokes.
    Q: What’s brown and sticky?
    A: A stick

    Q: What’s blue and smells like paint?
    A: Blue paint

  7. Seth says:

    Thanks for introducing the concept of a Clerihew. I particularly enjoyed:
    Sir James Dewar
    Is a better man than you are
    None of you asses
    Can liquify gases.

  8. Karl Broman says:

    I think the “an apple fell on my head” joke is _not_ the worst joke. I can see a 6-yr-old laughing her head off at it, and wanting me to repeat it, repeatedly. I think you need to spend more time reading that 1000 jokes book.

    My kids have a similar such book, which contains, “Q: What do trees eat for breakfast? A: Oakmeal.” And that’s not the worst.

  9. jonathan says:

    Worst is also favorite: two penguins sitting on the ice, one turns to the other and says, “Are you wearing a tuxedo?” and the penguin replies, “How do you know I’m not?”

  10. No collection of funniest or unfunniest jokes would be complete without this classic:

    Q: Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer?
    A: Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

    and its corollary:

    There were two peanuts walking down the street. One was assaulted.

  11. Adam says:

    In England, “didn’t expect the Spanish inquisition” is a jokey shorthand for being asked more questions than you expected. That’s why it is supposed to be amusing when the actual Spanish inquisition show up. They are pretty silly characters on top of that. They are making the whole thing ridiculous.

    Anyway, here is a really bad joke. Why are penguins so good on the Internet? Because they behave.

    This was actually on the back of a Penguin biscuit, so somebody was paid for that.

    • zbicyclist says:

      When we parents would question our daughters when they were teens, an eventual response was “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition”, to which I would respond “NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition” followed by “Our weapons are …”, which served to defuse the situation for a bit (all of us being Monty Python fans).

      Of course, the Inquisition eventually continued after we all had a laugh.

  12. Laura says:

    Knock knock
    whos there
    a cow
    a cow who
    a cow jumping over a tree

    This wasn’t funny until my TWO year old son repeated it, straightfaced, to people he’d meet.

  13. Tom says:

    Surely the worst joke of all time has to be the entirety of the British tv series ‘Allo ‘Allo. It lacks cleverness, it has no redeeming features and i was originally intended as comedy. I think that meets Andrew’s criteria.

  14. Njnnja says:

    Q: What’s purple and commutes?
    A: An Abelian grape

    It’s a pun, a math joke, and it usually has to be explained after you tell it. A perfect trifecta for the worst joke ever.

  15. Mark says:

    Pete and Ree Pete were sitting on a bridge. Pete jumped off, who was left?

  16. Ethan Bolker says:

    “No soap radio” from my early adolescence.

  17. jrc says:

    Two strawberries are taking a shower. One strawberry says “Can you pass the soap?” The second strawberry says “Holy S#%@! A talking strawberry!”

    • Rob says:

      The version I heard bordered on funny.
      Two apples are in a microwave which has been turned on. One apple cries, “Oh no! We are going to die!” The second apple says, “Holy S#%@! A talking apple!”
      (No I don’t know why the joke used apples rather than, say, potatoes.)

      None of these jokes sound as lame as a joke my dad told for years when we were growing up:
      What’s green and has wheels?
      Grass. I lied about the wheels.

      • Adam says:

        The “green and has wheels” joke reminded me of this one which I’m rather fond of.
        According to wikipedia, it’s in “The Joys of Yiddish”

        “The first riddle I ever heard, one familiar to almost every Jewish child, was propounded to me by my father:
        “What is it that hangs on the wall, is green, wet — and whistles?” I knit my brow and thought and thought, and in final perplexity gave up. “A herring,” said my father. “A herring,” I echoed. “A herring doesn’t hang on the wall!” “So hang it there.” “But a herring isn’t green!” I protested. “Paint it.” “But a herring isn’t wet.” “If it’s just painted it’s still wet.” “But — ” I sputtered, summoning all my outrage, “– a herring doesn’t whistle!!”
        “Right, ” smiled my father. “I just put that in to make it hard.”

        The alternate ending I prefer is that the father says, in an exasperated tone, “OK, so it doesn’t whistle”

      • Robin Morris says:

        Or you live in California. Where you’re also lying about the grass.

  18. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I don’t remember the joke, but I’m quite sure it was in Dane Cook’s act.

  19. Vlad Malik says:

    This reminds me of anti-jokes, eg:

    “A horse walks into a bar. Several people get up and leave as they spot the potential danger of the situation.”

    Ironically anti-jokes can be quite amusing. Or not:

    “A man walks into a bar. His alcohol dependency is tearing his family apart.”

  20. Chip Lynch says:

    What do an elephant and a grape have in common?
    They’re both purple. Except the elephant.

    (I once maintained the canonical list of elephant jokes on the internet… I’m actually quite fond of them. This is one of a series that separately aren’t quite as funny, although this is still better than “An Apple…”)

  21. Robin Morris says:

    Q. What’s the difference between a duck?
    A. One of its legs is both the same.

    My kids never did find that one funny.

  22. Chris G says:

    What’s the difference between a dressmaker and an amateur flautist?

    A dressmaker tucks up frills.

    • It took me a few seconds to get that one. I have one for you:

      A kangaroo walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender serves him, and then steps away to watch the spectacle of a kangaroo drinking beer. Then the kangaroo asks for another one. The bartender gives him the second one, and then screws up courage to say to the kangaroo: you know, we don’t get many kangaroos at this bar. The kangaroo replies, at 2 pounds a beer, I’m not surprised.

  23. Chris G says:

    What do you call an occupied lavatory on a trans-Atlantic flight?

    A high-pot-in-use.

  24. Chris G says:

    Two strings walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, but you’re going to have to leave. We don’t serve strings here.” The strings, offended, step outside for a moment. After a brief discussion they tie themselves together, unravel their ends, and walk back into the bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “Hey… Don’t I know you? Aren’t you the strings I told to leave a few minutes ago?” To which the strings reply, “Nope, frayed knot.”

  25. Dean says:

    Maybe a misprint- supposed to be Anna? Slightly less terrible.

  26. Chris G says:

    A dog walks into a bar, hops up on a stool and says, “Hey, look over here. I’m a talking dog. Bet you’ve never met a talking dog before. I was captain of the debate team when I was in college and now I teach rhetoric at the university. Say, bartender, how about a drink on the house for the talking dog?” The bartender replies, “Sure. The toilet’s down the hall. Second door on your left.”

  27. joe says:

    I only submit this because I thought it was the most brilliant joke I ever came up with, and to date no one I’ve told it to has found it even marginally funny:

    Q: What do sad cows do?
    A: Ruminate

  28. Mayo says:

    Really bad joke frequently repeated (with guffaws) by an elderly family member:

    Can you use “Rotterdam” in a sentence?
    “My sister stole my candy and I hope it’ll rot her damn teeth out!”

  29. Ali says:

    Who was that racing driver from the seventies? Niki…Niki…

    Lauda

    WHO WAS THAT RACING DRIVER FROM THE ……

  30. Josh says:

    Distraught man goes to see a psychiatrist.

    Man: Doctor, you have to help me.

    Doctor: What seems to be the problem?

    Man: I’m a Teepee, I’m a Wigwam! I’m a Teepee! I’m a Wigwam! A Teepee! A Wigwam!
    You have to help me. What’s wrong with me?

    Doctor: That’s easy. You’re two tents. (too tense)

  31. Thomas says:

    What’s the difference between a tavern and an elephant fart?

    One’s a bar room and the other’s a barroomm!

  32. D.O. says:

    The worst joke ever is “Das Kapital”. Luckily, i didn’t hear it.

  33. Anonympus says:

    What’s 5Q + 5Q?

    10Q

    Your welcome

  34. Leon says:

    A joke that I think is good, but which others seem to think is terrible:

    What did it say on the blues player’s tombstone?

    “I didn’t wake up this morning.”

  35. Jose says:

    A neutron walks into a bar, orders a whisky, and then tries to pay. The bartender waves it away- “For you, no charge.”

  36. Steve Sailer says:

    The apple joke is great.

    Actually, these are all pretty funny.

    Except for the ruminating cow joke. Which, now that I mentioned it, is cracking me up.

  37. hjk says:

    Most of the book ‘I Think, Therefore I Laugh’ by John Allen Paulos

  38. Krzysztof Sakrejda says:

    My son suggests:

    “What do you get when you vaporize a king?”

    “A noble gas.”

  39. Dave says:

    This is awful:

    What’s Hitler’s favorite number of Jews?

    Nine (nein).

  40. Chris G says:

    How does Darth Vader like his toast?

    On the Dark Side.

  41. Martha says:

    Just remembered this one today from many years ago. No, it wasn’t from a little kid — it was from a math grad student.

    “Did you know that two is the first odd prime?”

    “But two is even.”

    “That’s what’s so odd about it.”

  42. Eric L says:

    I have 5 year old and 2 year old twins. The two year olds are just starting to understand the idea of a joke and they only have one:
    “knock knock”
    “who’s there”
    “apple”
    “apple who”
    “apple in a tree”

    Anyhow, I was reading to the five year old a few nights ago and we talked about jokes. I ran the twins’ joke past her and the response was “boring”. Next I tried Andrew’s joke and she laughed. A lot.

    Context is everything.

  43. Corvin says:

    If you ever fart in public, just yell, “Turbo power!” and walk faster.

  44. Kenny says:

    What led me to this site was actually me thinking today about two dirty jokes I heard as a kid growing up in the 90’s…the 90’s was a very special time full of jokes lacking cleverness, redeeming qualities, and even identity….just a mashup of themes and confusing banter all to deliver a punch line that had nothing to do with the joke leading up to it. I was surprised to find this post and no one had brought up the first dirty joke. Perhaps because the original comment started with a clean joke. But here goes…there were many..but these two jokes truly are the jokes that spearheaded my hatred for 90’s grade-school humor unclever jokes.

    3 men were lost in a desert one time. They found a genies lamp. After rubbing the lamp the genie popped out and granted them each one wish. The first man wished his D&%# was made of metal. The second man wished his D%^& was made of wood. The third man wished his d*$# was a mile long. After some time the men found the genies lamp again and rubbed it…The genie again granted them each one wish…the first man said “I wish my d*&% was normal again..every time i have sex with my wife my d%^& rusts” The second man “I wish mine was normal again too…every time i have sex with my wife she gets splinters” The third man “I love mine…see that chic on the hill over there (mimic shotgun cocking) BANG got her”.

    There are several reasons i hate this joke..but i’ll only list the top 3…1.what was the point of them being lost…they obviously immediately found their respective significant others and carried on with their lives. 2. if they found the lamp again..that means they were in the desert again…why was there a girl standing on a hill. 3. If the third man had no regrets about his choice…why did he go back with the other two? moving onto the next joke.

    3 scientist decided to conduct an experiment one day. They were going to cork an elephants ass for a week and then uncork him and measure the amount of s#!& the came out of the elephant. So on the day of the uncorking they trained a monkey to take the cork out..the first scientist stood 100 feet back…the second 200 feet back…the third 300 feet back…the first scientist gave the signal and the monkey uncorked the elephant. After all was said and done the scientist standing 300 feet away was up to his ankles in s#!&. the one at 200 feet was up to his knees in s#!&. The scientist standing 100 feet away was up to his elbows in s#!& and was laughing hysterically. The other two scientists asked him what was so funny and he replied (while laughing hysterically) “you should have seen the monkey trying to put the cork back in”

    I hated the first joke…but I LOATHE this elephant joke for its lack of any redeeming qualities and cleverness…What on earth were the scientists trying to achieve? I literally think this joke may have been conceived by someone watching a chimpanzee freaking out and flailing his arms around and thought “how could I make a joke about this” and crapped one out after about 5 minutes.

    • Andrew says:

      Kenny:

      I have to admit I find your first joke pretty funny. But I also find your deconstruction of its flaws to be interesting. It seems to me the logic of the joke could be improved and the joke would still work . . . But maybe that’s the point, that it already works as is, so any such logic would be superfluous.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Both jokes seem mainly kids trying to be “sophisticated” but really showing their immaturity.

      The first was a little funny, though the punchline was kinda obvious. But I actually chuckled at the second, since the punchline was so unexpected and in some sense absurd, so it took me more by surprise — and surprise is often an important prompter of laughter.

    • Keith O'Rourke says:

      > lack of any redeeming qualities and cleverness…
      Some times a joke is just a joke.

      In that case, it should just be about why it works as a joke which may have nothing to do with redeeming qualities and cleverness?

      (liked the second the best).

      • Jeff says:

        > [Keith] In that case, it should just be about why it works as a joke which may have nothing to do with redeeming qualities and cleverness?

        +1, though I think that what Kenny’s objecting to is that, in part. Any joke will divide people who like/dislike it based on any number of reasons but it feels like there’s room for critique. Both of the jokes above are built around a core concept that will get some people to chuckle, but they’re not crafted to work on multiple levels. For example, neither one really works very hard to set up expectations that are then smashed when you get to the punchline, which is how a lot of good jokes get laughs. Taking the time to set up a coherent scenario, which neither of them does, could help shape audience expectations by suggesting one direction before going in another.

        > [Kenny] I literally think this joke may have been conceived by someone watching a chimpanzee freaking out and flailing his arms around and thought “how could I make a joke about this” and crapped one out after about 5 minutes.

        You should’ve seen that comedian trying to put the cork back in!

  45. Dzhaughn says:

    The worst possible joke is actually a little bit good for that reason. How does a Bayesian express this paradox? “Expect it when you least expect it” and all.

    In that spirit, I nominate the first below, since the second is more frustrating and just as unrewarding.

    How can you tell if a train has gone by? Look for its tracks.

    Two parrots are sitting on a perch. One says, “I smell something fishy.” The other says, “me too.”

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      I think the first is worse than the second. The first is pretty dumb. The second initially seemed even dumber, but the humor struck me a couple of seconds later, which is a hallmark of a “gotcha” joke.

  46. Nick Adams says:

    What did the alien jigsaws say when they landed on earth?
    “We come in pieces”.

  47. Q: When a Hungarian wants to have time to think while traveling up a mountain, what kind of transportation does he or she take?

    A: A gondola.

    (“Gondolni” means “to think.”)

  48. a reader says:

    A former boss of mine told me the following:

    “Why don’t bunnies make any noise while having sex?”

    “Because they have cotton balls”

    I’m actually amazed at this joke, because when I first heard it, I thought it was some sort of double entendre. But after thinking about it for second, as far as I can tell, it’s a zero entendre.

  49. Mikhail says:

    Half of the jokes here are just absurdist humor, absurdist humor is perfectly fine!

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