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How to write cracking Christmas jokes
30th Nov 2016
We’ve all experienced the groan-inducing festive gags around the dinner table on Christmas Day, recited from the contents of a cracker…
What do Santa’s little helpers learn in school? The Elf-abet.i
Why are Christmas trees so bad at sewing? They always drop their needles!ii
What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite!iii
In the world of bad jokes, none can touch the Christmas cracker joke. Much like the classic dad joke, these underwhelming witticisms are an annual assault on the ears that no Christmas dinner guest can avoid. And, since they’re a quintessentially British tradition, the MBNA geeks want to find out a bit more about what exactly makes a joke ‘cracker’ worthy.
Here, we take a look at the strange tradition behind the Christmas cracker howler, and the formula for creating a classic groaner.
Cracker jokes of Christmas past
Christmas cracker jokes are an odd British tradition. In fact, the precursor to the wisecrack was put into crackers even before the ‘crack’ in them appeared.
Between 1845 and 1850, Tom Smith, a London sweet maker, decided to enclose a romantic note together with a sweet in pretty paper. A few years later, the sweets were replaced by toys and the cracker got its cracking sound, but it was the little scrap of paper inside that went through the biggest transformation.
Later in the nineteenth century, the love messages were swapped for mottos and verses by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Longfellow.iv Amusing rhymes from contemporary authors and poets also featured in the Victorian Christmas cracker. In the twentieth century, cracker jokes, limericks, riddles and quotes began to reflect contemporary events and society at the time – even if they were sometimes a little un-PC by today’s standardsv.
It remains a mystery why our cracker jokes then morphed into the most anodyne of puns and insipid quips but, today, our ‘cracking’ Christmas jokes are certainly not worthy of Shakespeare.
Cracking the code
So, what constitutes a side-splittingly stale Christmas cracker joke? What is it that makes you throw your head back and shriek with overwhelming disappointment? We challenged the number nerds to (paper) crown the perfect Christmas cracker joke formula.
So, fresh from the mathematical minds that brought you the formula for the perfect dad joke, we can now reveal…
Q&A with a joke-cracker
King of the corny Christmas gag, we asked owner, designer and chief joke writer for Cracker Emporium, Andrew Hill, to let us in on his secret to writing a top Christmas cracker joke.
1. How long do cracker jokes take to write?
Some come in a flash of inspiration, but usually a day or so.
2. What’s your typical cracker joke output?
I usually write around 24 new jokes each Christmas.
3. How do you come up with your ideas?
Inspiration usually comes from a brainstorming session. I pick a word associated with Christmas and just write down words or phrases that could be a ‘play on words.’
4. What’s your secret?
Cracker jokes must be snappy (no pun intended!) and not too wordy. You don't want to be reading out an essay while your Christmas dinner is getting cold!
5. Are they terrible on purpose?
They’re deliberately designed to make you groan, a bit like your dad or uncle trying to crack a really funny joke, but failing miserably!
6. How have Christmas cracker jokes changed over the years?
They’ve evolved from old favourites like “What does Santa call his wife? Mary Christmas!” to non-Christmas jokes. This is one reason why I started to create my own crackers, because I missed the Christmas-themed joke. Customers would ask, "Do you have any corny Christmas jokes?". We've now come full circle and are back enjoying the Christmas-themed joke, but with a little more creativity.
7. Will the bad cracker joke tradition live on?
We all expect a corny Christmas joke before eating our turkey and sprouts. Without the joke, it wouldn't be Christmas!
Think you can do worse? This Christmas, see how loud you can make your family groan with the corniest cracker joke you can muster.
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The Christmas Cracker Joke Code!
The secret to jokes so groan-inducing, teeth-clenching, and eye-rollingly awful that only the most sherry-filled of festive revellers would snigger at them.
Audible groan = Question/Lexical ambiguity + (awful punchline X anticlimactic realisation)
The formula explained
Creating the ultimate cracker joke is a complex matter, but fortunately our number nerds are on hand to spell out how the formula works in practice. The intricate workings of the bad cracker joke can be explained as follows:
Audible groan: the resulting wail of disappointment from around the festive dinner table after hearing a Christmas cracker joke.
Question: the bad set up to an even worse joke.
Lexical ambiguity: an attempt to mask the unsensational punchline with evasive language choices.
Awful punchline: a lame one-liner that wasn’t worth waiting for.
Anticlimactic realisation: a sense of overwhelming dissatisfaction that sets in while hearing the punchline.
A Christmas howler
Telling bad jokes takes practice, so the number nerds have dug up a priceless Christmas gag to show you how it’s done.
So you’ve got the skills to create the perfect cracker joke? Crack your cheesiest gags around the dinner table this Christmas, and watch your family ho-ho-howl with insincere appreciation.