Asperger’s and Telling Jokes

Whisper the word “Shakespeare” in my dad’s ear. He transforms.  Bristly white eyebrows perk up. His 79-year-old eyes widen, brighten, and sparkle.  He speaks:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…

Words pour out like water from a moon-sized pitcher.  You’d be adrift in a small sea if you did not interrupt him. Dad can quote poetry endlessly.

My father’s skill as an orator was overlooked until he enlisted in the Army. Stationed in Alaska during the Korean War, his encyclopedic recall of risqué limericks entertained lonely and bored fellow soldiers.

Dad’s Uncle Doc inspired his love for theater. Doc had a similarly profound memory. He made his living astounding vaudeville audiences with his wit and mnemonic feats.


A few weeks ago, Liev showed an interest in knock-knock jokes.  I remembered Dad and Uncle Doc. “Perhaps Liev can use his fantastic memory to dazzle his friends with jokes!”  I thought.  I imagined a circle of laughing six-year-olds, holding their little bellies, relishing Liev’s talent. In a burst of enthusiasm, I carted home the local library’s collection of jokes and riddles.

It was not until Liev read jokes aloud to me that  I recalled my childhood romance with jokes.

In the third grade, I became the butt of jokes and teasing for being a “spazz.” After a particularly hard week at school, I came home to find Mom had raided our favorite used book store. Stacks of paperback joke books covered my bed. Cheap, faded, and stained, their sharp grassy smell permeated my room. I breathed in the scent and felt unburdened.

I dove into the books joyfully. Convulsive and tearful fits of laughter squeezed my sides all weekend. I have never been so painfully amused!  My favorite book, a psychedelic purple and orange elephant joke book, delighted me–absurdity at its finest.  I read and re-read the books.


It never occurred to me to share my jokes with my classmates.

Actually, the joke books were part of Mom’s secret plan. My schoolyard harassment was started by a popular boy who had taken a dislike to me.  His teasing infected the other students. After a weekend immersion in jokes, Mom made a suggestion.  I could take control of the teasing by telling my own jokes.  My jokes would amuse others without hurting anyone’s feelings.

I skipped to school fifteen minutes early. I told joke after joke.  Despite getting a few laughs, I had the sinking sensation that something was not right.  Only now, I realize my presentation was more Ringling Brothers than Robin Williams—my twitchy anxiety made me weird, not funny.

The bully boy listened in at the edge of the small group. He took note of my jokes. Later in the day, he retold the best ones in front of a larger, more appreciative audience. He told a joke and kids laughed. I told a joke and kids scuffed their feet.

I was annoyed that this boorish lout got accolades for my jokes. But, he never picked on me again and the other kids left me in peace. Mission accomplished. My love for joke books persisted, undaunted. I did learn, however, to keep my fascinations more private. Who wants to fuel an irritating peer’s glory or fret over unappreciative classmates?


Contemplating my experiences, I decided to let Liev’s love for jokes follow their own course. He might run a grade school vaudeville show or he might laugh for hours in his room. Either way, I’m taking a step back to let him find his place. Jokes are about feeling good.

11 thoughts on “Asperger’s and Telling Jokes

  1. Heh. I love the one with the elephants! I think I’ll share it with my little half-brothers. We used to have a genre of jokes that started ‘How can you know if there has been an elephant in the fridge?’ and then listing the evidence… Hilariously funny when they were toddlers (they are 20+ younger than me). I’m quite confident they’ll still like elephant-jokes although they are adults now… if for nothing else, then as nostalgic humour.

    1. Thank you for dropping by! I still love joke books. I find myself sneaking off with T’s library books to read them. With the internet, I find I can sink into humor sites with ease. It’s a wonder I am able to sleep or wash clothes on somen days…

  2. Great images!! Oh, goodness this made me have flashbacks of my childhood. I had mean girls and mean boys hot on my trail making me the butt of jokes. I became the regular comedian, dance entertainer, and popular oldies but goodies singer for my classmates. I made sure that I made them laugh at me before others could. At least, I had fun. I was labeled many things, but a few were “freak show” and “spazz” We are both the spazzes. Yippie! 🙂

    I had a hard time with joke books, I could not understand them at times or I took them too literally. There is the whole mind wandering I have. How did the forest fire get started? Where did the ducks come from? What about the fire department why wouldn’t they be called? How could a duck use his feet, wouldn’t they get burned up? See I didn’t even get to the elephant part… Oh, boy Daniel does get it from me! Lol!

    Maybe you and T could do a show together! Hee hee

    1. Oh! We are “spazz” sisters for sure. One thing I had difficulty understanding was why others were not as excitied or happy as me. Sure, I flitted around, but it was so jouyous and pure, I puzzled over those who would begrudge me.

      Everyone on the spectrum is wired a bit differently, so I can see how jokes would be different for you. I have always had trouble understanding when someone was joking with me, face to face. I take some things very literally. Now I need to ponder humor, what I get and don’t and why.

      Cool! Thank you for inspiring me! 🙂

  3. I can so understand this. Oscar always had a fascination with jokes (and a grand memory). His first attempts at telling them were painful but he was determined to get it right..and he did. With no fear of public speaking, he excelled at hosting school shows. When his confidence at giving his opinions on other matters is low he uses humour. When he uses it too much, I know he is wanting to communicate with others but lacks the confidence. He is a determined individual. I think he’d make a wonderful teacher because he does listen well and observes others a lot.

    1. I have a picture of Oscar in my mind, I can imagine him wanting to get hid words and timing perfect. I can really appreciate that! I flail at public speaking, but my Dad is a natural. You make an interesting observation, sometimes using humor with too much zeal can mask anxiety. I know that when I really want to connect I sometimes over-joke. I think for me it is a desire to have some contol over the situation, but my mind remains open.

      Thank you again for visitng with me and sharing your insight. I appreciate your comments! 🙂


  4. My timing is not the best with jokes . . . Perhaps because my voice sounds strange to me. I entertained, however, with situational comedy. I am quick to play the fool . . . Especially if it removes tension, or bad vibes in the air.

    Enjoyed the read. It took me down a very pleasant memory lane.

    1. I am generally too excited to tell jokes. I crack up before the punchline. It’s curious that you mention your voic sounding odd to you. I can’t get used to my face. As a child I’d stare at the mirror forever, shifting my head because each turn seemed like a new person. Is that how you feel with your voice?

        1. I understand, perhaps not your exact experience, but a feeling of disconnect with your body. I obsess easily. Once I notice something about myself, no amount of brain bleach can remove it. I appreciate you sharing with me. Thank you.


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