It is funny,becau se it is surprising, unpredicted; it feels risky and causes discomfort;
and it sways from established societal grammars. As long as one has some existing
knowledge of both a grasshopper (a winged orthopteran insect with hind legs adapted
for jumping) and a grasshopper (3/4 oz gre en cre
`me de menthe, 3/4 oz white cre
cacao, and 3/4 oz light cream), one understands the joke.
Whether or not one understands the quip, one experiences both the familiar to the
unfamiliar in the introductory sentence “A grasshopper walks into a bar and asks for
a drink.” Remove grasshopper from the sentence and add x, where x equals any
possible passerby of the said drinking facility. Many North American adults are
probably familiar with the joke lead in “An x walks into a bar [y]” and upon hearing
it, prepare themselves to receive a wi tty statement within the next few minutes.
Despite the anticipation of humor, the recipient laughs – or groans, as it is with less
sophisticated humor – and files it in his or her knowledge store for easy retrieval and
use on another unsuspecting recipient. The humor is that one is taken down one
path, then with right timing shown that it is really the other schema that was in play.
Messages that cause some type of upset in a personal information system elicit
surprise (Itti and Baldi, 2009; Wilson, 1977).
Many parts of this joke present absurd notions of reality. Grasshoppers do not
normally walk into bars, and if perchance one does – though it would likely be more of
a hop – it would be impossible for it to order a drink, and even if it could order a drink,
it would be impossible for it to consume the entire beverage and live. It se ems even
more absurd that a bartender (assumed to be a human creature) would speak to a
grasshopper that just wandered into his establishment demanding a drink an d
entertain the notion that perhaps the grasshopper may already be aware of the fact
that there is a drink named after him. To complete the absurdity is the grasshopper’s
reply: “You havea drink named Bob?” Not only can this grasshopp er speak, but it also
has a name common among human pub goers. The recipient laughs not only at the
absurdity that has been built in three short sentences, but also at the dramatic irony
the grasshopper has suffered for not possessing the a priori knowledge of the potent
libation, a grasshopper.
So what? Communication, obviously, depends on message structure, willingness
and ability to understand message components, and context. Useful infor mation, or
communication, is the as yet unknown – but one can be prepared for the unknown
within the structures of what is known. Good hunting – which Wilson (1968) asser ts
we must do, because no information retrieval system will be perfectly designed fo r
each user and each use – hinges on discovering the useful unknown: sometimes
detecting the slight difference from the norm; sometimes knowing the pattern
(“an x walks into a bar”) that will put one in the right place. As with hunting, the joke
format tells us to expect the unexpecte d. Paul Rezendez, a wildlife photog rapher,
asserts, “If you spend time learning about the animal and its ways, you may be able
to find the next track without looking [y] Tracking an animal [y] brings you closer
to it in perception” (Rezendes, 1992, p. 7). Thus, we might say that humor, as a
structural method of applying entropy (unpredictability) of a communicated message,
could serve as a probe or touchstone for thinking about information seeking
In a joke, the punch line is an entropic burst. When one sees a person in a crimson
prosthetic nose and in the pants of a c lown, one assumes funny occu rrences are
impending. When one se es a person wearing no pants, one preps oneself for surprise.
Conversely, when an average looking person – or a common grasshopper – says