How to write a joke that’s so good, it’s bad

A couple of years ago the intrepid Dan Epstein of StyleWriter fame set us a joke writing challenge:

How to write a joke that's so good, it's bad

The joke we were to write about centred on a woman who was very fond of peas.

Our challenge was “…to write a joke that’s as HARD to understand as possible. So, you need to use anything that’s NOT Plain English. This includes long sentences, complex words, and the passive voice. This time, we’ll only use StyleWriter 4′s “Bog” Readability Index to rate your writing. And, once again – the worse your score – the better!”

Here’s what happened…

The original bad joke we had to write better (or worse)

A woman is feeling unwell. So, she goes to see her doctor.
After she takes a wide range of tests, the doctor says: “Well, it must be your diet. You must stop eating vegetables. For five years.”
The woman, who loves vegetables, is unhappy with the doctor’s suggestion. But, decides to follow his advice.
The minute the five years pass, she goes to the fanciest restaurant she can find.
A waiter, dressed in a tuxedo, asks her: “What would you like to order tonight madam?”
The woman says: “I’ll have a large plate of peas.”
As the waiter is writing down her order, she adds:
“You know, she says, I haven’t had a pea – in five years!”
The waiter immediately turns to the other guests, and shouts:
“Better grab onto the chandeliers folks, there’s going to be a flood!”

So Suze thought she’d show them how to write a really bad joke…

British aristocrat Lady Cressida Hardly-Worthit, 75, had a very embarrassing problem. The innards of her abdomen were twitchy to put it mildly and she made the f*rts of a 19hh Shire horse seem like the puffs of a butterfly’s wings.

Furthermore, her innards caused her pain – in addition to the humiliation of being able to clear a packed 2,000 square foot Hunt ballroom in 20 seconds or less with so much as one small squeak of the rectal persuasion.

Much as her stiff upper lip deterred her from seeking medical advice for such a trifle, she succumbed to the discomfort and confided in Zinnia, her humble housekeeper, whom she asked to fetch the doctor, and be sure to tell him to use the tradesmen’s entrance.

“This is not the 19th century, modom,” said Zinnia. “Doctors are big cheeses these days. You need to make an appointment and go to see him. In his surgery.”

“I really don’t think I want to watch that shrivelled little chimpanzee being operated on, Zinnia. Get him to come here this evening before dinner. I’ll give him a glass of sherry if that will help.”

“No, no, modom. His surgery is where he works, not who’s operating on him. And the sherry won’t work because it’s not politically correct. They’re not supposed to booze. Smoke weed, sniff coke, do crack, shoot up, okie dokey. But booze can be smelled on the breath and it’s every rural policeman’s dream to knobble a quack who’s driving around as trolleyed as fruit fly. Modom.”

“Goodness me. Well, make an appointment for me then, Zinnia.”

Two days later Lady H-W was waiting to see the local GP, sitting in a stuffy room full of peasants who were coughing and spluttering. She yelled at a passing nurse, “my appointment was at 10:20 and I was here at 10:19, my good woman. It is now 10:22. Please instruct the doctor to see me now.”

“You don’t come here very often, do you darling?” said the nurse. “It’s busy today so don’t bitch about two minutes. You’ll be lucky to see him in two hours. Here – have a nice gossip magazine to read.”

“Thank you, but I must get away from this rabble of disease-ridden proles. Why on earth should I want to read such dirt as a gossip magazine? Why are there naked men and women all over the cover?”

“Because that’s what real people get off on, you snotty old cow,” said Lady H-W’s neighbour. “Have a read and stop whining about the wait time. Some good juicy stories in there. Should shut you up for the next two hours before you’re seen.”

Lady H-W drooped, crestfallen, beaten by the harsh reality of modern medicine. Happily, before she had had time to shout again a doctor appeared in the corridor and spoke her name. She waited for him to approach her and escort her, but he stood in the doorway and glared at her. Swallowing her pride she rose and followed him into the small, stuffy office.

“OK, er, Cressida, what can I do for you?”

“My name is Lady Cressida Hardly-Worthit, young man.”

“Sorry, Lady Caroline. What’s your problem?


“Whatever. You’ve got 9 minutes left.”

“I have a rather embarrassing condition whereby my bowels seem to be unpredictable and create, er, shall we say, a, er, unpleasant odour…”

“You mean you f*rt a lot.”

“Well, that’s hardly a genteel way of putting it…”

“We don’t do genteel in the NHS, Lady Christine. What else?”

“Cressida. Although with your attention span you may as well call me Caz, like my governess did.”

“Let’s get on with the symptoms, Caz.”

With failing hope, Lady H-W explained the whole story to the GP. After which time he said, “Right, I need to refer you to the hospital for a colonoscopy.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the endoscopic examination of the large bowel and the distal part of the small bowel with a CCD camera or a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus. It can provide a visual diagnosis (e.g. ulcerationpolyps) and grants the opportunity for biopsy or removal of suspected colorectal cancer lesions.”

“Do you speak English, by any chance?”

“A specialist shoves a long tube up your backside to take pictures of your intestine so we know if there are any problems up there.”

“I do wish you would avoid vulgar language.”

“I do wish you would stop wasting my time and say if you’re happy to have further investigation of your problem or not.”

Having capitulated, soon afterwards Lady H-W sought the advice of her son Jeremy whose friend Wayne’s mother, Chardonnay, had had experience of a colostomy and so Wayne kindly introduced the two ladies.

“You’ve got to get yer head round it,” said Chardonnay over her glass of dry sherry in Lady H-W’s morning room. “Ya get about 15 foot of fire hose shoved up yer *rse so they can take pictures and cut snippets out of the inside of yer bowel. Send it all off for testing.”

“Thank you for being so frank, Chardonnay.”

“No sh*t, lady whatsit. Just make sure they give you a large gin and tonic or a shot of that Valium stuff up your arm before they do it. Doesn’t hurt much and you’ll be singing along to Robbie Williams the whole time.”

Despite not discovering the identity of Robbie Williams, Lady H-W endured her colonoscopy and soon was back in the doctor’s office. A different doctor this time, natch.

“I really don‘t understand why you people can’t come to the manor house for these discussions, doctor, er, Lamradiwalla.”

“Amradiwalla, Lady Catherine.”

“Please, may we continue? What have you got to tell me?”

“You have an intolerance to peas.”

“But that’s my favourite vegetable.”

“No doubt, in fact many people crave just the foods to which they have an intolerance. But there’s no question. You must never eat a pea again – or at least, not for the next five years. After that you should be OK with them as the intolerance may have subsided.”

“Are you trying deliberately to provoke me? I am beyond despondent!”

“No, I’m not taking the pea. Sorry, Lady Carusa. I’ve had a long day.”

Five whole years passed during which time Lady H-W avoided all mention of the dreaded P word, and instructed her staff never to let that word pass their lips. Suppers in the staff quarters during which time peas were served strictly adhered to Lady H-W’s schedule when she was away staying at Claridges to confer with her trust managers.

But eventually, the fifth anniversary of Lady H-W’s sad penance arrived.

On the eve of this important day, she called Titbombe, her butler, into the morning room for the usual audience to discuss the next week’s menus.

“Tomorrow evening I will dine only on peas.”

“Peas, m’lady? What about your, er, medical issue with them? And your usual greens?”

“The medical issue is past and committed to history. Anyway, peas are green, Titbombe, you pratt. I want a large plateful of petits pois with sautéed scallion onions, little gem lettuce, some lardons, a touch of mint and plenty of butter.”

“Very good, m’lady. I will inform Cook.”

The next evening, Titbombe placed a steaming plate of tasty peas before Lady H-W.

“Enjoy your meal, m’lady.”

“I will, Titbombe,” murmured Lady H-W. “Especially considering I haven’t had a pea in the last five years.”

“Very good, m’lady. Please excuse me, but I must go and warn the below-stairs staff to make preparations for a flood.”

Verdict from Dan on Suze’s attempt to write a bad joke? Mega-fail

Here was Dan’s response …

I ran StyleWriter through the section closest to the joke, starting from “But eventually, the fifth anniversary of Lady H-W’s sad penance arrived….” This CHALLENGE is about making the joke HARD to understand, StyleWriter gave it a 1 — “Excellent”. So, to win, you’ll need to make this worse. Much worse!

Must admit, that was the first time I had lost a competition because my entry was too good …

How would you have re-written that original joke?

Please share!