There is great wisdom to be found in jokes. There is great foolishness to be found in jokes, too, of course, but I love the ones that sit right in that sweet spot where hilarity meets real insight. This is is one of them:
There was this lab where the scientists were doing research on the health effects of cigarettes. They kept a rabbit in a cage and forced him to smoke cigarettes all day long–four packs a day. The wild rabbits who lived in the woods nearby got wind of what was happening in the lab and were scandalized. So one night after the scientists had gone home to their families, the wild rabbits organized a burgling party to break into the lab and spring the lab rabbit. It went off without a hitch. The rabbits disabled the alarmed, jimmied the door, opened the cage, and scampered out into the moonglow with their new-found comrade before the night watchman ever knew what happened.

It was the best night of the lab rabbit’s life. He fairly snorted the crisp air of freedom and capered about for joy. The wild rabbits took the lab rabbit to raid a nearby garden, and he had carrots and lettuces and radishes for the first time in his life. He had never eaten anything but pelletized food, and he couldn’t believe that such delicacies existed in this world. The rabbits celebrated until the wee hours of the morning, finally sleeping where they fell in exultant exhaustion, satisfied that they had done a good thing in ushering a poor, oppressed brother into new freedom.

When the sun came up, however, the lab rabbit was nowhere to be seen. The wild rabbits looked in every brushpile and behind every stump in the meadow, to no avail. At last they tracked him to the steps of the laboratory, where he was frantically lurching at the locked door.The wild rabbits gaped at one another in mute astonishment. Finally one of them called to the lab rabbit, who, in his frenzy, hadn’t noticed they were behind him. “What are you doing?!” he asked.

The lab rabbit wheeled around, fixed him with a twitchy stare, and barked, “I’ve got to have another cigarette!”

P.S. I told this joke at the dinner table a year or so ago. The next day my daughter regaled her kindergarten class with the story. Her teacher only caught the punch line; picture a little blonde-haired girl with one eye squinted and one eye staring wide declaiming, “I’ve got to have another cigarette!”

  • Canaan Bound
    1:26 PM, 19 January 2011

    I actually don’t consider this joke to be very funny. I think it’s rather sad. I probably would have laughed to see your daughter tell it, though.
    P.S. I am a Kindergarten teacher, and I’m used to hearing kids say ridiculous things. The result is usually a straight-faced talking-to followed by a suppressed snicker when Iā€™m finally behind closed doors.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      3:58 PM, 19 January 2011

      I agree it’s sad, Canaan Bound, but funny too, don’t you think? I have a friend who defines the amusing anecdote as “a sad story told for laughs.” Or, to go a little more highbrow, I think of what Flannery O’Connor said about the Comic and the Terrible. They “may be opposite sides of the same coin,” she said. “In my own experience, everything funny I’ve written is more terrible than it is funny, or only funny because it is terrible, or only terrible because it is funny.”

  • Drew
    2:28 PM, 19 January 2011

    This joke is double-funny. First for the joke, and then for the P.S. (This is mainly because I can see my own five-year-old barking out “I’ve got to have another cigarette!”)

  • Drew
    2:48 PM, 19 January 2011

    I should add that we’re trying to get her on the patch, but she’s resistant.

  • Drew
    4:52 PM, 19 January 2011

    I don’t think Flannery O’Connor would appreciate your calling her “highbrow.”

  • Patrick
    6:54 PM, 19 January 2011

    I don’t find either part of it funny. Is addiction funny? Should we train our children to find addiction funny? Is it funny that we most desire the things most likely to destroy us? That even though we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is Good, we continue to pursue self-destructive pleasures? We are all as lab-rabbits in cages of our own making, and as much as those who would love us wish for us to be free- they don’t understand the pleasures we find in our cages- why we don’t really desire that freedom.
    Okay, enough drama for one day. It really is funny in some sick twisted way. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:51 PM, 19 January 2011

      Well…I’m feeling pretty confident that I haven’t taught my children that addiction is funny. And I didn’t have to train them to find a smoking rabbit funny. That just is funny. As you say, “even though we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is Good, we continue to pursue self-destructive pleasures.” A story about a nicotine-addicted rabbit, as it turns out, has been a pretty good way to talk about those things.
      To say that addiction is a serious business is not to say that it must not be the subject of a funny story. As the old saying goes, the devil is an ass.

  • Jess
    7:56 PM, 19 January 2011

    I only think it’s funny because it’s true. And it’s also sad because it is true. But you guys already said something like that.Another funny/sad part of it was the whole entire giving cigarettes to a rabbit part. Sick.
    The meaning I find in this (other than the joke-part) is how silly we are to run back to the bad stuff even when the good stuff is SO MUCH BETTER. And yet we do. We’re addicted to the bad stuff. And even our fellow rabbits/humans can’t save us. Only one Person can do that. And you all know who that is! šŸ™‚

  • Drew
    8:22 PM, 19 January 2011

    I would like to point out that one of my favorite parts of the joke is how it begins: “There was this . . .”
    “Once upon a time” is an invitation into a storybook world with a somewhat predictable structure. “There was this . . .” is more immediate, pulls you in suddenly, feels almost conspiratorial, and there’s no predicting what’s gonna follow.

    Or am I making too much of it?

    • Jonathan Rogers
      9:56 PM, 19 January 2011

      Drew, I agree that there’s something good about the “There was this…” beginning. I can’t put my finger on it, though. It’s vaguely fable-ish.

  • Patrick
    8:49 PM, 19 January 2011

    I was just joking šŸ˜‰ No need to defend yourself. I was just imagining telling that joke in earshot of my 7 year old daughter, and the lecture she’d have given back. She tends to be an overly serious sort of child when she’s not with her friends acting overly silly.
    I think this joke is about as funny as that awkward moment when my family passed an employee of the Dollar General before entering the store- she was standing out-front smoking- and my daughter stopped and said “Do you know smoking is bad for you?” What an embarrassing, proud, awkward, funny moment that was.

    I’m guessing the lab employees weren’t smokers themselves, or they may have volunteered for the free “four packs a day” themselves and let the rabbit go free.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      9:30 PM, 19 January 2011

      Patrick, I’m relieved to know you were joking. Somehow I missed that.

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