Whenever one hears a very long joke with it’s requisite long setup, one thinks – this had better be good.  Many comics, faced with long sets to fill, opt instead for the shotgun approach – tell a million short jokes; if one bombs, you’re already on to the next one.

Henny Youngman leaps to my mind:

Youngman made a living out of telling very short jokes in a rapid fire fashion, truly earning the title “The king of the one liners”.  In a pre-internet age (1974 – the dark ages kids) , the New York Telephone Company started a Dial-a-Joke line and over three million people called in one month to hear 30 seconds of Youngman’s one-liners, which was the most ever for a comedian.

This begs the question of course, what’s the shortest joke?

British comedian Jimmy Carr, who has an answer for everything, has this four-word joke:

Let’s try three words:

Stationery store moves.

Or two:

Dwarf shortage

Now we’re smack up against the definition of a joke.  My take is that a joke must be free-standing – that is, it shouldn’t require another joke.  A good example would be a catch phrase: ‘More cowbell” which requires knowledge of the television sketch from which the phrase was used:

So you’ve got to hear the five-minute sketch to get the two-word punch line.

Let’s also set aside jokes that are added to non-joke content, for example:

“That’s what she said!”

Usually painfully applied to almost any comment, and has been called “the most versatile joke” turning any innocent phrase into a harassment lawsuit.  One example:

“Make sure it’s long enough.”
“That’s what she said!”

In the end, I think the interaction of two words are the absolute minimum requirements for a joke to actually still be called a joke.  Let’s end with my favorite two word gem:

Pretentious?  Moi?