What's America's Funniest Joke?

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"So a priest, a minister and a rabbi wanna see who's best at his job ..." That's the way the funniest joke in America starts — according to a panel of comedy legends assembled by Reader's Digest. Host Guy Raz gets the scoop from two of those funny guys — John Rappaport, who produced TV's M*A*S*H, and Matty Simmons, director of the movie Animal House.

GUY RAZ, host:

Have you heard the one about the turtle and the snail?

Mr. JOHN RAPPAPORT (Producer, "M*A*S*H"): See, this turtle is crossing the road, and he's mugged by two snails. As he's laying there getting better, the police show up, and they ask him what happened, and he says I don't know. It all happened so fast.

(Soundbite of drums)

RAZ: That's comic veteran John Rappaport. He was a writer and producer for the TV series "M*A*S*H," and he also wrote for "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

Rappaport and seven other legends of comedy, including Sid Caesar and Monty Hall, were asked by Reader's Digest to pick the 10 funniest jokes in America. These eight men meet twice a month at Factor's Deli in Los Angeles to trade jokes and reminisce about old times. And two members of the group, John Rappaport and Matty Simmons, the founder of National Lampoon, are with me from NPR West.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. MATTY SIMMONS (Director, "Animal House"): Thank you.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Hi.

RAZ: So these 10 jokes, are you guys fairly convinced they're the funnies jokes in America?

Mr. SIMMONS: No.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Oh, we are so far from convinced of that.

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, there are some very good jokes in there.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Yeah, no, there are some good jokes in these. We have a psychiatrist joke. We have a talking dog joke.

RAZ: There is one joke on the list that both of you really hate, but it somehow got on that list. Can you tell us the joke first? It's about a man in a cemetery.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Guy, you want me to tell this? You want me to stick me with this one?

Mr. SIMMONS: No, I can tell it.

RAZ: Either of you can tell.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: How about you set it up, and I'll do the punch line?

Mr. SIMMONS: All right. Two gravediggers are digging a grave somewhere in Austria, and - and as they're digging, they hear Beethoven's Third Symphony.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: But it's being played backwards.

Mr. SIMMONS: Playing backwards. Then they dig some more, and they hear Beethoven's Second Symphony playing backwards. Okay, take it, John.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: And the guy says what's going on here? He says, oh, that's Beethoven. He's just decomposing.

(Soundbite of drums)

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Thank you. By the way, if you say a line and any one of the people at the table says barump-bump, that is like the ultimate dis to do that because you just did a bad one-liner.

Mr. SIMMONS: You're going to get cold eyes.

RAZ: Well, so how did that joke make the list?

Mr. SIMMONS: We didn't put the list…

Mr. RAPPAPORT: We had nothing to do with it.

Mr. SIMMONS: Reader's Digest put that on the list. I think it came in last.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Now, before we let you guys go, we have to know: What is Reader's Digest's funniest joke in America? What is the joke?

Mr. SIMMONS: You want to do this, John?

Mr. RAPPAPORT: We can do it together, or I can do it. Whatever. It's another famous genre, which is either a priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a room.

Mr. SIMMONS: It's a funny joke.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: It's a pretty good joke.

Mr. SIMMONS: Yeah, I'll start. Or now, you start, and I'll finish.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: All right. Anyway, a priest, a minister and a rabbi want to see who's best at his job. So they go into the woods, and they find a bear, and they try to convert it to their particular religion. Later, they get together, and the priest says, well, when I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. And the minister says, well, I found a bear by the stream. I preached God's holy word to him. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.

And they both looked down at the rabbi, who's laying on a gurney in a body cast. Take it, Matty.

Mr. SIMMONS: And they said, what happened? And the rabbi said, I never should have started with the circumcision.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Where's the drummer?

(Soundbite of drums)

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's John Rappaport, a writer and producer for the "M*A*S*H" TV series. And we also spoke with Matty Simmons, the founder of National Lampoon and the producer of "Animal House." Together, they and six other comedy legends helped Reader's Digest pick America's funniest joke. Gentlemen, thanks so much.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Thank you.

Mr. SIMMONS: Pleasure was all yours.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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