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May 9, 2010 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Have there been any good, scholarly studies on the "Chuck Norris" style of one-liner joke/folklore? How old is this style of joke?

(For reference, I am 24 and my mom was born in the 1950s. In this post, I'm asking about jokes that make hyperbolic claims about the strength of one person to humorous effect, such as "Chuck Norris can divide by zero.")

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom about "Chuck Norris" or "Vin Diesel" style jokes, and she said that she was unfamiliar with this format of joke. To her, it is a relatively new kind of joke. I'm pretty sure that I only started hearing this style of joke in the last decade or so, but it's possible that my mom and I are simply out of the loop.

I've seen the below question, but it's four years old and didn't really answer my questions:

I know from a college roommate that folklorists study types of jokes, the etymology of jokes, and just generally how jokes come to be cultural tropes. Have there been any good, scholarly studies on the "Chuck Norris" style of one-liner joke in the last four years?

If no... Can anyone at least provide me with information on when this style of one-liner became popular? The above link has some good examples (Bill Brasky is an OK example, but I'm really looking more at the one-liner version of the joke.) Did this style of joke exist 100 years ago?
posted by samthemander to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In Bosnia, we had sort of the opposite of this joke, where a celebrity (or often a pair of fictional Yugoslav idiots everyone knew to exist solely for the purpose of jokes), where you wouldn't discuss how amazing they were, but rather how stupid / foolish / insufferably hopeless they were.

I suppose the equivalent to this would be the America "yo' mama" kind of jokes, which have been around - near as I can tell - for ages. And I've seen clips of television shows from the past 30 - 40 years where similar jokes exist - late night television guest show jokes about the man that was so fat that (insert humorous exaggerative element here.)

These Chuck Norris jokes are really the same, aren't they? The only difference is that they're posed in such a manner as to - on the surface, at least - not be mocking these guys, but rather emphasizing their incredibleness. But ultimately, it's a joke that just adds a sort of extra layer to the old standard . . . in that Vin Diesel and Chuck Norris are essentially absurdly one-dimensional characters, which is why their alleged superhuman capabilities are funny to mock. If that's all they've got, let's make it really seem worthwhile!

So I suspect the real question here is, when did that extra layer evolve. It seems recent to me, but I'm not American and quite easily might have mssied something. But when I arrived in the mid-90s, I never heard such kind of jokes.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:12 AM on May 9, 2010

I would bet simple sentence humorous intentional hyperbolic individual references have existed for an awful long time, I haven't the time, but wouldn't be surprised if something like this shows up in Shakespeare for instance, where the Chuck Norris "newness" might come in is in the sheer volume, perpetuated because of the high social-marker value of cleverness + mass distribution of the internet.
posted by edgeways at 2:42 AM on May 9, 2010

I'm sure you can find old circus-themed comedies with jokes about how amazing or strong some of the circus performers are. I don't know if there are any like this in the Marx Bros. movie "At the Circus," but you could watch that and see if there are any jokes about Goliath the strongman. I'd sort of be surprised if there weren't.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:53 AM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: I think what we're looking for here are single sentence Character based jokes. So it goes Mr. XXXXX is so XXXXXX that [ridiculous hyperbole].

I'm pretty sure these have been around a long time. I'm dimly recalling some Victorian era poets making these kind of 'Mr. MacGillicuddy' sort of one liners. Or perhaps it was alexander pope.

But the thing that chuck norris jokes remind me most of is the African American folklore tradition, starring Shine, Brer Rabbit, and others, because A. they're all about exaggeration and B. they are uncredited memes, not compositions. The reason you're more aware of them is that folklore spreads in 24 hrs these days, not hundreds of years.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:46 AM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was coming in here to say the same thing Greg Nog said: tall tales, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Pecos Bill.
posted by mendel at 9:14 AM on May 9, 2010

Not nearly as old as the references others mentioned, but SNL's Bill Brasky sketches come to mind.
posted by cmccormick at 9:16 AM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: OK, I can't quite believe I just did a Google Scholar search on this, but I did. There doesn't appear to be much, if anything. However, this University of Glasgow MPhil thesis claims (55–56) that "Chuck Norris facts" have an earlier parallel in Czech popular culture with the fictional character Jára Cimrman, to whom all manner of unlikely feats have apparently been attributed.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're pretty much the inverse of "Yo momma" jokes, aren't they?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:44 PM on May 9, 2010

Oh man, I would have never thought of Jára Cimrman being a proto Chuck Norris, but he totally is! Here's more information about that great man.

Before the Chuck Norris thing kicked off, there was also the SNL Bill Brasky skit.
posted by piratebowling at 4:44 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: Same joke, different context:
“Hi, I’m Joe Isuzu and I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a 2,000 pound cheeseburger.”
posted by iviken at 3:20 AM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers!
posted by samthemander at 5:26 PM on May 10, 2010

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