Definitions

postmans knock

Knock-knock joke

The knock-knock joke is a type of joke, probably the best-known format of the pun, and is a time-honoured "call and answer" exercise.

It is a roleplay exercise, with a punster and a recipient of wit.

The standard format has five lines:

  1. The punster: Knock, knock! (indicating a door has been struck to gain attention)
  2. The recipient: Who's there? (an inquiry)
  3. The punster: a response, sometimes involving a name (to set up the pun)
  4. The recipient: a repetition of the response followed by who? (a request for clarification)
  5. The punster: the punch line, which typically involves a punnish misusage of the word set up during the response.

Distribution and history

Knock-knock jokes are well entrenched in certain countries such as the UK, Ireland, France, Australia, the U.S.A., Canada, and South Africa. In other nations, such as Brazil and Germany, they are practically unknown. In French they begin "Toc-Toc" and in Afrikaans "Klop-klop". In Spanish, it may be enough for the punchline to rhyme with the response. Knock-knock jokes were in common usage amongst South African school children in the early 1950s but the exact origin of the format remains uncertain. In India they have recently started off as "Khat-Khat" jokes in Hindi.

The following was in circulation in Cape Town in about 1953:

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Delores.
Delores who?
Delores my shepherd... (a play on "the Lord is my shepherd")

In France, the punchline is almost always a pun on the title of a popular song, allowing the last answer to be sung :

Toc Toc! (Knock knock!)
Qui est là? (Who's there?)
Sheila.
Sheila qui? (Sheila who?)
Sheila lutte finale... . (a pun on "c'est la lutte finale" (It's the final struggle), the opening line of The Internationale)

In Shakespeare's play Macbeth a comic relief character delivers a 20 line monologue and satire that makes reference to events of that time it follows the pattern of knock knock who's there? but it is done entirely by the character and knocks from off stage. the character is a drunken porter that pretends he is the porter to the gates of hell welcoming sinners of different professions:

(Macbeth ActII, sciii)

Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' th' name of Beelzebub? Here's a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Come in time, have napkins enough about you, here you'll sweat for 't.
(this is a joke referring to a price drop in crops, as well as a joke about the heat in hell)

Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name? Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.
(this passage is believed to be a reference to a trial of the Jesuits who were charged with equivocation speaking unclearly or speaking with double meaning)

Knock, knock, knock! Who's there? Faith, here's an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose. Come in, tailor. Here you may roast your goose.
(the tailor is accused of stealing cloth while making breches, this is a joke about a fashion trend in Shakespearian times, also a pun for roasting the tailor's iron with the heat of hell)

Multiple language Knock-knock jokes

In multiple language knock knock jokes, usually the third and fifth lines come in different languages, changing the complete perspective. A typical example is

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Sobers. [The reader at this time thinks that the legendary Gary Sobers is perhaps at the door]
Sobers who?
Sau baras se khatkhata rahen hain, Ab to darwazaa kholo. [This last Hindi line meaning "I have been knocking on the door for a long time; please open it" changes the complete orientation of the reader, where Sobers becomes "Sau baras" or a hundred years (figuratively signifying a long period)]

References

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