Journalists looking for a good angle on a barbecue story often ask, “Can you tell me something funny that happened to you at a barbecue contest? Do you know any barbecue jokes?”
I don’t know any barbecue jokes, and although I can recall many moments of merrymaking and laughter at barbecue contests, most wouldn’t strike the general public as funny. Some would require so much explanation that the humor would die in the details.
Yet, there is a goldmine of barbecue humor.
Calvin Trillin, for example, is gifted at telling barbecue stories that can put an audience just short of rolling on the floor with laughter. His stories put barbecue in the context of popular culture, all in his matter-of-fact style without cracking a smile.
I have yet to hear a joke that is unique to barbecue. There may be some out there, but during several decades of involvement with barbecue, I have not heard one. There are recycled jokes that have been adapted to barbecue — the names and situation changed from, for example, a politician at a spa to a Bubba at a barbecue — but I haven’t heard any original barbecue jokes.
Cartoons are an effective venue for humor — so much so that newspapers routinely give readers a daily dose and a Sunday mega-dose of cartoons. Barbecue cartoons usually feature men at the grill and their family members reacting to a fiery disaster.
My favorite barbecue cartoons are produced by Kansas City artists Charlie Podrebarac with his Cow Town cartoons, and Charles Barsotti who has penned some classic barbecue cartoons forThe New Yorker Magazine
Team names are a great source of humor in today’s sport barbecue network — Wee Willy's, Lotta Bull, Smokin Away in Porkaritaville, Pork Matrons Society (PMS), Hogaritaville, ButtRub.com, Bite My Butt and Smokin’ in the Dark, to name a few. Teams also add humor to barbecue events by how they dress — wild hats, aprons, boots, pig noses, bone art and other adornments.
Be forewarned that there are practical jokers at barbecue contests. A robust, red curly-haired contestant who called himself the Arkansas Trav’ler is famous for his bull frog fun. He rigged a secret door in the back of the potty in his cooking area. When lady friends asked if it was OK to use his toilet he’d give a gentlemanly yes. A minute after they went inside he would slip a bull frog through the secret door. A scream would follow, the door would fly open, and you can guess the rest. One time in Memphis the joke backfired on him, but that’s another story.
Storytelling is a direct connection to our funny bones. Our history is rich with examples of good story tellers who played key leadership roles in our society. Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Joel Chandler Harris, Woody Guthrie and Will Rogers come to mind. They didn’t tell notable barbecue stories, however.
For humorous barbecue storytelling my hat is off to Calvin Trillin, Billy Bones, Jim “Trim” Tabb, John Raven, the Que Queens, Obie Obermark, KC Rib Doctor Guy Simpson, KC Baron of BBQ Paul Kirk, Bill Milroy, Harley Goerlitz, the late Jim Quessenberry and scores of others in the barbecue community who keep us listening and laughing.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, his most recent release “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”