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Literature / The Longest Joke in the World

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So, there's a man crawling through the desert...

The longest joke ever recorded, The Longest Joke in the World is a short story with a punchline. Jack Sampson, the lead, is lost in the desert and on the verge of death. He eventually comes across a strange stone with a white lever and a desert diamondback rattlesnake... who can talk. He introduces himself as Nathan, and offers to grant Jack three requests, and he will bite Jack for each one. Said requests involve being sworn to secrecy about a lever that Nate is tasked with guarding...

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Can be found here.

It is strongly recommended that you read the entire joke before continuing.


Contains examples of:

  • Apocalypse How: Planetary human extinction, if the lever is pulled.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jack manages to stop the SUV from hitting the lever, saving humanity. He had to run over Nate in the process, but Nate was a Death Seeker who requested Jack killed him. The worst thing that happens is the bad punchline.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Nate's son Sammy is named in honor of his friend Samuel.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "The fourth request", what Nate uses to describe a request taken by Samuel- who is now dead.
  • Death Seeker: Nate, having guarded the lever for so long, asks Jack to kill him after taking his son to see the world. Though Jack hesitates, Nate gets his wish in the end.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Nathan the snake used to be called Snake by the Bound, until Samuel gave him a proper name.
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  • Doorstopper: In comparison to other jokes, anyway. This is, of course, the draw.
  • Exact Words:
    • A rare beneficial variant — Jack asks to not be thirsty any more as his first request, but since Nate has no idea what he means by any more, he makes it so Jack can never get thirsty again by eliminating the need for him to drink water.
    • Nate also takes care to avert this when he says that, if Jack agrees to keep the secret of Nate and the lever, he must not only refrain from saying it, but also from writing about it, using sign language, charades, or even acting in a way that will lead someone to guess correctly about it.
  • Feghoot: Spoiled slightly by the title, the whole thing is a setup for the punchline of "BETTER NATE THAN LEVER".
  • Four Is Death: The first three bites from Nate change you in whatever way you desire. The fourth, however, can only grant one thing. Of course, he only gives it if you ask.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate:
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    • Jack's predecessor, Samuel, was unable to kill himself due to his supernatural Healing Factor, so he asked Nate to kill him when he grew tired of living.
    • Nate is unable to die by most means. When he grows tired of life, he asks Jack to kill him with a sword.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: Jack jokingly says this when Nate tries to swear him to secrecy about the lever. Nate takes his question seriously.
    "Wait," joked Jack, "isn't this where you say you could tell me, but you'd have to kill me?"
    "I thought that was implied." Nate continued to look serious.
  • I Gave My Word: Jack has always prided himself on this. Nate can tell, and figures the Magically-Binding Contract won't ever come up if he just asks Jack to promise to keep things secret.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: The second bite enforces an oath of secrecy.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Narrowly subverted. Jack, while searching for Nate in his SUV, winds up losing control of it, which begins to speed toward the lever that will end humanity if pushed- but Jack is able to barely steer it away.
  • No Antagonist: The story is about the relationship between Jack and Nate, as well as the responsibilities Jack takes on. The only real conflicts are either internal (Jack preparing himself to kill Nate at his request) or the result of an inanimate object (the SUV almost crashing into the humanity-destroying lever.)
  • Overly Preprepared Gag: This thing is over 10,000 words long. It's practically a novella. And all to set up a bad Spoonerism.
  • Sadistic Choice: Downplayed. At the very end, Jack realizes that the out-of-control SUV will either hit the lever and destroy humanity, or hit and kill his dear friend Nate; he decides to hit Nate for the good of the world, and since Nate wanted to be killed by Jack anyway, the decision winds up being easy for him to make.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Nate named his son Sammy after Samuel, the human who was his friend and asked to be killed by him after getting tired of living.
  • Spoonerism: The punchline, from "better late than never."
  • Too Desperate to Be Picky: Jack gets so desperate from walking in the Thirsty Desert that he resorts to drinking windshield wiper fluid.
  • Thirsty Desert: The setting of the story is a vast, barren desert with no shade or water sources. Interestingly, it's implied that the whole place was once the Garden of Eden.
  • Three Wishes: Nate's bites. They can only change you, but within that limitation, you can do almost anything. The first is free. The second requires an oath of secrecy. The third requires an oath to pull the lever, if you genuinely believe humanity has gone bad and needs to be ended. He can bite a fourth time, but there's only one thing he can give you with the fourth bite.

Alternative Title(s): Nate The Snake

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