17 Comments

  1. I think the last guess is the correct one (loves reading in the tub), but I also can’t imagine seeing the Litle King ever take off his clothes, and certainly not back when this Sunday strip was originally published (possibly 12-Aug-1956). King Features has always had a cachet of “wholesome family fare”.

    P.S. I think it’s really cool that the “retro” tag now includes a comment explaining the types of comics that belong in that category. If it’s not too much trouble, perhaps the two posts that carry the “vintage” could be reclassified as “retro”?

  2. A joke is often the result of an unexpected turn, revelation or surprise to the audience. There is nothing to understand about the king’s motivations. The joke is simply the surprise for the audience that he was fully robed in the tub.

    In the old joke where the dog says, “I should have said Cobb?”, anyone wondering why a dog knows anything about the history of baseball is missing the joke.

  3. TedD: It’s not that simple: without motivation, the result is just surrealism. Humor rides that fine line where you are expecting things to make sense, that maybe not too much sense, but you do have a sensible narrative that suddenly, surprisingly, (delightfully?) gets derailed. Surrealism is just a bunch of weird, unexpected, disconnected things (at the extreme); surrealism is usually not met with laughter.
    We want to know a little of what the king is thinking, otherwise, why didn’t he just open an umbrella and have herring fall out of it? The fact that the dog does know something about the history of baseball is what makes it funny; if he’d said, “Oops, my bad, I guess ‘Ruth’ sounds too much like ‘ruff'”, it wouldn’t have been as funny as knowing he didn’t see that aspect of it, and was instead pondering the details of the answer he gave.

  4. I see no issue with the joke as presented in the king comic. In my experience, every joke falls apart when analyzed too deeply and would end up being what you call surrealism. Trying to get to some philosophical understanding of the king’s motivations and thoughts wouldn’t add to the joke in any way and doesn’t change the surprise. As a matter of fact, if you understand the king’s motivations the joke would be gone because it would no longer be surprising he is doing what he is doing.

    Everything you claim about the king joke could be applied to the dog one. It makes no sense that a dog like that would be in a bar being asked those questions. Do you need to delve into the thought process and motivations of the dog’s owner and the dog to “get” the dog joke and make it funny? It would seem from your view, since the setup as given makes no sense, we should be asking why the guy isn’t out making millions showcasing a dog that not only talks, but clearly has sentience and critical thinking skills. You might not think it is funny, but it certainly has been met with laughter by others and it is a joke.

  5. TedD, I hope you don’t see selection of a comic instance for featuring as a daily CIDU to (necessarily) represent a disparagement of its artistry or humor. And asking questions about context or backstory need not mean those questions demand to be answered before the work can amuse or be appreciated — just that they’re there and unanswered, so contemplating them is just part of thinking over the comic.

  6. You’re imparting too big sense of need of explanation to what I said: my position is merely that some understanding of motivation is necessary for a good joke, that to just say humor is sudden unexpectedness is not enough.

    (All I say about the King one is that we want to know a little of what the king is thinking — and that applies equally well to the dog joke: we need to know a little of what each character is thinking: the people in the bar think this guy is trying to make a fool of them (eg: what’s on the outside of a tree? Bark. What’s another word for weft? Woof.); the dog owner might really believe his dog can talk, or might be a trickster, we don’t know yet; the dog actually can talk, and he thinks the crowd doesn’t agree with his opinion, and not that what he said sounds too much like a dog noise — and that’s what makes it funny: the joke is not that the dog can talk after all (sudden unexpectedness), but his misunderstanding of why they threw them out of the bar!)

    I see a surrealism spectrum, with humor on one end, and dadaism on the other. If you have just enough insight into the thought process of the characters in the anecdote, and the expectation of what will happen based on your prediction of those motivations is suddenly subverted, that leads to humor — more laughs — than if something completely unexpected and random just happens — that’s more to the dada end of the spectrum; you might laugh, but it is more out of uncomfortableness, or lack of a better reaction.
    So in this case, I think if we had just an inkling more information about the motivation of the king, we would go more, “oh, that’s funny” and less, “huh, that’s weird”. Just a little bit: he likes reading in the tub, but he’s already had his bath for the day; the only place he can get away from everyone is the bathroom, so he reads there. The context might be assumed for regular readers of this strip, but without it, it’s just, “huh, that’s weird.” And usually the reaction to “that’s weird” is the follow up, “I wonder why…”. There is no follow up to, “oh, that’s funny”, it’s just funny, so “huh, that’s weird” leaves you feeling slightly unsatisfied, where “oh, that’s funny does not”.

  7. I’ve explained what I see as the author’s intent for the joke and others are free to disagree. I’m not here to debate if this is funny not, just to try to explain “CIDU”. If my explanation doesn’t make sense to you, proffer your own. If you find this humorless, likely you get the joke and the answer is, “Yes, that really is all there is.”

  8. Thanks for contributing to discussion of this comic, TedD; sincerely!. I don’t think larK and you are going to solve all the details of what makes a comic successfully funny. Since CIDU is our default kind of posting, I revert to it when there isn’t a clear basis for something else to label a comic that catches my eye or a reader submission. And it doesn’t then mean “how can this be considered funny?” at least not in a challenge way. I was uncertain of the backstory (using that term broadly, to include implied underlying factors) and was interested to see what could be said — without meaning that such explanation was required before it could be considered funny or successful.

  9. The Little King is always doing quaint things like that.

    Here he is, making new friends and getting Christmas presents. And yes, he does take baths.

  10. Thanks for that video!

    In the bath scene, I noticed one of the pals seemed to have a NRA tattoo (initials* and eagle logo), but it was gone after the bath. So it was a washable temp tattoo, if they had such a thing then? Or I’m just misunderstanding the sequence.

    *In 1933 that would have been the National Recovery Administration, a key part of the New Deal.

  11. The reason questions are asked of the dog is that they guy is trying to prove that it can really talk. Sometimes framed as a bar bet, other times with a talent agent.

  12. The reruns of Calvin and Hobbes suffer from over-analysis in comments. In today’s, he’s explaining why he didn’t do his history reading. It involves the letters sliding off the page into gibberish. Even though Calvin admits on the way to the Principal’s office that his excuses need to be less extemporaneous, a number of commenters took it for reality and conclude that he has dyslexia.

    Of course, one of the problems with the strip is that Watterson makes Calvin’s schooling whatever is needed for the joke. When I was in first grade, we were at the “See Spot Run” level of reading, not chapters from a history book.

  13. The Van Beuren cartoon studio was not known for painstaking high-quality work. I suppose the NRA tattoo was intended to be a permanent tattoo the guy got for some reason, but it would be too much work to keep drawing it on him.

    The Little King also appeared in a Betty Boop cartoon, where he has spoken lines, although he never spoke in the comic strip.

  14. From a female point of view – Reading the book in the tub without taking a bath is similar to the mother who goes into the bathroom, locks the door and sits and just reads – where the children can’t get to her for her something they want her to do.

  15. I agree with MiB about the tattoo: this is a simple continuity error (perhaps a different animator did the end of the bathtub scene), and the amount of time in which the tattoo can been seen to be missing is quite short, and it would have been very small at that point (barely legible).

  16. OK, so back to talking dogs.

    A guy is driving around the back woods of Montana and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: ‘Talking Dog For Sale.’

    He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard.

    The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador Retriever sitting there.

    “You talk?” he asks.

    “Yep” the Lab replies.

    After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says, “So, what’s your story?”

    The Lab looks up and says, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA. In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping, I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running… but the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”

    The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

    “Ten dollars” the guy says.

    “Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on Earth are you selling him so cheap?”

    “Because he’s a liar. He’s never been out of the yard.”

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