A man walks into a bar. He has an orange for a head. The bartender pours him a drink and says: “So—you want to tell me about it?”
“Well, I was walking on the beach,” says the man with an orange for a head. “I found an old lamp in the sand and took it home. When I polished the lamp, a genie came out and offered me three wishes in return for setting him free. Thinking it was some sort of trick, I offhandedly wished for a million dollars. Instantly, the doorbell rang. A man had arrived to tell me I’d won a mail-order sweepstakes for exactly a million dollars. So I returned to the genie and wished I could have sex with every Playmate of the Month for last year. The doorbell rang again—and all 12 pinup girls came prancing in, at my service. I went back to the genie a third time,” says the man with an orange for a head, “and I think this may have been where I made my mistake.”
“What did you do?” says the bartender.
“I wished to have an orange for a head.”
Like Klavan, I think this joke is inspired. This is a joke that makes you wince at the same time that you bust out laughing. It is a joke that illuminates the dark underbelly of human nature, the stupidity, the painful determination in some people to choose badly. No. Matter. What.
It is exactly the kind of joke that appeals to me because, while it is a take-off on the old genie and three wishes story, the punchline is not the usual trick delivered through a misinterpretation of the final wish (i.e., his legs fall off or his head gets really small...). The man in THIS joke just screws up all by himself. Intentionally. For no damn reason. And that is why it is so crazy funny. As Mr. Klavan explains, it perfectly illustrates the innate and seemingly self-destructive tendency in all of us toward self-sabotage.
Wishing for an orange head when everything is wonderful and anything is possible is funny because it shows us something we don't really want to see or acknowledge in ourselves. We are all tragically stupid and often, perhaps frequently, make choices and decisions that are just bone-headed.
But it's is even more telling than that. We seem -- in the most perverse way possible -- to make these horrid choices most often when things are going well for us. History shows us over and over that societies crumble just when they've got it pretty good. Why is this? I think it is because this tendency toward perverse stupidity is given free rein in prosperity. When things are dire and life is hard, you don't have the luxury to be perverse. Stupid decisions quickly end in death. People tend to pay attention to that and make really good choices in such environments. But a little prosperity allows us to entertain all sorts of stupid ideas and make all sorts of stupid decisions without immediate negative consequences. When we do this as individuals, it is unfortunate. When we get together and do it as a society, it is truly disastrous. And we do it a lot.
Consider that study after study shows that faith, self-reliance, and chastity make human beings happier and healthier. Yet not only do we abandon these behaviors individually out of personal folly and weakness; we dismantle them as a society by intention and design, preaching and modeling lifestyles to our young that are almost guaranteed to make them sad and sick and dependent. Consider that the earth, as if beneficent, has poured millions of years’ worth of energy into the fossils of its dead creatures, presenting us with the Promethean gift of fuels that elevate us beyond the imaginations of our ancestors. Our response? We nurture a superstitious dread of oil and coal and promulgate pseudoscientific disaster scenarios meant to teach panic and to quench the very fire of our freedom. Or consider, finally, that we were born into the freest, strongest, and wealthiest nation that mankind has ever known—and elected as our president a man who promised to “fundamentally transform” it.
As Mr. Klavan points out, this is where we wished for an orange for a head.