Oh, the humanity of lameness

Barry Smith

The annual Aspen Food and Wine Classic used to hold one of their wine-tasting events in an unfinished part of the St. Regis hotel which they dubbed “The Cement Tent.” Most of the other events took place in actual tents, whereas the Cement Tent looked like the construction crew took a lunch break halfway through the project and never came back, leaving exposed cement floors, exposed girders, exposed everything. Since I was the AV Guy in this venue, as each event started I would stand by the door and watch the people enter and behold the splendor of the Cement Tent for the first time. Every third person looked around and said, “Well, I see why they call it the Cement Tent, ha ha ha.”The two people behind them would say “ha ha ha.” Then the cycle would repeat. Two hundred people per show, four shows a day, three days a year, for six years.Yes, I do have this all graphed out, and will happily show it to you. Because there is something about this phenomenon – saying something “original” that’s actually the same thing everyone says – that has fascinated me for many years.The first time I noticed this was during a high school blood drive. As I lay bleeding, all the jocks that came into the auditorium would make the same jock-joke: “You don’t want my blood, it’s mostly alcohol.” Buh dump, bump.Next jock, same joke. After hearing this about five times from five different jocks, none of them aware that this remark had just been made, I asked the nurse overseeing my vein if she hears that all the time. She rolled her eyes and gave me an exhausted nod.That afternoon I vowed, over cookies and OJ, that I would never make the same joke that everyone else makes. No way. Not me. Never.So why, 20 years later, do I find myself settling into the barber chair saying, “Leave it long in the back … ha ha ha.” You know, the same lame joke that EVERY bald guy who sits in the barber chair makes.I’ll tell you why – because there is a subconscious river of lame wit that runs through all of humanity, and each time we dip our toe in it, we are certain that we are the only ones to have ever dipped into this particular river, and that the witty and spontaneous comment that we are making has never been made before.The only problem is, we, the lame joke makers, are so refreshed by this dip in the river that we don’t notice the cold, black fire pits littered with Coors Light bottles. Not only are we not the first ones here, but EVERYONE has been here before. A lot.Just this week, as my dental hygienist placed the nitrous mask over my nose – the one I demand for my biannual cleaning – I felt the cool ripples of this river lap over me:”I don’t want you to think that I’m a nitrous fiend or anything,” I said, bracing myself for the cleverness that was to follow, “but if the nose piece fits … ha ha ha.”I smiled the proud smile that one smiles when saying something original, spontaneous and completely self-generated. I mean … if the nose piece fits … that’s pretty funny, right?My hygienist returned a smile. One that says “Given the professional nature of our relationship, I’m unable to tell you how many times I’ve heard that joke already.” Instead she said “ha ha,” then opened the valve on the tank. As the nitrous oxide slowly replaced the pesky oxygen in my brain, this mighty river of lameness came into view. I could see it running deep and wide, and I knew that my visits there were cleansing, and natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s OK to ask your car-washing neighbor if they want to do yours next. It’s OK to ask someone if they are working hard, or hardly working. It’s OK to call Las Vegas “Lost Wages.” It’s OK to yell “Freebird!”It’s a natural part of being alive. This river is as much a part of me as my own blood. Which is mostly alcohol. Ha ha ha.Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at