Excerpt from Boys and Girls Together
Part II Chapter VI

By William Goldman

"Why are you a fool?"

"Because you didn't laugh at my joke."

"But I didn't get it."

"I accept that as a possibility. But it is no excuse for not laughing. When someone tells a joke there are four possibilities: either you don't get it or you get it but don't think it's funny or you get it and you do think it's funny or you've heard it before. Of those four, only one relieves the listener from the obligation of laughing." He reached into the pickle barrel, gave a pickle to the boy, took another himself and began waving it in the air.

"Thank you," the boy said.

"If the joke is funny, then you don't have to laugh. Because a man telling a funny story is not a fool. Oh, you can laugh if you want to; no law against it. But you don't have to. The funny man, he doesn't need you laughter." Around and around went the pickle in the air, circling high, swooping down, suddenly pointing straight at the boy, who stopped in mid-bite, eyes and mouth wide. "I see a rich man with a limp and I think, my, what an expensive cane he uses. I see a poor man with a limp, and I think, oh, how that must hurt." The pickle was swooping again. The boy gobbled the remainder of the sandwich. Then the pickle was back on him, and he froze. "I see a pretty woman weeping and I say, 'How pretty!' When an ugly woman weeps, I say, 'How sad!' The winners of this world, they can adjust their own laurel wreaths. The losers go bareheaded. The winners only need a mirror; the losers need your laughter. "Vegetable," he said to the boy, who was back by the canned-soup shelf.

© 1964 William Goldman