The knock-knock joke is a type of joke, probably the best-known format of the pun, and is a time-honoured "call and answer" exercise.
It is a roleplay exercise, with a punster and a recipient of wit.
The standard format has five lines:
The joke refers to the situation where someone knocks on a door and identifies to get somebody who is already inside to open the door, even though there are usually no doors involved when this joke is told. The punster and recipient can also usually see each other during the joke, so there is no actual need for identification.
Distribution and history
Knock-knock jokes are well entrenched in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Australia, the U.S.A., Canada, South Africa, Philippines and India. In nations such as Brazil and Germany they are practically unknown. In French they begin "Toc-Toc" in Afrikaans and Dutch "Klop-klop", and in Japanese and Korean "Kon-kon". In Spanish, it may be enough for the punchline to rhyme with the response. Knock-knock jokes were in common usage amongst South African school children in the early 1950s but the exact origin of the format remains uncertain.
The following was in circulation in Cape Town in about 1953:
Delores my shepherd... (a play on "the Lord is my shepherd")
In France, the punchline is almost always a pun on the title of a popular song, allowing the last answer to be sung :
Toc Toc! (Knock knock!)
Qui est là? (Who's there?)
Sheila qui? (Sheila who?)
Sheila lutte finale... . (a pun on "c'est la lutte finale" (It's the final struggle), the opening line of The Internationale)
A popular German riddle precludes the usual trend of including a pun in the answer, instead offering a more literal line: "Knock knock!" "Who's there?" "Boo!" "Boo who?" "I do not know anyone by that name. Unless you wish to startle me with the word "Boo", in which case you are quite unfruitful. I see no reason to open the door in either case".
In Shakespeare's play Macbeth a comic relief character delivers a 20 line monologue and satire that makes reference to events of that time. It follows the pattern of "knock knock who's there?" but it is done entirely by the character and knocks from off stage. The character is a hung over porter (in most performances drunk, but in the original he was hung over) who pretends he is the porter to the gates of hell welcoming sinners of different professions:
(Macbeth ActII, sciii)
Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' th' name of Beelzebub? Here's a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Come in time, have napkins enough about you, here you'll sweat for 't.
(this is a joke referring to a price drop in crops, as well as a joke about the heat in hell)
Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name? Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.
(this passage is believed to be a reference to a trial of the Jesuits who were charged with equivocation speaking unclearly or speaking with double meaning)
Knock, knock, knock! Who's there? Faith, here's an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose. Come in, tailor. Here you may roast your goose.
(the tailor is accused of stealing cloth while making breeches, this is a joke about a fashion trend in Shakespearian times, also a pun for roasting the tailor's iron with the heat of hell)
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