Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

What makes a good Christmas cracker joke?

By Katie Dawson
BBC News, Swanley

Misia Carroll and David Byk from Chiristmas cracker manufacturer Swantex
David Byk and Misia Carroll chose new jokes for this year's crackers

One of the UK's biggest cracker manufacturers has revamped its collection of jokes after realising some had become tired and predictable.

BBC News investigates what makes a good festive gag.

Love them or loathe them, the Christmas cracker joke has become as traditional, and possibly controversial, as the brussel sprout.

Whether it's a chuckle from an aunt or a groan from grandfather, reading aloud your one-liner is guaranteed to get some kind of reaction around the dinner table.

For one man though, Christmas cracker jokes are more than just a festive tradition - they are a job, and a passion.

'Offend nobody'

David Byk runs Swantex in Swanley, Kent, one of the UK's biggest cracker manufacturing firms.

He and his team revamped this year's selection of jokes after realising some had become outdated.

So it's out with: "What do you call a deer with no eyes? No idea." And in with: "What did the shy pebble say? I wish I was a little boulder."

OUT WITH THE OLD
What do you call a deer with no eyes? No idea
What lies quivering at the bottom of an ocean? A nervous wreck
Which bird is always out of breath? A puffin
Where does Tarzan buy his trousers? A jungle sale
What did baby corn say to mummy corn? Where's popcorn?
What country has a good appetite? Hungary

Still cheesy? Well, yes, but according to Mr Byk, who took over the family firm from his father in 2001, that's the idea.

"They are not meant to be rip-roaringly funny," said the 42-year-old. "They need to appeal to everyone. They are meant to be corny and got by three generations of people."

For father-of-one Mr Byk, gathering jokes for his crackers is a year-round process.

He is always listening for potentials, whether it's down the pub, on the radio or in the office.

Many are e-mailed to the firm and some come from family and friends. One of the newest in this year's collection came from Mr Byk's seven-year-old niece.

'Cracker anorak'

A good cracker joke must satisfy three main criteria, according to Mr Byk who, much to the dismay of his wife Annabel, can often be found in a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon in December, checking out the cracker competition.

"It's got to have a question and answer, it's got to offend nobody and it has to appeal to all age groups," he said.

For Dr Chris Ritchie, course leader of Southampton Solent University's comedy degree, which claims to be the only one of its kind in the world, cracker jokes, good or bad, are part and parcel of our Christmas tradition.

IN WITH THE NEW
What does a snowman eat for breakfast? Snowflakes
What is a sheep with no arms or legs? A cloud
What do you call Santa's little helpers? Subordinate clauses
What is Rudolph's favourite day of the year? Red Nose Day
How did the Vikings send secret messages? By norse code
What did the shy pebble say? I wish I was a little boulder

"As far as the English are concerned, a groan is as good as a laugh," he said. "They are traditionally bad, the same as the hats are uncomfortable and the toys are rubbish.

"The point of Christmas cracker jokes is to share. You share the joke and there's a unity. It has to be fairly simplistic in order for people to get that unity."

Mr Byk and Swantex's trade marketing controller, Misia Carroll, chose the new jokes and tested them out on family and friends.

"You do end up turning into a bit of a cracker anorak," said Ms Carroll. "When you go to places and they are not your crackers, you start analysing them."

This year, the firm has introduced a trivia question, charade suggestion and a conversation starter to some of their upmarket crackers.

And the recession does not appear to have affected cracker demand, with Swantex reporting sales up by 21%.

"People have had a tough year and they are looking forward to Christmas," said Mr Byk. "People are looking to have a bit of a splurge, especially at home."



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SEE ALSO
Airport's ban on festive crackers
19 Dec 08 |  Essex
'Too young' to buy crackers
18 Dec 08 |  England

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