In 1990, a London publisher put out a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle joke book and it ended up being a mass grave for concepts that once brought children joy. It took riddles and made them meandering, barely explainable things. It stole classic, well-known jokes and crammed pizza and Krang into them by any means necessary. It ground up words into mangled piles of hyphens to form limp, desperate puns. Through a combination of author failure and British slang, it’s 96 pages of confusing mess, only a sad confusing mess like a pile of human feet or abortion paperwork. Okay, I think you’re ready for The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Joke Book:
This is an example of both the keen sense of humor of the author and the lengths he’ll go to to make a pun. Sure, as wordplay, “sewer-cide” is fork-your-own-eye-out clumsy, but more notable is how he has no problem killing a man with sadness to get to it. The book is called “Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles” because they didn’t trust kids with the word “ninja,” but they’re going to show them a man who chooses to die in shit rather than suffer this cruel world? And let’s not play games– the fall doesn’t have a prayer of killing this guy. At best he’ll break his legs and die from toxic shock in five days, and that’s only if he remains undiscovered and resists calling for help. So I guess I’m saying this gag wouldn’t work even if the premise was better than “what about a guy ending his life in a sewer?” And speaking of sewers, does this joke take place in a universe where manhole designers get one shot at writing “SEWER” and that’s fucking it? Go ahead and add this goddamn manhole to the list of reasons this isn’t very good.
I don’t think it’s splitting hairs to mention pizza is not served with mustard, “waiting for mustard to cool down” is not a sensible punchline, and masks don’t get black eyes. This is like walking up to a man in pants, asking why there are bite marks on his penis, and him replying, “mayo no mistake– the cool cat relished a bite of my hot dog!” It asks you to make so many accommodations for important details being left out and weird mistakes left in. By the time you’ve asked someone to imagine a mustard pizza only it’s a special kind of mustard too spicy for a ninja to eat and also he’s the kind of ninja confused by the very concept of spiciness, your joke might as well be, “Please laugh; all my children are dead. Hot mustard is something my boys will n-never again… please, I’m begging you to remember: hot can mean two different things.”
All it takes for this routine to work is for one turtle to have never heard of bees and, unrelated to that, have no peripheral vision. The issue I have is not that this is absurd, it’s how the punchline isn’t. A bug on a pizza, whether it’s funny to you or not, is something so much more conceivable than everything leading to it. These extraordinary circumstances ramped up to nothing. How many laws of our universe had to break for this author to get a bug on some pizza? It’s like watching a wet madman fall from a hole in the sky and saying, “Hey, the cloud next to that guy’s portal sort of looks like a boat. It is Wednesday.”
There are, without hyperbole, several too many jokes about insects on pizza in this book. Something happened to this author, probably seeing an insect on pizza, that caused him to find insects on pizza outrageous. This information isn’t particularly interesting or funny, but when someone does something as strange as drawing this many bug-infested pizzas, I take detailed notes. It might make for a bad comedy article, but it will definitely help catch the man authorities will one day call the Papa John’s Killer.
This is legally a joke. I could see a pair of armadillosaurs deliver these lines to each other after Fred Flintstone ran them over. But like everything else in this book, it’s only the faint echo of comedy from a dark void of inexplicable decisions. Raphael is completely disfigured by the car accident, but seems to be relaxing and having a conversation? Why was the line about how he was feeling given to Leonardo? Raphael must have been delivering this punchline in an earlier version, which –holy shit– means the author made at least a second pass on this book. Holy fucking shit, it means he was trying.
Finally, a clear concept without any confusing missteps by the author: the other three Ninja Turtles want to cook and eat Donatello. And they illustrated this with Donatello cheerfully thinking, “My hungry pals want to skewer my flesh! Hey, my own bo staff might do the trick!” Again, it’s not a great joke, but this will be a useful document to one day inspire a detective to think, “My god, what if the Papa John’s Killer and the Night Kebabber are the same person?”
“Welcome to my bathroom, Turtles! Too bad for you, I’ve made a CLEAN getaw– oh, shit. I see what I did, Turtles. I mistook an idiom for something literal and then ignored the important half of it. I did the opposite of it, in fact. So really, what I’m doing doesn’t even make sense in the internal logic of my buffoonery. This is like if the Family Circus was less coherent, Turtles!”
Before any of them are cool but rude or doing machines, the defining personality trait for each Ninja Turtle is their love of pizza. The author knows this. A third of his goddamn book is the word pizza. So why does this Ninja Turtle not know how pizza works? And it sets up no clever snap– Michaelangelo is simply describing the event which should not be happening and has no reason to. Functionally, it may as well have been this:
You don’t so much have to plan on explaining this joke as you do committing to a series of apologies. Fuck you, Ninja Hero Turtles Joke Book. Fuck the pain and mistakes that caused you, and fuck the God who watched it happen from the stars and did nothing. If an entire civilization fell into the ocean whenever a child laughed at “turn turtle and run,” the survivors would watch from the shores knowing the suffering was deserved.
This is a masterclass in betraying a joke structure for no payoff. The idea of a riddle is that abstract thinking will lead you to a satisfying answer. So why does Krang file his teeth? Maybe because he keeps losing them? Maybe he thought he was looking a little long in the tooth? The answer will never be funny, but at least a clever one will be something close to cute. The answer, “So Krang can bite tin cans!” is nothing. It’s a stupid toddler’s guess from a realm where there are cans but no can openers. And the “joke” here, that space genius Krang doesn’t open food cans before eating them, is only vaguely suggested, and not by the joke teller but the joke recipient? The author, Peter Eldin, got every detail of riddles wrong not to defy our expectations but because 72 pages into his 110th children’s riddle book, he still has no idea how they fucking work.
This is too wordy to be coherent, but if you were delivering a baby and stuffed a cat up the mother’s ass, this Krang joke is what you would show the Guinness committee to avoid the world record for Wrongest Dumb Fuck.
This one is special because the illustration undermines the joke’s entire conceit by showing at least one situation where a turtle can absolutely get mashed, but I mostly picked it to illustrate Peter’s other approach to riddles. Before I make another case for this book being quite bad, I want to say I’ve got nothing against this comedy structure. For instance,
How is this book the same as naming your snake “Pussy Magnet?”
Because every element works independently to perform the exact opposite of its intended purpose.
Peter Eldin doesn’t do that. He asks a question that seems like it has some kind of puzzle element, but instead of a solution, the answer is an idiot’s first guess. It would at least be a swing at a fun surprise among coherent, normal riddles, but when all of them are like this, it reads like a transcription of a long car ride with a four-year-old. In fact, one tiny change makes every line in this book suddenly make sense:
Some jokes, like the one about Krang eating tin cans or the guy killing himself, are illustrated since they wouldn’t work without seeing the unopened cans and existential fear in the man’s eyes, respectively. However, most of the illustrations are generic TMNT clipart slapped randomly between lines. And as you get further into the book, as the jokes become more desperate, the clipart starts growing in size. Soon, a recurring picture of a tiny turtle eating pizza might take up an entire page. It’s the punchline to the unspoken setup, “What’s the dumbest way a hack author can satisfy his publisher’s demand for pages?” Anyway, here’s an irrelative word from our sponsor: