Who would win between Spider-Man and Urkel? Picture it. The proportional strength of a spider driving a fist through young Steve Urkel’s skull. Officer Carl Winslow saying, “I didn’t see a thing,” as he stuffs a bag of fentanyl into the dead body’s accordion. “Must have been a drug killing, Spider-Man. We’ll take it from here.” He fires a round into the boy. Another. “Did I do that? DID I DO THAT, YOU SON OF A BITCH!?” Spider-Man watches, almost sexually.
I’m trying to set the tone for what we’re doing today. This is a gory examination of a comedy crime scene. I pitted Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book (2004) against YUK IT UP WITH URKEL: Hilarious Urkel Jokes (1992) in a joke book-off to the death.
Using methodology any researcher would call reckless, I have developed a system to compare novelty joke books. I call it F.U.C.K. T.H.I.S., and it measures the eight things shared across the genre:
H.orse Corpse Beating
There comes a point in every joke book when the author is just done. There is no whimsy left within them. If you’re ever in a prison camp and being ordered to write 101 Spider-Man and Urkel jokes, be afraid. Your captors are well-trained torturers. So let’s look at some of the agonizing joke attempts that sputtered from these writers as their brains gave out, starting with Spider-Man 2:
You can really feel the struggle here. “It says here Peter Parker is good at science… is there something there? No. Nothing. Unless? No. Wait! Physics…al? Is that something? ‘I would like to order a bag of physical things,’ said science-expert Peter Parker at the thing store. Oh, god, I’m so close. Isaac Fig Newtons maybe?”
This shit isn’t even spidery. If Peter Parker was failing class he could feel “spi-dirty,” or “like he’s been paralyzed by neurotoxin and getting digested alive.” You’re not going to land on funny, but you want to at least land on something that won’t make the listener say, “You’re a fucking monster for reading that.” If you told me Peter Parker felt “Physic-ally ill” about almost failing class, those would be the words on your unmourned grave.
This is hard to look at. The writer ran out of ideas, but then remembered there was a pretzel cart in Spider-Man 2. “This might be something,” they figured. But they were wrong. These are the final thoughts of someone being choked to death at an Auntie Anne’s for the crime of being too fucking stupid to live.
What really pisses me off is I can’t tell if the unrelated picture of a disgusted Alfred Molina helps or hurts these jokes. I’m being stupid. Helps, obviously.
There’s an iconic train sequence in Spider-Man 2, and the author celebrated it with an entire section of train jokes(?). They finished one before their mind gave out. This goddamn idiot asked what Spider-Man would be if he had fallen on the train tracks, the things he was already on in the scene they’re referencing, and the answer was “Hero-ick.” That’s closer to a warning sign than a punchline. If my grandfather told this joke I would cry, holding his hand so he knew someone was with him.
With its skeletal hands, Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book clawed at any tiny plot element. And since space riddles are apparently easier to write than Spider-Man riddles, Mary Jane’s date with an astronaut dominated almost a third of this book. It wasn’t exactly “out of this world.” Watching this author exhaust every pun for every side character is like watching a deep sea crab pick through the silt for shark diarrhea. Let’s move on to Urkel.
Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book is only a long series of riddles. It’s one bad idea executed terribly. But YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! is thirty bad ideas executed terribly. Here they decided there should be a chapter for Urkel magic tricks without considering what that meant. It meant they had to come up with a “dorky” version of magic. Of magic! Magic was invented by equatorial weavers as a way to dry local panties, and this author tried to make it nerdier. Their mind shattered against this task. “Maybe Urkel plans a rad rap party? A-and vandalizes it? Then polka please help. Please help me.”
There’s a chapter where Urkel runs an advice column, which is a fine framework for comedy. But instead of his zany perspective leading to outrageous advice, they just use the format to smear a limp Family Circus caption across fifty words. If you adapted a suicide note into a fart I would say, “You stole every element of that idea from YUK IT UP WITH URKEL.”
Urkel dedicates one section to mean shit you can say to people because he is not the hero. He is an abusive sex pest with no social skills or external sense of self. But Urkel’s tired list of canned insults would absolutely dominate Spider-Man 2 in a war of words. If you told the Spider-Man 2 joke book “you’re sharp as a basketball,” it would reply “one basketsmall step for man, one giant three from outside because Mary Jane dated an astronaut, but Peter wishes he was an astro-naught.”
So F. goes to Urkel.
Legally, a joke book is allowed to contain up to 25% of unlubricated nameplay, which is the main subject’s name squashed into a different word with no reason or goal. That means if you’re writing a Q*Bert joke book, someone can just eat a fucking Q*Burger every 4 gags. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m only saying that what Spider-Man 2 and Urkel did here was technically legal.
This idiot author got so excited about how many words start with “man” they gave their financially struggling character from Queens a Manhattan apartment with a fireplace. The worst thing you can be when you’re a joke this bad is also wrong. Does this look done to you, Thea Feldman, author of Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book? A kid might read this, you piece of shit. I mean, the depth of this failure… that Spider-Mantel line is the entire origin story for a serial killer who hunts joke book authors. And maybe he’s right.
Thea is not above adopting a Frankenstein syntax to force a triangle joke through a square hole. Me think not worth all effort. I’d almost respect her more if she wrote apologies instead of these sad punchlines.
Look, I’m truly sorry. Like with the pretzel cart, I assumed I would eventually come up with something. You deserve better than half-finished Spider-Man knock knock jokes.
Um… Look, I’m truly sorry. Like with the pretzel ca–
No. I appreciate you trying, but this isn’t that.
Okay. Now the structure is fucked up. And you know what? My son hasn’t smiled since he learned Peter keeps a picture of Aunt May on the Spider-Mantel. Screw your apology.
Who are you to judge me?
The guy who wasted $3.99 on a book, that’s who!
The guy who wasted $3.99 on a book, that’s also a dipshit prick.
. . .
We’re now reading YUK IT UP WITH URKEL, and oh my god, look at this Urkelplay. The first one is so magnificently specific you couldn’t get it wrong. The second one requires you to imagine a hippo attack, but a long, gentle sitting kind, and it’s by a hippo who speaks the tongue of man well enough to know “uncle” is a cry for mercy, but if someone’s name is close enough to that, they’ll scream that instead. This joke book doesn’t give a fuck, a much more likeable kind of lazy. Look at this:
America made a coin in honor of Urkel and called it the nurkel! They pulled the uterus out of the middle school girl he stalks and called it an urkelectomy! This is breathtaking. I have to see more.
Dear God… Urkelonymous. And t-they just fucking added “Urkel” to the end of Thomas Jefferson. There are no rules here.
Spurkelers. There’s no context where these things sense. There are no people to whom you could ask these questions. What is happening? These aren’t… they’re not anything! This is an 80s comedy where a chimpanzee researcher’s floppy disk labeled “ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE” gets mixed up with one that says “1.44MB OF THE WORD URKEL.” It’d be called Party Ape University 3: Advanced Urkelnomics, and if I’m imagining entire screenplays based on three pages of your joke book you win. A giganturkel victurkely for Urkel.
The most common reaction to these kinds of joke books is “huh.” But sometimes, when things go really wrong, it becomes “huh?” Let’s look at some of the question mark ones.
What the shit? What happened? Oh. Oh, I see. You ATE a clock. And you’re not you; you’re Peter Parker, the superhero who never ate clocks before now. And I guess it was the world’s last one? It’s a lot to surprise your readers with, Thea. You led me into a weird maze and the prize for solving it was finding out the saddest truth. So let me return the favor, Thea: you have the sense of humor of a pediatric urologist being convicted of malpractice.
Your name is Pizza Parker? Motherfucker w– oh my god, no, Pete’s a Parker! Wow! It’s not a joke, but I do feel like I unlocked a gate in a God of War tutorial.
When it comes to pointless, baffling entries with no attempt at jokes, Urkel is a powerhouse. His book is filled with incoherent punchlines without setups, probably transcribed from Family Matters episodes, and here is a casual reference to him blowing up half of Chicago with a volcano in 1988. “Is killing an American city a joke?” thought the author. He couldn’t have expected an answer, but the unknowably dark series of events leading to this moment in his life whispered back, “YES.“
What the shit are you talking about Urkel? How did you do this? This is hyperbole without the hyperbole. You were so short no one could… determine your shape? See you? What? And this wasn’t a weak one at the tail end of a dozen “I’m so short” jokes. This was the only mention of Urkel’s height in the book. Which means someone had to come up with one short joke and it was, “I tell ya, I was so short that when I walked… it looked like I was not walking. What else? Oh, I saw your mama the other day and she was so fat she was bigger than everything else. Thank you, good night!”
In the middle of YUK IT UP WITH URKEL!, there was this picture of him in a dress with no context, caption, or explanation. So now I’m doing the same which means in the category of C.onfusion, it’s another unbelurkable performance from Urkel. He leads Spider-Man 2 by three points.
Ugh, puns. Fuck this.
Jesus Christ, the tragedy on display here. “I guess mortgage payments do make me antsy. Oh, aunt-sy! I see, because I have a nephew? I guess being an aunt sort of defines me. I could never have kids of my own, but back to what you brought up: bills, and how it’s very funny when two words sort of sound alike.”
I promise you would never forgive me if I posted more Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book puns, so let’s get right to Urkel.
This is an aggressive amount of puns. The writer of YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! seems like they’ve been waiting their whole life for this moment.
This is gruesome. They are taking violent, blind stabs at wordplay. But it’s not a struggle like in Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book. It’s like something inside them has finally been set free and they do not give a shit about us. This has the energy of a hallway fight scene. YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! is battling its way out of a prison guarded by puns. It’s brutal and effective and fuck any homonym that gets in its way.
My god… it’s glorious. Marvurkelous. What could stop this force of punning terror? Spider-Man 2 with its pretzel and Spider-Mantel bullshit? Ludicrurkelous.
Sometimes you sit down to write a joke book about Spider-Man or Urkel and realize you only know three things about those characters. And none of them are funny. What do you do? I’m excited to show you!
“Spider-Man is a good jumper, see, so this… t-this is a Spider-Man joke right? He loves spring because of jumping! When people think of Spider-Man they think, ‘webs, pretzels, springs.’ No? Okay, sorry. Lesson learned…
… I’ve learned nothing! Fuck you, he springs! And also, you know his self-doubt? Here’s a joke referencing that! He’s a baloney hero, no the sandwich, I’ve lost map, no English, which is the way funny?”
I can’t stand this. Watching Thea limp from one concept to another is like watching a one-legged cat crawl after a cyanide pill on a string.
You know when you’re watching a boring movie with someone and they say, “I’ll be right back, you don’t need to pause it,” but then they come back, ask what they missed, and it’s too dull and annoying to explain? This is the Spider-Man 2 joke version of that.
“You didn’t miss much. Spider-Man is strung out because he’s tense, and he makes webs, but webs have threads, and another word for thread is string. So then they added an out to it to make the phrase ‘string out’ and you’re all caught u– you know, we can watch something else if you’re not into it.”
By all that is holy, look at this. The author of YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! knew they had to squeeze in Urkel’s catchphrase, and this is what they came up with. They put it at the end of a Shakespeare quote without changing anything else. “– Romeo Urkel” they added to make it somehow more than perfect. This writer is nothing close to a genius, the opposite in fact, but they are an Urkel joke savant. I am in awe of this.
The score is 5 to 0, Urkel. Spider-Man 2 can’t win and there is no reason to go on, but a big part of these joke books is…
“I love Spider-Man jokes so much I can forgive forty pages of bug puns,” said no one ever. And yet here we are, looking at a book written for only that person.
Peter works for The Daily Bug-le. This unspeakable fishwife added a hyphen to the name of the actual newspaper Peter Parker worked at and called it a joke. This is a dumber version of nothing. It’s like asking what Professor X’s favorite letter is and the answer is “X, only a different font than you’re thinking of.” What kind of mind is this? Did she get this book published by winning some kind of Most Time Spent Dead After Drowning Sweepstakes?
If you ever watched Urkel’s show, you might remember a running gag where he pestered Laura Winslow for her love. This is the origin story of that– she came into his view and he literally charged her the moment she let her guard down. It was only his hilarious clumsiness that saved her from a groping, and we’re done with the joke. I hope the others aren’t this problematic…
… okay, I wouldn’t say this is exactly Urkel trying to hire a child prostitute, but I’d see your point if you put it that way.
This one feels like … a mistake? Does she mean “The Sound of Silence?” I know it’s not like me to split hairs during an Urkel joke, but I’m not really connecting with his sex pest material. Also, why is the photographer still taking pictures of this? Buddy, you have enough to make the arrest.
Let’s go on to another chapter. Oh good, the next section is about wacky gadgets Urkel has invented. Maybe we can move away from stalking the teen girl and get back to a zany Urkel messaround.
This is cute on the surface, but if Urkel is building contraptions to unfog his glasses, it implies he’s already built at least five devices to keep his genitals in check. Laura Winslow is in a lot of danger if any of these poorly built machines fail.
So let me get this straight. Your teachers, at least once a day, force you to write “I will not make goo-goo eyes at Laura Winslow during class” and you’ve automated it? So the school faculty is fine with sentencing for sex crime convictions being carried out by robots? This is lunacy, and not the good kind. Who thought it was a good idea to add a boner to Urkel?
Let’s try to reset things with some Urkel math problems. Surely these couldn’t all be about harassing Laura Winslow.
God damn it, Urkel! I take away all points. The score is now 0 to 0 in a contest between two serious assholes.
Imagine you were writing these books. For weeks your whole life has been pushing words around based on suspenders or objects Doctor Octopus has thrown at Spider-Man. You have lost track of what normal people think and feel. You start typing things like this…
These jokes are garbage, sure, but worse when you consider you have to set them up with, “Hey, do you remember a lot of specific elements from the 2004 film Spider-Man 2?” At this point it feels like Thea is trying to see if there’s any combination of words over which God will kill you. “The Tritium from the plot of 2004’s Spider-Man 2 fueled Doc Ock’s passion, you coward! What does it take for you to do something!?”
Thea spent so much time struggling through Tritium puns that she started associating Dr. Otto Octavius, the octopus-named man with eight arms, with electricity. To her, simply mentioning his name sets up the punchline of “something electricity!” As for Spider-Man, she has become fixated on how he’s always busy. So eventually her go-to joke becomes asking about Peter and answering with “time concepts!” It’s like running into Bill Cosby and saying, “Hey, you were in Ghost Dad. Guys, it’s the star of Ghost Dad! So what have you been up to since then? What’s next for Ghost Dad?”
These are technically jokes the same way it’s technically not a federal crime to marry a donkey. I wasn’t expecting approachable, broad comedy in a Spider-Man 2 joke book, but outside of the people who saw the movie fifteen minutes ago, who are these donkey-marrying jokes meant for?
Let’s check back in with Urkel.
Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book would mean almost nothing to someone unfamiliar with the movie, but YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! goes even further. It rejects the very concept of a non-Urkel context. The idea of something not being Urkel is the joke. This was not a book designed to be taken out in the world to make others laugh. This is a black hole of Urkel, and everything entering its event horizon is torn apart by the cosmic Answer: What does this have to do with Urkel?
Sometimes these bad jokes can make you groan or wince, and that’s fine. But what is never acceptable is when the perfect reaction to a punchline is, “Well, yeah. You fucking idiot.” Let me show you.
Well, yeah. You fucking idiot.
I mean, what else would it be? His name is Ock and there’s a month that literally starts with that sound.
It felt like a trick. Like the answer had to be Ape-ril because he tested his crushing strength on apes or something. I’m trying to picture the face of a child who hears “Ock-tober.” Or worse, hears they are right when they answer, “It couldn’t b– it’s not October is it? No. No, they wouldn’t do that.” If this was YUK IT UP WITH URKEL! the answer would be Urkeltember next to a picture of him watching Laura Winslow sleep. Speaking of, let’s see some Urkel.
Urkel will take the dumbest goddamn idea and torture it to death over the course of 100 words, and I think I love it. This is a magic trick where the trick is that it isn’t a magic trick, the premise doesn’t work, and there’s no punchline. A person who has seen a joke before couldn’t write this. This is raw misunderstanding and bewilderment, and it’s beautiful. It’s like a dog who doesn’t know enough about bowling to know how to miss. As long as Urkel can escape this section with no sex crimes, he’s the clear winner.
I’ll allow it. Urkel wins!