My humor test in the lift

(This one may not work for you. But try to laugh with me anyway.)

Thirteen years ago, soon after I joined The Economist, I was riding down in the elevator (“lift”, according to our style guide) of our “Tower” at 25 St. James’s Street in London.

There were two or three of us. We were silent. Drab weather. Nothing to say.

Just before the door opened, one of the others turned toward me, with expressively furtive, even dirty or intimidating, body language. Was he about to flash open his trench coat? Confess to a crime? Attack me?

I have doubts about free trade,

he said, and ducked out into the drizzle and its pin-striped shadows.

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22 thoughts on “My humor test in the lift

  1. When I saw that your post was about people emerging from a lift, I thought you were going to rehash the old joke where one of them turns around and says: in five years let’s have a reunion.

    But yes, I thought the one about free trade to be funny.

    I also liked, “……..ducked into the drizzle and its pin-striped shadows…….”.

    Very Raymond Chandler, that.

    • Dear Peter,

      The Economist was founded in 1843 on the principle of Free Trade. In fact it was a specific reaction against the Corn Laws which taxed (heavily) imported corn. There are some more details here ( of the founder (James Wilson).

      So The Economist has always been a champion of Free Trade throughout its existence and that’s what makes this joke funny.

    • Dear John,

      Thanks for clearing that up. I keep confusing The Economist with The Nation.

      So the guy in the elevator had doubts about Free Trade and happened to know that one of his co-riders worked for The Economist, which happened to be a champion of Free Trade. He turned to Andreas, briefly expressed his doubts, and disappeared into the pin-striped shadows. Hmm. I’ll chew on it for awhile. I’m sure it’ll hit me one of these days.

      By the way, have you talked to Mark and Matthew lately?

      (This one may not work for you. But try to laugh with me anyway.)

    • Yeah, sort of like an elevator opening at the Vatican and as the cardinals are getting out one says “I have doubts about celibacy.”

      Oh, wait. Maybe that’s not as funny because it’s not ironic enough.

    • So the guy who ducked into the drizzle upon voicing his doubts about free trade was an Economist employee? Is that the punch line? I still don’t get it.

      For instance, I’ve always been fervently opposed to the consumption of meat and alcohol, yet I worked as a waiter for many years. Naturally, I was plagued by the dichotomy between my beliefs and my complicity in selling the very items I had “doubts” about, to put it mildly. I see the irony, but I’m not sure why it would elicit gales of laughter.

    • First, thank god I did not jump the gun and begin to explain the humor, because that’s like analyzing arousal (ie, the former kills the latter).

      But since John and Thomas did such a good job, I can endorse their explanation. (Like the Vatican bit!)

      You know, a funny thing just happened: In this very comment, I wrote a rather lengthy treatise on the many subtle ways in which the above was humorous. As I did so, I realized that the magic was going poof.

      So I deleted all that stuff again. (where the three dots are)

      So no, no more explanation forthcoming, at least not from me. Or at least not today.

    • So a guy who worked for The Economist expressed doubts about Free Trade, and that’s like a member of the Catholic clergy who has doubts about celibacy, a vegetarian waiter who feels uncomfortable selling steak, or a guy at the gun store who has a problem with the Second Amendment.

      I still feel I’m missing some nuance here.

    • I used to work with scientists that were always very keen to find the NDA method for any analysis of materials (NDA = non-destructive analysis). I think we have just proved that when it comes to jokes, NDA is just not possible, QED.

    • Did the person in the lift who said the thing about Free Trade say it in an English accent?

      If so, it’s likely he was English. Hence what he said would resonate better in English ears than in non-English ones.

  2. It’s interesting that this took place thirteen years ago, as it was then (1997) that I lived in Britain and happened to visit The Economist building. My company had relocated me from the US and I lived in London on weekends. I did the “Spy Tour” London Walk on a Sunday and in the vicinity of Jermyn Street the guide pointed out The Economist headquarters. I was an avid reader so when the tour ended I moseyed over. A pleasant young man behind a counter told me that had I arrived just a little earlier I would have been allowed entry into the building; this, because it was “Architecture Day” and people were allowed to go to an upper floor to see London. Now here’s the interesting point: as he handed me a consolation copy of latest Economist, I thought I sensed doubts about free trade.

    Regarding humor: One of my British co-workers who made the relocation in the opposite direction — from the UK to Manhattan — sent back this email in early summer:

    “Due to trouble in the colonies 200 years ago, this office will be closed July 4th.”

    • You got the spirit, Jim M. Too bad blogs including this one did not exist yet, because you could have pinged its author and I would have come down to let you in.

      Incidentally, you missed a good view but little else of architectural interest in the top floors.

  3. It was a rather obscure English joke about the weather and crop circles, Andreas.

    What he actually said was:

    “I’ve a dowse – HA! – but for ET raid.”

    He was probably quite upset that you ignored it.

  4. The joke is funny; the commentary is a bloody riot!

    Anybody want to take apart my favorite Yiddish joke now:

    Two old jews meet in the street:

    –Did you hear about Rabinovich?
    –No, what?
    –He died.
    –What, again?
    –Shhh…here he comes…

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