Viola jokes are a category of jokes which are directed towards violas and viola players. The jokes are thought to have originated from the 18th century when the part of the viola was very uncomplicated and often just a filler part, thus attracting musicians who were not usually very talented musically.
In Italy in the early 1700s, the following story occurred and it is thought that it was the origin of many viola jokes despite being a true story:
The violinist Francesco Geminiani arrived in London in 1714, one of the many expatriate musicians who settled in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries ... As a young man Geminiani was appointed head of the orchestra in Naples, where according to English music historian Charles Burney he was "so wild and unsteady a timist, that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion", and was demoted to playing the viola.
The jokes come in many different forms. Some of them are only understandable to musicians and people acquainted with musical terms, while others are meant to be understood for everyone, regardless of their musical knowledge. Some jokes make fun of the viola itself while others make fun of violists, while some jokes are directed in the opposite direction: jokes about musicians who tell viola jokes.
Making fun of the viola:
- What is the difference between a radio and a viola? A radio plays music.
Making fun of violists:
- How can you tell if a violist is playing out of tune? The bow is moving.
Combining one or more of the above with other musical concepts:
- What is the definition of a minor second? Two violists playing in unison.
- What is the definition of perfect pitch? Throwing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim.
Reverse viola jokes, i.e., jokes elevating the viola or violists and/or degrading other instruments or their players:
- Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can understand them.
- Cottrell, Stephen (2004). Professional Music-making in London: Ethnography and Experience. Ashgate Phublishing. pp. 144–146. ISBN 0754608891.
- Marissen, Michael (1999). The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Princeton University Press. p. 61. ISBN 1400821657.
- Johnstone, David. Grand Encyclopedia of Viola Jokes (PDF). p. 59.
- Carl Rahkonen (Winter 2000). "No Laughing Matter: The Viola Joke Cycle as Musicians' Folklore". Western Folklore. Western Folklore, Vol. 59, No. 1. 59 (1): 49–63. doi:10.2307/1500468. JSTOR 1500468.