I love jokes that encapsulate an important bit of knowledge. My family is all too aware of this, since it means that I bore them repeatedly by making a point with some anecdote they’ve heard many times before. But they’re kind enough to put up with it.
This morning I was reminded that a given task requires not only doing it but being prepared to do it, and sometimes the time and effort needed to prepare vastly outweighs the time needed to execute. I have a joke for that, of course. But curious to see if someone on the internet had told the same joke better, I poked around and stumbled on some variations that not only were pretty good, but got to their destination differently.
Here’s one that has a punchline close to the joke that I tell.
I’ve worked with a fabulous voiceover actor. I watched him go into the booth and nail a commercial in five minutes. When the client balked at his fee saying, "But it only took you five minutes." My friend replied, "No, it took me 20 years. You only saw the last five minutes."
But the joke I tell involves a tourist who encounters someone in a park doing sketches. Here’s one that covers that angle, with a slightly different punchline.
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him. “It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
Here’s one I hadn’t heard, that gets at the same point differently.
A famous French hatmaker is sitting in a cafe when a woman approaches and begs him to make her a hat. He assents and takes some pins and some felt out of his satchel. With a whirl of hands he creates a magnificient chapeau.
The woman is charmed. The hatmaker says, "That will be 5,000 francs."
The woman is aghast. "Five thousand, francs!? But it only took you a few moments."
The man then takes the hat, removes all the pins, smooths out the felt and returns it to her saying, "The materials are free."
Here’s one that is better known but makes roughly the same point and brings out the difference between preparation and execution.
A giant ship engine failed. The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure but how to fix the engine.
Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a young. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.
Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!
A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.
"What?!" the owners exclaimed. "He hardly did anything!"
So they wrote the old man a note saying, "Please send us an itemized bill."
The man sent a bill that read:
Tapping with a hammer………………….. $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap…………………….. $ 9,998.00
In this same vein, I am old enough to remember cameras that used disposable flash bulbs. When those were first introduced, there was a significant amount of resistance to them because the cost of the bulb was far higher than the bit of film that it exposed. It took some time to make people understand that what was important was whether it was worth the cost of both the film and the bulb to have the picture, i.e. no bulb, no picture.