Mike Conners knows how to tell an Irish joke.
The Albany County comptroller’s topics include self-assured rock star Bono, the way to heaven and the pope’s red telephone line to God.
“What’s the difference between Bono and God?” asked Conners, setting up the lead singer for Irish band U2 for a punch line. “God doesn’t wander around Dublin thinking he’s Bono.”
Next up — Father Rooney’s way to heaven, as taught to lads in North Albany.
“Father says, ‘Murphy, do you want to go to heaven? Go stand over by that wall.’ ” Conners begins.
“So Murphy lines up by the wall at Sacred Heart Church. Then he says to O’Brien, ‘You want to go to heaven?’ And it’s ‘Yes, Father, I want to go to heaven.’ Father says, ‘OK, go stand over there by that wall.’
“He comes up to Conners and asks him if he wants to go to heaven, and Conners says, ‘Well, no Father, I don’t.’ And Father says, ‘You mean you don’t want to go to heaven when you die?’
“And Conners says, ‘Of course I want to go to heaven when I die. I thought you were getting a trip together now!”
Mike’s on a roll. One more — and it’s the best of the bunch.
“President Clinton visits the pope and he notices this red phone in the corner of the room. He asks the pope what the phone is for, and the pope says, ‘Oh, that’s a direct line to God. It’s very expensive. If we dial it from here, it’s $20,000 a minute for the Vatican.’ So Clinton accepted his explanation and on he went.
“A couple of days later he’s in Ireland and he’s in the archbishop’s office and he sees another red phone. Being curious, he asks the archbishop what the phone was used for and the archbishop tells Clinton it’s a direct line to God, he uses it whenever he has a puzzling question or concern. So Clinton asked the archbishop, ‘Aren’t the calls quite expensive, since the pope has to pay $20,000 for the red phone at the Vatican?”
“And the archbishop said ‘Oh no. In Ireland, it’s a local call.’ ”
Conners also knows why Irish jokes appeal to people of Irish descent and their friends — who are legion this time of year.
“I think it’s the dry humor and it’s the quickness of the joke,” he said. “It matches the Irish wit.”
Irish men and women will be telling jokes today and Monday — St. Patrick’s Day — as conversations turn into celebrations. The Daily Gazette asked several local Irish residents to share some of their favorite punch lines.
• From Sister Mary Rose Noonan of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham:
“Paddy suffered a bad heart attack and he ended up in a Catholic Hospital run by nuns in County Cork. He had emergency bypass surgery and when he woke up, he was kind of surprised. One of the sisters came up to him from the admissions office and said, ‘What kind of health insurance do you have?’ He said, ‘I don’t have any health insurance.’
“The sister asked, ‘Well, do you have any money in the bank?’ And he said no. ‘Well, do you have a relative who can help you?’
“ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘the only relative I have is my sister, an old maid nun, a spinster.’ And the nun got a little annoyed and said, ‘Nuns are not spinsters, they’re married to God.’
“And Paddy replied, ‘Well, send the bill to my brother-in-law, then.’ ”
Sister Noonan believes Irish jokes succeed because the Irish are so good at laughing at themselves. “So many of the Irish jokes have to do with that,” she said. “They deal with the sad things in life with humor. Sometimes, that makes it even funnier.”
• From Glenville’s Michael Glenn, of Schenectady’s Ancient Order of Hibernians:
“Here’s my current favorite story, which falls under the type of humor where the Irish get to take a poke at the Brits.
“An Englishmen and an Irishman enter a bake shop at the same time. The Brit says to Paddy, ‘Watch this,’ and as the shop manager’s back is turned, swipes three cookies from the counter and stows them in his pocket.
“Paddy, not impressed, replies ‘Watch and learn.’ He calls to the shop manager and says ‘If you give me a cookie, I’ll show you a magic trick.’ The manager complies.
“Paddy replies, ‘Well, one more just to make it effective.’ He gobbles it down with the first and asks for a third. He eats that one, too. The manager, starting to get irate, replies ‘So now, where’s my magic trick?’
“Paddy replies, ‘Look in the Brit’s coat pocket!’ ”
Glenn believes Irish jokes are always funny, often reflective.
“Irish humor certainly has its own unique way about it, quite often ironic, sometimes self-effacing, but always able to bring about a smile if not a full laugh,” he said.
• Rev. Leo O’Brien has heard his share of Irish jokes in his 83 years on Earth. O’Brien is currently the chaplain at the Avila Retirement Community in Albany and was formerly the pastor — from 1956 until 1964 — at St. Paul’s Church in Schenectady’s Woodlawn section.
“There was a guy in a bar, having a drink all by himself, but he has three beers and his friend says, ‘Can you tell me why you have three beers?’ He says, ‘Oh yeah, I have two brothers, Pat and Tom, and one is in Australia and one is in South America. We agreed every time we had a drink, we’d have a drink for one another.’
“So it went on very nicely, but one day he just ordered two drinks. So very carefully, the bartender said, ‘Any problem?’ And he said, ‘No. Why do you ask? The guy said, ‘Well, you only have two beers.’ He said, ‘Oh, I gave up beer for Lent.’ ”
O’Brien believes Irish humor is designed to relieve sadness.
“I think it kind of takes us out of our misery,” he said. “Irish songs are usually sad songs, somebody leaving Ireland. So it kind of gives us a little break.”
• Maggie McNally of Albany’s Irish Riders motorcycle club offers an Irish joke from the road.
“It was Paddy and Seamus giving the motorcycle a ride on a brisk autumn day. After a wee bit, Paddy — who was sitting behind Seamus on the bike — began to holler, ‘Seamus, Seamus, the wind is cuttin’ me chest out!’
“ ‘Well, Paddy my lad,’ said Seamus, ‘Why don’t you take your jacket off and turn it from front to back . . . that will block the wind for you.’
“So Paddy took Seamus’ advice and turned his jacket from front to back and got back on the bike and the two of them were off down the road again. After a bit, Seamus turned to talk to Paddy and was horrified to see that Paddy was not there. Seamus immediately turned the bike around and retraced their route. After a short time, he came to a turn and saw a bunch of farmers standing around Paddy, who was sitting on the ground.
“ ‘T’anks be to heaven, is he all right?’ Seamus hailed to the farmers. ‘Well,’ said one of the farmers, ‘he was all right when we found him here. But since we turned his head back to front, he hasn’t said a word since!’ ”
• When Tom Lawrence of Amsterdam tells an Irish joke, the listener enjoys delivery in a fine Irish brogue.
“Sean is sitting in his chair and Sheila comes in an says, ‘Sean, tonight I’ll be making me fish stew, I need you to go down to the mongers and get some snails and bring them back up. And no stopping at the pub on your way home!
“He says, ‘All right, Sheila, yeah, yeah.’ So he gets up and goes down to the fishmongers and he gets two paper bags full of snails. And he’s walking up the hill and passing the pub and Mick is inside and says, ‘Hey, Sean, come in for a pint.’ And it’s ‘Naw, I can’t do it, I’ve got to get these back to Sheila, she’s making her fish stew tonight.’
“Mick says, ‘Come on, Sean, have a pint, I’ll buy.’ So Sean went into the pub and four hours later he came walking out. And he’s walking home and gets up to his cottage and he pulls on the iron gate when he should have pushed. He rips the paper bag and the snails go all over the street and the sidewalks.
“He looks up and there’s Sheila standing there with her arms crossed. And it’s ‘Where the hell have you been for the last four hours?’ And he says, looking at the snails, ‘Where the hell do you think I’ve been? Come on boys, now hurry up, get going.”
For Lawrence, a former longtime Schenectady resident and founder of Lennon’s Irish Shop on Jay Street, Irish humor is a talent that comes from family tradition.
“My mother was from Belfast and she always had a joke and her family always did,” he said. “I think it’s a way of expression. The Irish are real hard workers and at the end of the day, they would sit around and tell stories. A lot of these jokes are based in truth. These things actually happened to people.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.