Laughing on the Inside

The Philosophy of Humor is an intriguing subject. Why do we find certain things funny and other things not? How does that explain why I find something funny and you do not? These are questions that have been discussed for years, but in particular, I find the idea of an inside joke fascinating, and it’s something I think about a good deal. As you’ll soon be able to tell.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines the concept: “An in-joke, also known as an inside joke or in joke, is a joke whose humor is clear only to people who are in a particular social group, occupation, or other community of common understanding. It is an esoteric joke which is humorous only to those who know the situation behind it.”

This definition is interesting because it begs the question, “What isn’t an inside joke?”

Take, for example, some of your classic joke frameworks. Knock, Knock. A man walks into a bar. Why did the chicken cross the road? These are all reliant on a basic understanding of the English language, at the very least. Knock-knock jokes, though, rely somewhat on some level of familiarity with that type of joke, or at the very least what “knock, knock” is getting at. In a way, don’t these jokes qualify for the definition of an inside joke?

It seems to me we need a better definition, but fuck it, I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to get to discussing my singular, end-all, glorious, GOAT inside joke that both qualifies for and transcends our definition of an inside joke.

What I’m talking about, of course, is Three Nine Five.

There are different “types” of inside jokes. Some inside jokes can be communicated extremely easily to the uninitiated; the tale behind humor is easily explained, and the sense of humor that drives laughter is commonly held. Here’s where you’ll find most of your successfully-told stories.

Others, however, are not explained with ease. This could be one of those “you had to be there” situations, where the re-telling doesn’t do the original instance any justice. It could also be because the joke really only resonates with a certain breed of cat – one who has a specific sense of humor. Trying to relay these humorous anecdotes is extremely difficult. A great example is one of my inside jokes, “I’ve been here for days…,” in that its comedic value is not ubiquitously appreciated, and that it’s not worth trying to explain. Rest assured, though: it’s hysterical.

Three Nine Five (or 395, in shorthand) is from an entirely different species – a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Here’s why: The humor found with all other inside jokes relies on referencing the humor of the original instance, an instance that was funny enough to merit repeated referencing of that instance. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is, there’s never any comedic progress being made. Your standard inside joke is funny this time for the same reason that it was funny the first time. It might make you laugh just as hard right now, but you’re always laughing for the same reason. With 395, this is absolutely not the case.

For those of you unfamiliar with 395, I’m sorry. You’re missing out.

The majority of the pictures my friends send each other are of these numbers occurring naturally in the world, commonly found in Sporting Events and Gas Prices. Returning to college as an alum, I’ve overheard kids I did not go to school with refer to a pong score of 9-9 as “3s and 5s.” Just today, my friend made an online purchase because, according to him, “If I see something called a ‘reamer’ on a wedding registry for $3.95, I’m going to buy it 100% of the time.” When he made this comment, he had no idea I was writing this column. It’s just become a pervasive, unceasing part of our lives.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. Rather, 395 was spawned  by a relatively anonymous comment that came out of the pathologically inane sense of humor of my long time friend and elementary/middle/high school classmate Joseph Thomas Tardi the Third.

The time period was mid-high school, and an Asian girl had just transferred to our school. Within mere weeks of her arrival, she began dating a fellow classmate of ours, and due to his ginger complexion, we thought they made a humorous pairing. Really, though, it was the expediency with which they struck up the relationship that drew our attention. This was exacerbated by the female’s ethnicity, and resulted in our crew jokingly alleging that the girl was a Mail Order Bride. Joe Tardi ran with the idea, and during discussions about the hypothetical price-point of ordering your betrothed through the postal service, uttered, in the goofiest of voices, the now-legendary phrase, “A Three Nine Five. Is good deal, no?”


I’ve been asked countless times about the origin of 395, and as those of you who are still reading to this point can probably tell, the problem with responding with the story above is that it’s really sort of underwhelming. As I mentioned earlier, some inside jokes rely on a certain sense of humor, or rely on someone having been there during genesis, but with all other jokes that fall under that grouping, at least the people that were there and found it funny appreciate the story. With 395, even those of us that were there and still constantly reference it don’t find the tale of origin all that compelling.

395 thrives despite that, and I’m not particularly sure how that came about. Over time, what began as an erroneous comment has morphed into an unceasing joke that spans cliques and continents. In the early stages, as it was developing from an isolated phrase into an inside joke, we were truly referencing that original instance, but that really didn’t last long. In fact, when the topic comes up now, it has absolutely nothing to do with its moment of creation. Instead, the joke has become self-referential.

The best example of this I’ve come across is a night in Niskayuna when a bunch of us went and built a campfire by the spot we call The Kraken. At some point in the night, I was making plans for the next day, and exchanged phone numbers with one of our female friends to coordinate the logistics. After she gave her me her number, I “cleverly” detailed mine as “Five one eight, three nine five, thirty-nine, fifty-three.” As soon as she punched the number into her Address Book, she exclaimed “That’s not your number! That’s Russ’ number!”

Now, don’t be confused. This is not Russell’s phone number. Rather, my idiot friend had pulled the same juvenile 395 joke on the girl months ago, but had simply never let her in on the punchline.

That’s what 395 has somehow become, and it’s fascinating to me. At this point, the mirth generated by the joke, which truly qualifies as an inside joke, is completely non-derived from its original instance’s comedic value. At this point, 395 is funny, to us, because it’s funny.

I’m sure many of you will fairly accuse me of writing this article as an excuse to talk about 395. You haters are right, but the joke’s on you – I’ve made a 395 reference in every Blogcat I’ve written for this website. Clearly, I don’t need an excuse.

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