Bob, a travelling salesman, arrives at a small town late in the day, walks into the local bar, sits down and orders a beer. After a few moments, someone stands up and shouts, “28!” and the entire bar erupts into hysterical laughter. Bob thinks this is strange, but goes back to his beer.
A few moments later, someone else stands up and yells, “33!” Once again, the bar bursts into fits of laughter. Some are rolling on the floor. Bob shakes his head and goes back to drinking his beer.
Soon, a third person stands up and shouts, “4!” Again, everyone in the bar laughs, some uncontrollably.
Completely confused, Bob summons the bartender and asks what all the laughing is about.
The bartender replies, “See, pal, we’re such a small town that everyone knows everyone and all of their jokes. So, to make life easier, we catalogued all of our gags. Instead of telling the whole joke, we just shout out its number and everyone knows what joke it is and we laugh.”
Bob listens carefully, nods and sits down. More people stand up and shout numbers.
Eventually, Bob can’t contain himself any longer. Well-known as the life of any party back home, he has to join in. So Bob stands up and shouts, “41!”
Nobody laughs. Instead, there is a stony silence. Bob sits down, shame-faced and embarrassed.
He summons the bartender again and asks, “What happened? Why didn’t anyone laugh?”
The bartender shakes his head and says, “Buddy, it’s not so much the joke, it’s the way you tell it.”