Thursday, 8 September 2011

The best fat joke the world will ever hear

This post first appeared as a column in AsiaLIFE Ho Chi Minh City magazine.

I don’t know very much about Vietnamese humour, but I know that my Vietnamese friends like jokes about boobs, and that the passengers on Vietnam Airlines can’t get enough of that second-rate Candid Camera they show on the little screens.

I am convinced, however, that the Vietnamese are actually comic geniuses.

I present Exhibit A.

One evening, Nathan and I were dining at an eerily silent and empty upscale restaurant. It was like it was too fancy to have sounds. Or customers. Indeed, we were the only ones there until an older Tay gentleman – I would say sixty, in the latter stages of a mid-life crisis  – arrived and made a beeline for the bar to chat to the lovely young bar girl.

The gentleman ordered his drink and broke the eerie silence to make painfully sleazy small talk with the several-generations-younger girl, all the while nibbling from a bowl of peanuts that was sitting on the bar. And then it came out of nowhere:

Bar girl: I don’t think you should eat the peanuts.
Man Having A Mid-Life Crisis: Why?
Bar girl: Because peanuts are bad for old people.
Man Having A Mid-Life Crisis: [Eerie silence]

I used every last piece of self-control within me not to shout SMACK-DOWN from across the room.

It was a delicious moment; impeccable comic timing. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it” I thought. But then I realised, no, he probably shouldn’t because smoking is bad for old people.

The Vietnamese penchant for bluntness is well-known. I’m sure you have many examples of your own. Like when a man at your workplace approaches you at the water cooler to tell you that he and the rest of the Finance team have all been discussing your outfit. “I have been chosen to come and ask you”, he says. “Why are you wearing pyjamas to work?” Okay, so maybe this didn’t happen to you. And, for the record, I was actually wearing a two hundred-dollar, Japanese designer dress. But never mind, you know what I’m talking about.

You wouldn’t necessarily call this bluntness “comedy”, but if you do, living in Vietnam instantly transforms from being mildly humiliating, to being completely hilarious.

In a case of “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”, you just need to see Vietnam as the humour capital of the world. People pay good cash money to see stand-up comedians perform this kind of side-splitting off-colour material. Instead of skulking off to bed, Mr Too Old For Peanuts should have applauded the bar girl’s virtuoso deadpan routine.

To bring home my case, I present Exhibit B. This happened when a Vietnamese colleague of mine met Nathan for the first time. She said she was very pleased to meet him and exclaimed, “Oh, look at you two, you’re a perfect 10!”
“Oh, that’s so nice! Thank you!” I said.
To which she responded, “Yes, he’s the 1 and you’re the 0”.

It took me several beats to work out that this was, in fact, the best fat joke the world will ever hear.

My colleague was oblivious to Nathan’s horrified do-not-go-there face (which I’ve seen many times before, most notably when the lady at the airport check-in counter asked me if I was pregnant), so she continued.

“Yes”, she said. “And without him, you’re nothing!”


I gasped so forcefully that I was literally propelled backwards. Only my massive fatness stopped me from keeling right over. I clutched my hands to my chest in shock. It was perfection. It had everything. An insult masquerading as flattery, ingenious wordplay, and a diabolical one-two finish about how fat girls can’t get a guy. 

Nathan’s do-not-go-there face became his oh-no-she-didn’t face, the grimace indicating that he feared the worst. I paused to fix forever in my mind this moment of comic genius, and then, I cried buckets of tears. Yes, that’s right: tears of laughter. With a few sobs of humiliation thrown in just for good measure.


  1. Ah, good times. Us number ones, we are pretty awesome. But it's you zeros that really make us whole. Oh yeah.

  2. Best. Reaction. Ever.

  3. I was told by two separate ladies at work the other day that my dress made me look pregnant, which was deemed a totally reasonable thing to say as they smiled and nodded while doing so.

    They then followed this up by noting that "you must be comfortable" - with more smiling and nodding...dress is in the bin.


  4. Don't worry I'm a Vietnamese and I have suffered similar things for my whole life. So it's good we see them as hilarious rather than humiliating.

    Another point, often Vietnamese people like to comment on your appearance for they believe that's how people care about each other. But westerners do pay attention to people's appearance too, don't you? (This is a quetion, rather, than a challenge :-)

    Anyway, I think that's why being a Vietnamese "girl" I have learnt to become sharp tongued :-D

  5. Edyta: What did the number zero say to the number eight? "Nice belt." That one's for you, kiddo.

    Uggclogs: Why thank you. BTW your blog is making me really jealous at the moment!

    Emily: You're pregnant?! Congratulations!

    Anonymous sharp-tongued Vietnamese girl: I think Westerners generally only say positive things about your appearance to your face (very different behind your back). Unless what you're saying is 100% positive ("I love your outfit today!") it's pretty much off limits. So touchy, we are.

  6. That is a good fat joke! I'm just getting the direct feedback and matter of fact advice on my appearance which lacks any comic intentions. For example, after meeting someone for the first time they said, "yes, yes, you should think about losing some weight because your stomach is very big".

    My number 1 arrives on Friday and I'm just waiting for the perfect 10 joke. Thanks for the heads up!

  7. As a former number 1 who is turning into a 0 by the day, I'm now waiting for the jokes to appear. But as I live in Australia where there are so many 8's 88's and 000's (and less direct, sharp-tongued humour) I may be waiting a while. Meanwhile, back to the bike! PS. Had a quick look in AsiaLIFE HCMC. Nice work Tabs.

  8. Joanna: Love it! Another one of my favourite fat Tay stories is a friend who was asked by a Vietnamese girl about to get married "How do I get fat like you for my wedding?" That's not a sentence you often hear.

    Buster: Just keep moving to fatter and fatter nations! Keeps you slim forever.

  9. As a genuinely fat tay (though not pregnant) I try to use this to my advantage. Specifically - when queuing. Because, as we all know, to the Vietnamese there is no queuing - there is only losing. BUT - by resting a hand on my enormous tay belly, I can generally get to the front of the supermarket line, and the taxi line. But not at the airport. At the airport - last one in's a rotten egg.

  10. This fat joke is quite common in Vietnam, actually, with the girl being number 0, because, though men do not really care about that, most women are obsessed with their imaginary obesity lol.

  11. Oh man, as a "plus-sized" (such a lovely euphemism) I am steeling myself for these types of reactions when I get to Hanoi. I should make quite the site; fat me, my ginger 1 and our little dog.


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