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Truth or Lion?

Category: The Teen Scene
Posted: August 4, 2017

By: Josh O'Shea, Young Adult Librarian

PBS kids program Between the Lions.Ever have a moment when you shock yourself, realizing something that you saw in your past meant something else, or more, than when you witnessed it? Ever think of a conversation you had with someone, and days later said, “Oh! That’s what she meant!” Or when you see a Nestle truck and realize its branding has a nest in it? I had one of those feelings recently, and it was from not just months but years ago. I literally gave a blast of laughter when I realized I had just got a joke that was sitting right in front of me — of my memory — for years. And it had the power of multiple punchlines, in quick succession.

I watched Between the Lions on PBS when I was growing up. They were all puppets, like Sesame Street or Mr Roger’s Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The main characters were a family of lions, with a mother, father, sister and brother. Lionel, the brother cub, was rather dopey and lovable. All of the lessons the characters learned were pretty straight-forward because they were trying to teach the audience, so the audience would learn alongside the characters in real time.

I remember one point, though, when Lionel did something witty that shocked him and his viewers. He responded to a question, which didn’t convince the asker, and he quipped “I ain’t lyin’,” paused for a second, looked up, shrugged, and walked off with a giggle. I ain’t lyin’. Say it out loud. I ain’t lyin’. What do you hear? I ain’t lion. What?! (We could ask questions about which gives the truth: what is said or what is heard — but that’s for another time).

“Okay, that’s not that good,” you might say; “You realized that two words sound the same and you didn’t notice it when you first heard it, which was funny to you when you realized it later. Good for you. Not impressed. I’ve heard better.” Well well now, hold ‘til my explanation, then you can scoff.

The second funny part is that Lionel, all of seven years old and in first grade (per the show’s intent), realized the double meaning. He heard the word he used was like another word, and that word, when replaced in his sentence, changed the statement’s meaning. In fact, it made his statement untrue! He wasn’t lying (let’s take his word for it), and he is a lion. Somebody standing next to him might’ve said “Excuse me youngling, yes, you are indeed a lion; don’t say you’re not a lion.” Oh. My. Gosh. What a mess. That’s the third layer contextual meaning. Was he telling the truth?! No, yes, yes-no. Context, context, context.

The fourth layer is that Lionel didn’t let on loudly that he understood what he did, and he didn’t really let the audience know what he did. The whole show has been about obvious, easy-to-understand learning. Here, it’s an inside joke with himself (and anybody who caught it). He heard himself speak, and he realized it immediately. He got his accidental joke right in front of you. He didn’t make a big deal of it; his body language didn’t emphasize it. That’s so absurd it’s funny. I’ve had this happen in real life: a kid saying a thing they’re too young to be able to.

That leads us to the fifth layer, which is guess work for me rather than observation. I think the writers wrote a joke that was hidden for people to find at first glance, hidden for people to find either at that second or… wait for it… to jump out of memory, just like it did for me. Whaaaaaaaaat.

It was like I had a five-point hilarity bomb lying sneakily in my memory that decided to explode into my consciousness right when I wasn’t ready for it. And it wasn’t just a “Oh! I never thought of that!” It was a fast and furious “Oh! I never thought of that!” five times in a row, bam bam bam bam bam! That, let me tell you, is quite an experience to have. Make it subtle, with only a hint of its presence, and someone years from now might be standing in the kitchen, buttering toast, and laugh ludicrously and loudly at nothing anybody could see.

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