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How Cold Is It? So Cold I Forgot The Punchline...

Sean Hurley
Smarts Brook under snow and ice.

A long time ago - in this galaxy - I was sitting on the floor of a strange house in a room lit only by the cathode flicker of Milton Berle or Henny Youngman - or maybe it was Bob Hope?

Editor's note: We recommend listening to this story by Sean Hurley

“Boy, I feel great tonight!” Bob Hope began his 1966 routine on Milton Berle’s show, “I’m using a new oil on my hair. But I don’t know what to do with the sardines!”  

Fast as birds, the jokes were gone before they arrived. “How do you like the suit?” Hope asked the audience. “It’s herring bone.  I got it when I was pickled!”

And then came this one joke about the weather – a joke that I almost remember perfectly - that went like this.  

“Boy it’s cold outside!” Milton Berle or Henny Youngman or Bob Hope said.  “It’s so cold the something died!”

Only Milton or Henny or Bob didn’t say “the something died.”  And whatever the real word was – the something -  it was the thing that got the laugh.  And I have no idea what it was.

Oddly, maybe rightly, this misremembered line has become a pet phrase of mine - the thing I say when it’s as bitter cold as it is now. I’ll shiver in from shoveling and report to my wife and son that “it’s so cold the something died...”

My wife lets the something slide – it’s just a dumb thing I say - but now and then my son Sam wants to know what? What is it? What died?

And so I thought – for him, for myself, for my wife maybe, for Bob or Milton or Henny anyway - I’d head out into the woods in the minus four degrees and try to figure it out. Once and for all. What would be a funny thing that died because it was so cold?

I walk for a while on a snowshoe trail in a puffy coat and three sweaters and two pairs of pants and double socks and astronaut boots.  Not at all the comedy approach of Hope or Berle or Youngman – but I’m a reporter.  I like to go directly to the source. In this case, the coldest cold I can find.

And boy it’s cold outside. It’s so cold that maybe something funny will die. I stop and listen for the possibilities.

The sounds in the frozen forest arrive one at a time.  The knuckle snap of a tree, followed by the the glittery break of a falling icicle.

Boy it’s cold outside!  It’s so cold that icicle just died.

Ugh. Rimshot.

The sun, bright as ever, hangs in the sky like a Thomas Kincaid painting of the sun.  All light, no heat.

Boy, it’s cold outside! It’s so cold the sun just died…


My sound recorder battery usually lasts 2 hours. In this bitter cold it begins to die after 15 minutes – “Boy it’s cold out!” I say into my fading recorder, “It’s so cold my recorder is dying – my mouth is dying…my face…”

It’s so cold, my recorder does die.  So I go back home, snow blind and cold-rattled. My son Sam asks if I figured it out. I think so, I tell him. Boy it’s cold out, I say. It’s so cold – are you ready? Ready, he says. 

"It’s so cold the something died!"

And he laughs a small laugh that I would write out as “heh heh.” And maybe, yes, he was laughing more at my failure. But I’ll take it. Bob or Milton or Henny would have taken it. 

And who knows - maybe that was the joke – maybe I remembered right?  Maybe the “something” is the great unknown everything that seems to have come, temporarily, in these terribly cold times, to an end.

Because boy is it cold outside!  And I do believe the something has died. 

Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at shurley@nhpr.org.

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