It is conventional in this encyclopedia for articles to have a little something above the Table of Contents, and to inspire the reader with levity. However, in view of the subject matter, perhaps this article will simply be "the exception that proves the rule."
Now considered as an established tradition, the introduction joke is the premise of all good speeches, presentations, conferences and keynotes. Its role is multiple: it helps to relax the audience and increase its attention, also giving the impression that the guy who's going to talk for two hours is as funny as Groucho Marx, especially in a speech on Greek economic policy, eulogizing a statesman who just died, or announcing the nation's surrender to an occupying Army.
With or without introduction joke
The skeptical reader who is still not convinced may wish to review famous speeches from history and imagine the effect if the orator had not begun his speech with the introduction joke:
The Reverend King’s Speech
You see? Having omitted the crucial introduction joke, Martin Luther King Jr. has totally lost his audience. Now let’s review how Dr. King actually began his signature speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
You see what happened? Starting with a hilarious introduction joke, this speech became so famous that people decided to name some streets after Martin Luther King Jr. Sometimes celebrity is only a matter of words.
Remember this one:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
OH… MY… GOD… Third sentence and boom, I fell asleep. What’s the point of this thing, Winston? You want to bore people to death? This is typically the speech which needs a good comedy writer able to make a funny introduction joke. Now let’s try again:
“Hey guys, you know why Hitler became a dictator and not an actor despite his great Charlie Chaplin’s impersonation? Well, he never was able to find a non-Jew producer! Ah ah ah! Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule blah blah blah…”
THAT's the way to win World War II!
JFK's second try
As the former examples show, mastering the introduction joke is particularly difficult for politicians. Most of the time, they try and they fail. One of the most famous stories regarding this matter took place in 1962, when JFK made a particularly memorable joke at the outset of a particularly forgettable speech in Berlin. He neither had a sense of humor nor sought out the experts, as comedy wikis had not yet been invented. The bomb-of-a-joke was JFK's first missile crisis:
Noticing the public was not laughing – and who could blame them? – he hides the vacuity of his joke using a common artificial trick: the German translation.
No one in the crowd understands. But — after a few nervous looks to either side — they all applaud anyway, and the young President is on his way!
A truly fine speech, not unlike a truly fine encyclopedia article, will end, just as it began, with a humorous quip. This part of the speech performs the useful function of signaling that the speech is about to end. In addition, if the humor is delivered in the style of the LATE SAM FUCKING KINISON, it will wake the audience from sleep so that they can sense the said signal in the first place.
The conclusion joke primes the audience to play its little role in the pathbreaking speech: to deliver a hearty round of applause. Because most of the audience goes to Karaoke and knows the cardinal rule: If the singing is good, applaud; if the singing is bad, applaud that it is over. The speaker can revel in the applause, while the audience can bask in the reflected glory. This is perhaps the only win-win situation of the entire two hours stuck in the lecture hall.
However, the current article is going to break that rule as well, and leave the reader with a sparse list of other articles that will maybe get the job done better.