Definition

The definitions I found don't do it justice...

  1. A long rambling joke whose humor derives from its pointlessness.

  2. or
  3. A prolonged joke with a ridiculous or irrelevant punch line.

Usage

The basic concept is to take forever telling a story, using fact and fiction, in a manner so as to make the fiction indistinguishable from the fact. This is not to be mistaken with sci-fi for several reasons:

  • Sci-fi is usually about the future, whereas shaggy dog stories dwell in the not-too-distant past, usually using real people and places, while adding situations that can't easily be disproved.
  • For a good example of a shaggy dog story see Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy, which at one point has 2 (of his many) gunmen on the grassy knoll literally running into each other after the kennedy assassination, then going back to report to each owns secret society.
  • Shaggy dog stories are deliberately taken to the ludicrous zone, whereas sci-fi is not, but as with any writing style, there are not always fine lines.
  • For an example of humor and sci-fi mixed see Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Many shaggy dog stories seem to be written with someone in mind, like a recent political figure. This is often hard to notice, since many date from around the 1940s to 1950s. It seems that not only are these stories telling a long absurd story, but that they are poking fun at individual people, and their absurd responses.
  • See the example below of the classic shaggy story, and wonder. Did the wit who told it have a specific aristocrat in mind?

Origin

Shaggy dog stories originated around the 1930's and began to be widely circulated by 1942 or 1943. The term first hit print in 1945 in The New York Times Magazine. By 1946 collections were being published under the title Shaggy Dog Stories.

One possible origin given by William and Mary Morris, in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, involves an advertisement being placed in The Times to announce a competition to find the shaggiest dog in the world. After a vast amount of effort and investigation (described in detail, after the nature of this type of story), the winning dog was presented to the aristocratic instigator of the competition, who said: "I don't think he's so shaggy".

The origin aspect reference I used is http://www.quinion.com/words/qa/qa-sha1.htm at World Wide Words © Michael Quinion, 1996-. All rights reserved. Page created 1 May 1999; last updated 19 June 1999, by Jane Rawoof.

Thanks to ToasterLeavings for reminding me to put the ref.. and for Cooling the first node I've ever written.
Thanks also to the fellow noder and her husband who helped me find that ref. in the first place. Currently wracking my brain to remember who it was. I think it was ailie.

One of the best aspects of a shaggy dog story is the innumerable versions that can be told. The purpose of a shaggy dog story is not the punch line. In fact, one criterion of a good shaggy dog story is that it has a horrible punch line; the type of "line" which would be hilarious to a seven- or eight-year-old kid, but which will elicit groans or even curses, in lieu of laughs, from adults. Instead, a good shaggy dog story is a masterpiece of detail, and it is by customizing the details that an individual can stamp his or her own personal twist upon an old, oft' repeated tale. By the time the punch line is delivered, the listeners should be so wrapped up in the story that they actually feel cheated by the manner in which the joke ends.

For my first node on E2, I offer here my version of a shaggy dog story I heard as a teen. I remember who told it to me, but I have never once heard it or seen it in print since then (25 years ago), although I'm sure it has been circulating somewhere. I have told it myself probably less than 10 times. Each time I tell it there are differences, mainly because I don't remember the details from my previous rendition, and each time it is probably longer. As with all shaggy dog stories, a written version cannot do justice to an oral delivery-- I deliver this with much animation and arm waving, but you'll have to imagine that part for yourselves.

***** The Story *****

IT WAS A HOT FALL AFTERNOON on the African peneplain. It was so hot that all of the animals were just lying around, lazy with the heat. Creatures that would normally be eating one another, or attempting to eat one another, or at least voicing detailed threats involving eating to be carried out later upon one another, were instead lolling together in peace in the dust and sunburned grass. It was out of this atmosphere of bored inter-species tolerance that a since forgotten member of the crowd suggested that they relieve the tedium with a football game. And so they did.

They had available to themselves an unusual array of talents, for not only were the normal local animal residents present, but many of them had friends visiting from other distant locations. The group quickly selected the elephant and lion to be non-playing captains of the two teams and began to determine the rosters. However, whereas humans would at this point have the team captains make alternating selections of players, thus ensuring an equal opportunity at talent and increasing the likelihood of evenly matched opponents, these were animals, and regardless of their abilities to understand and enjoy football, they still had some animal tendencies. One such tendency was a herd mentality, so before the elephant and lion had a chance to make individual selections, the playing animals simply congregated into two groups and gathered around the two coaches. This worked out well in terms of the number of players on each team, but it did not result in a very even distribution of talent. In fact, it wasn't even close.

The lion's team was overflowing with speed, strength, and ferocity. He ended up with the cheetah, the rhinoceros, the baboon twins, the hippopotamus, the giraffe, and other such beasts as could dominate a football field. The elephant's team had a handful of good players, such as the chimp (smart, and good hands), the ostrich (a real speedster), and the kangaroo (great kicker), but he also had players like the sloth (slow and stupid), the rabbit (a real hare-brain), and assorted bovines and other creatures of questionable value. The elephant looked over his team with dismay and thought to himself "This is going to be a long afternoon."

Still, everyone agreed to give it a go, and the lion's team won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The elephant gathered his kicking team on the sideline and quickly sketched a kickoff coverage plan in the dust, and then just before his players took the field he turned to the kangaroo and said "Whatever you do, don't kick the ball to the hippopotamus! He's their best player!" The kangaroo said "Right!"

The players lined up, making sure they were behind the ball, and then the kangaroo ran up to the tee and WHAP! he kicked the ball waaay up into the air, and it ended up going about three yards deep into the end zone.

Right to the hippopotamus.

The hippopotamus caught the ball, put his head down, started charging straight up the middle of the field, and he ran 103 yards for a touchdown, right through all of the elephant's team members, who were left strewn in his wake. The giraffe missed the extra point, but this was hardly of any solace to the elephant's team, since they were only 13 seconds into the game and they were already trailing 6 to 0. The elephant did a quick calculation extrapolating the scoring frequency through a full sixty minutes and came up with a potential final score of 1656 to 0, and while he didn't really expect that the final result would be that bad, it reinforced his opinion that this was going to be a looooong afternoon.

As it turned out, though, that didn't happen. Oh sure, the lion's team dominated the game. They pushed the elephant's team backwards north and south on the field, the direction depending only on the quarter. They stomped the elephant's team players into the ground. They prevented elephant's team first downs, and put together long drives of their own. But the lion's team couldn't manage to score again. Every time they had advanced far enough down the field to be assured of a touchdown or field goal, something would happen that resulted in a turnover, and the elephant's team offense would take over the ball.

Unlike the lion's team, the elephant's team didn't even come close to scoring during the game, but because of the lion's team's bad luck, the elephant's team found themselves still in the game, trailing only 6 to 0, late in the fourth quarter. Their position was unenviable: they were backed up into their own territory on the 27 yard line, with 4th and 31, and fourteen seconds left on the clock. The situation called for drastic measures, and everyone knew it was going to be a pass play. When the elephant's team came to the scrimmage line to set up, the ostrich trotted way out to the left of the sloth, who was the center. In the lion's team secondary, the cheetah moved over to his own right, expecting that there would be a pass play to the ostrich. The baboon twins were at the lion's team linebacker positions to cover anything that came through the middle, and the rhinoceros tucked into a three point stance at right defensive end and grunted curses and observations regarding the chimp's parentage. On the elephant's team the chimp lined up in the shotgun position behind the sloth, trying to ignore the rhinoceros, and prepared to call for the snap, with the rabbit positioned to his right in the backfield.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the elephant's team had not run very many plays from scrimmage during the afternoon. For the vast majority of the game they had been on defense, and of the small amount of time they were on offense, the bulk had drained off the clock while the chimp ran screaming in circles in his own backfield with assorted lion's team members in close pursuit. A typical offensive play for the elephant's team could last 20 or 30 seconds and yet have a net yardage change of only two or three yards, usually in the negative direction. So it turns out that this particular play was in fact only the 27th snap the chimp had taken all game. It was also, as it turns out, the 27th time that the sloth had forgotten the correct snap count, and whereas on the previous 26 snaps he had delivered the ball one count later than he should have, on this particular play he erred in the other direction and delivered the ball into the chimp's hands one count earlier than he should have.

The result was that the chimp called out "HIKE!" for the third time without realizing that he had been holding the ball ever since shortly after he had said "HIKE!" for the second time. Unfortunately for the chimp, the sloth's delivery of the ball on count 2 had not gone unnoticed by the baboon twins, who had been planning on blitzing on this play anyway. They timed their charge perfectly and crossed the line of scrimmage somewhere between the second "HIKE!" when the ball was actually snapped and the third "HIKE!" when the chimp thought the ball would be snapped.

The chimp saw that the sloth did not snap the ball on the third count, and assumed it would be delivered one count later as it had been all game. He was just getting ready to call "HIKE!" for the fourth time, when he happened to glance down and was astonished to see the ball already clasped in his hands. Then he felt the ground trembling a little and looked up to see four red eyes very rapidly getting larger as the baboon twins vectored in on final approach. The chimp screeched his loudest wail yet for the afternoon and in a fit of pure panic and desperation turned to his right and with both hands thrust the ball out away from his chest with what looked to be a hard shovel pass.

On the left side of the field the play was progressing as planned. As the cheetah had surmised, the play had been designed to be a Hail Mary pass to the ostrich. The ostrich had been lined up so far to the left of center that he couldn't really hear the chimp's count, and so he had instead been watching the sloth to see when the play started. As a result, the ostrich was the only player on the elephant's entire team who began the play immediately after the second count when the ball was actually snapped. The instant the sloth fired the ball back through his legs the ostrich began streaking down the field as fast as he could run. His job was to run straight for four seconds and then look back over his right wing for the ball to already be in the air and coming in his direction. Back in the lion's team's secondary the cheetah let the ostrich come to him, backing up slightly, but mostly juking back and forth from one side to the other so he would be ready to respond if the ostrich should suddenly slant or post from his current straight-ahead path.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the chimp's quick shovel pass to his right in the face of twin baboon adversity was not a brilliantly improvised recovery from a badly deteriorating play, but rather an instinctive attempt at self preservation. He had no idea where any of his teammates were when he pitched the ball to his right, and had he not immediately been buried under 150 pounds of baboon he would have been amazed to see that he was not throwing the ball away after all, but instead making a perfect dish to the rabbit. The only player who would have been more surprised at this outcome than the chimp was the rabbit himself, who did not have any assignment on the play, since he was the right halfback and the play was supposed to be a Hail Mary pass down the left side of the field, and who consequently was so startled at the sudden appearance of the ball that he stood frozen while it ricocheted off of his face straight up into the air for 5 or 6 feet. This dope-slap shocked him to alertness, though, and when the ball came back down he caught it, and when he saw the rhinoceros charging through the left side of what remained of the offensive line, as well as the baboons starting to arise off of the newly-flattened chimp, he turned around 180 degrees and ran straight across the field, determined to reach the safety of the right-hand sideline out-of-bounds area.

Meanwhile, by this point the ostrich and the cheetah had both figured out that there was no Hail Mary pass headed in their direction, so they had stopped running their pass pattern and defense and were now standing 40 yards downfield, just inside the left boundary line, and facing back toward the line of scrimmage to see what was going on. A huge cloud of dust prevented clear observation of the backfield, but both players had heard the chimp's shriek, and as they could now see what looked like chimp's feet sticking out from under the baboon twins, they each made the same rational guess as to the outcome of the play. Then the cheetah noticed that the ball seemed to be suspended in the air a few feet off the ground to one side of the chimp, spinning slowly end-over-end before gradually settling toward the ground. The ball disappeared from his sight as it came down behind the battling players on the offensive and defensive lines, but the cheetah saw the rhinoceros heading toward where the ball landed and assumed he would either recover the ball or deal appropriately with any elephant's team member who beat him to it.

This was not to be. The rabbit had gotten a good jump on the rhinoceros and the baboon twins, and even though his only concern was his own safety on the other side of the out-of-bounds line, he had instinctively tucked the football securely under his armpit. He was halfway to the boundary and feeling more confident that he would reach it intact when he saw the elephant jumping up and down ahead of him on the sidelines and making rapid circular sweeping motions with his trunk in the downfield direction. As the rabbit got closer to the sideline he could hear the elephant screaming "SCORE! SCORE! SCORE!" This was the first it had occurred to the rabbit that the play was still going and that he was carrying a live ball, and just in time before he ran out of bounds he turned ninety degrees to his left and began tearing down the field about six inches inside the boundary. In an instant he had passed the original line of scrimmage, where most of the players were still battling, and he broke into the open. There was no one between him and the goal line 73 yards away.

Over on the left side of the field the ostrich and cheetah were standing and chatting, each believing that the play had ended in the backfield with the recovery and downing of the loose ball. Neither player noticed a couple seconds later when the rabbit zipped past the line of scrimmage on the opposite side of the field, but the lion, who was standing on the sideline behind them, did, and he roared in dismay and shouted an alert to the cheetah. The cheetah whipped his head toward the opposite sideline in time to see the rabbit hitting full speed as he crossed the 50 yard line into lion's team territory. There was no lion's team player in position to have any chance of catching the rabbit before he scored.

But cheetahs are fairly speedy critters, and this one thought he still had a slight chance of stopping the rabbit, even though he would have to cross the entire field to do so. The ostrich saw that the cheetah was going to take off, and he made a valiant effort to kick the cheetah's back legs out from under him, but the cheetah had expected something like that and deftly hopped over the attempted leg whip. Then he lowered his head down closer to the ground and began to run.

The scrimmage skirmish had wound down when the players on both teams realized that the play was still going but had passed them by. Even the lion's team members in the shallow secondary had not noticed the rabbit until he was past their positions, so they also had no chance of catching him, and made no attempt. All of the players on the field were now standing and watching the rabbit run for the goal line, with the exception of the chimp, who was still lying on his back and thought he was looking at hummingbirds and butterflies flying a couple feet above his head. Oh yes, and except for the cheetah.

Everyone could see it was going to be close. The cheetah had underestimated the rabbit's speed, so instead of coming in from the original angle across the field, he ended up curving in somewhat from behind the rabbit, but even with this extra distance he had a chance of catching him and making the tackle. The rabbit knew he had a cheetah in pursuit and put on a burst of speed. The cheetah lowered his head even further as he closed in. The rabbit stretched his neck up and saw the approaching goal line. The cheetah lengthened his stride and began planning his foot placement for the take-down. The rabbit thought he could feel the cheetah's rasping breath on his heels. At the five yard line the cheetah made his leap and slashed his right paw across in a right-to-left hooking motion, intending to sweep the rabbit's back legs out from under him. But the rabbit bounded into a high hop at just the right moment and the paw passed harmlessly under him, and he came down on the two yard line and then crossed into the end zone for a touchdown.

And the kangaroo kicked the extra point.

The elephant couldn't believe it. His team had been pushed all over the field for the entire afternoon, and yet here they were, leading the lion's team 7 to 6, and there was only enough time left on the clock for the kickoff and return. The elephant called his kickoff team players together on the sideline and said "Hey! There's only enough time left on the clock for the kickoff and return!" He turned to the kangaroo and said "Whatever you do, don't kick the ball to the hippopotamus!" The kangaroo said "Right!"

The players lined up for the kickoff. There was a slight delay while the chimp was dragged off of the field by his feet, and then the kangaroo came running up to the ball and WHAP! he kicked it even higher than he had the first time. It didn't go quite as far as his opening kickoff, but it was only about three yards shorter, and came down right at the goal line.

Right to the hippopotamus.

The hippopotamus caught the ball, put his head down, started charging straight up the middle of the field, and got to about the 30 yard line when suddenly one of the elephant's team members put a shoe-string tackle on him and tripped him up. The hippopotamus slammed down flat on his face, and all the other animals from both teams immediately piled on top in case there was a fumble. But it didn't matter. Time had run off the clock. The game was over, and the elephant's team had won 7 to 6.

The elephant was ecstatic. He couldn't believe it-- they had won! He went bounding across the field toward the pile of players, and when he got there he started digging down through the pile, pulling players off one at a time and tossing them, somewhat gently, to the side. He wanted to get down to the bottom of the pile and find out which one of his players had made the tackle. Eventually he worked his way through the heap and got down to the bottom, where he discovered that his player who had made the game-saving tackle was the centipede.

The elephant was positively effusive in his praise. He congratulated the centipede on his athletic prowess, on his timing, on his perfect positioning, and most importantly, on the take-down. "That was the most incredible tackle I've ever seen!" gushed the elephant. "If you'd been playing at the beginning of the game, you might have been able to prevent their initial touchdown. How come you weren't out on the field for the opening kickoff?"

The centipede said "I was taping my ankles!"

Not really a shaggy dog story, because it does have a punchline, but close enough. I present to you: The Cornflake Joke. This joke is supposed to be told in person (as will become obvious), and you get bonus points for making the audience start singing along the refrain with you.




One day, on the conveyor belt at the cornflake factory, the grandmother cornflake called over the baby cornflake. In her rickety, shaking voice, the grandmother cornflake intoned: "I'm not going to last too much longer, and before I go, there's one thing that I want you to know. This is important, sonny, so listen up: Whatever you do, wherever you go, however you get there, the single most important thing in life is to be at the top of the box of cornflakes. The best cornflakes are at the top of the box. Got that, sonny? Be at the top."

And no sooner had the grandmother cornflake uttered these words than cornflake inspector #4 came by, noticed her, and threw her out because she had too many spots, leaving the baby cornflake all alone.

Eventually, the conveyor belt came to an end, and the baby cornflake was dumped into a box of cornflakes. As fate would have it, the baby cornflake was at the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

Now, a worker came by, and picked up the box of cornflakes, and stacked it on a pallet...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

Just then, a forklift came by to pick up the pallet and put it in the back of a truck...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

When all of the pallets are loaded on the truck, the truck driver comes by and slams the back of the truck down. In fact, he slams it down so hard that the entire truck shakes...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

Eventually, the truck driver starts the truck. Unfortunately, the truck driver never went to truck driving school, and he ends up backing into a wall on the way out of the lot...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

And, as fate would have it, the truck driver also hits the curb turning on to the main street...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.

Driving down the highway, finally, the truck gets passed by a convertible. The driver in the convertible is listening to some music with a lot of bass, the vibrations causing the truck to shake from the proximity...and the little cornflake got all shook up, and he fell to the bottom of the box. But, he remembered what his grandmother cornflake had said: "The best cornflakes are at the top of the box." So he pushed and he pulled and he pulled and he pushed, and he got to the top of the box.




Etc. Etc. The joke continues (going to the grocery store with the stock boy who kicks boxes, the children who grab it and the mother puts it back, the family who buy it but get hit by a car on the way home, it being sent back to the factory because it's expiration date has passed, the now grandfather cornflake instructing the new generation, the joke starting all over...until a member of the audience gets impatient and shouts, "Just get to the end already!"

And that's when, with a straight face and knowledge of the nearest exit, you say:

"But there is no end; it's a serial!"

The shaggy dog story is a very peculiar sort of story, designed almost entirely for the entertainment of the storyteller rather than his or her audience. The story usually contains no moral and never contains a satisfying conclusion, if it includes a conclusion at all.

ANATOMY OF A SHAGGY DOG STORY

The shaggy dog story can be divided into four parts: Exposition, Rising Action, Anticlimax, and Optional Conclusion.

                   _
                  / |
                 /  |
                /   |
 Rising Action /    |
              /     |
             /      | Anticlimax
            /       |
           /        |
__________/         |
 Exposition         |
                    |
                    |
                    |  Optional Conclusion
                    |______________________

Like a conventional story, a shaggy dog story contains an exposition and rising action. These parts work in the same way that they do in a normal story.

Unlike a conventional story, once the rising action has reached its upper bound, it abruptly drops down to below the point at which it was initially. Some scholars call this “plummeting action.”

It is rather like when your parents loaded you and your brother into the car that one morning and said "You aren't going to school today, you're going to Disneyland!" and then took you to the dentist.

The story may or may not conclude with an Optional Conclusion, which may provide added time for the storyteller to get away from his or her audience before they lynch him or her.

Shaggy dog stories are my favorite kind of stories to tell. I like to tell them to pretty girls at parties. I am also a virgin. Go figure.

In the essay below I shall attempt to outline the proper procedure for telling a shaggy dog story.

PRECAUTIONS

Depending on your audience, your shaggy dog story may leave your audience in stitches, or it may make them want to lynch you. This is why it is important to follow these simple precautions so that the audience can cause you minimal physical harm:

1. Locate the nearest exits. Stand near them while you tell the story. You may have to make a quick getaway.

2. Have a few good friends who will put up with your stupid stories around to calm down the audience.

3. If no one wants to hear the story, don’t tell it. (my rule is that if at least one person wants to hear the story, then I will tell it.)

Disclaimer: I assume no responsibility for bodily harm that comes to the reader after telling a shaggy dog story. Tell shaggy dog stories at your own risk.

TELLING THE STORY

Now that you have taken appropriate precautions, you can tell the shaggy dog story. There is no right or wrong way to tell a shaggy dog story—different storytellers have different stories they like to tell, and in different fashions.

STARTING THE STORY

This part is usually relatively straightforward.

The first and most important step is to gather an audience.

A popular method is to loudly announce "I HAVE A STORY TO TELL!" This merely makes you appear to have Tourette's syndrome and a mild case of mental retardation. I do not recommend this method.

A better way to start to tell the story is to mention it offhand. Say something like, "Did I ever tell you about my old friend Bill and his shaggy dog?" This may garner the audience's interest. If, for instance, you are a social reject, people may be interested simply because they are startled that you have any friends at all.

This is a typical exchange with which you can start a shaggy dog story.

YOU: Did I ever tell y'all about my old friend Bill and his shaggy dog?

THEM: Nope.

YOU: It's a pretty damn funny story, but it’s kinda long. Do ya wanta hear it?

THEM: Whatever.

You can now begin telling your story. Do not worry if at first your audience is quite small; more people will naturally congregate around you if you are telling the story effectively.

THE BODY OF THE STORY

There are very few hard-and-fast rules about shaggy dog story telling. Those that exist I have outlined below.

1. The first two or three minutes of the story should be reasonably believable. This will keep your audience’s attention, because for these first two or three minutes they might actually believe the story actually happened. After this two or three minute period has ended, you can go hog-wild.

2. Stay away from generic things. Mention brand names. Mention people’s names. Reference local landmarks. Adopt the story to the audience you are telling it to, and to the location you are telling it in.

3. Make sure the story is interesting until right until the end, otherwise you will lose your audience.

It is not necessary for the story to be funny, but I would recommend it. I like to keep it funny to keep the audience expecting an amazing punchline.

(I like to think of it as taking the audience on a magic carpet ride to downtown Detroit.)

THE END OF THE STORY

So you’ve told your shaggy dog story. Great! Enjoy some hearty laughs at the audience’s expense. Be sure you are out of reach of their pitchforks and torches first.

EXAMPLE STORY

PART ONE: EXPOSITION

My old buddy Bill lives in upstate New York1 nowadays, but he used to live back ‘round here. Anyway, one day when he was still livin’ round here, he said to himself that he needed to get himself a dog.

Well, Bill went up to his dad and he said to his dad, "Dad, can I get a dog?"

His dad told him, "Sure son, you can have a dog."

So they went off to the Petco2, and they got themselves a dog. But this weren't no ordinary dog. No sir, this here was a shaggy dog. This here was the shaggiest dog you ever seen in your life.

I mean, Bill would be out walking their dog, and people would come up to them and they would say "Damn, you got yourself one shaggy dog boy."

Well, one day, Bill and his dad was walking their dog around the block, and some guy in a business suit was walking by. He saw the dog and said to Bill, "Boy, you got yourself one shaggy dog right there. You ought to enter it into the county Shaggy Dog Fair. I bet you'd win first place."

PART TWO: RISING ACTION

Well, Bill thought about it for a while, but when he found out there was a $50 prize, he filled out the forms real quick and got his dog entered. He went down to the county fair and he put his dog in the big tent with all the other shaggy dogs. They were all pretty shaggy, them dogs, and Bill was worried.

One of the judges came up to Bill and his dog. The judge took one look at the dog, and he said "Boy, that right there is one hell of a shaggy dog. You just won yourself first place."

He pinned the medal on the dog, and Bill got $50 which he put in his savings account so that he could buy himself a dirtbike3.

The next week, he got a letter in the mail from the Virginia State Fair4 telling him he was eligible to enter his dog in the State Shaggy Dog Fair. So they took the Amtrak train down to Richmond5 later that month to go to the state fair and enter his dog there.

When the judge looked at his dog, well, he was blown away. "Son, you got yerself a fine shaggy dog right there. You win first place."6 And he pinned a medal on the dog, which was easy because the dog was so shaggy.

Well, since Bill and his shaggy dog had won themselves the State Shaggy Dog Trophy, they were eligible to go to the National Shaggy Dog Competition in Washington DC. So they got themselves up to the capital the next month to go compete.

Well, they had gone and rented out the Verizon Center7 for this here shaggy dog competition, and people had brought shaggy dogs from all over the country to compete. Traffic was backed up for miles with people coming to see this here shaggy dog competition—it was the talk of the town for weeks.

So Bill shows up with his shaggy dog. He goes down into the stadium and waits for them to judge his dog.

The judge, a big black guy8, walks up to them. He eyes the dog, and then he says, "Son, this is without a doubt the shaggiest dog here. I'll have to consult with the other judges, but I think you may have won."

Sure enough, when the other judges came over, they looked at Bill's dog and agreed that yep, this sure was the shaggiest dog in the country. Bill's dog won first place there, and Bill got himself the biggest trophy you ever seen in your whole life9.

Well, Bill thought he was through with shaggy dog competitions, so he went back home. But later that week, he got a letter from the European Commission on Shaggy Dogs.

It said that he had been chosen to represent the USA at the Shaggy Dog World Cup in Geneva, Switzerland. It was amazing, because the USA had never before been invited to the Shaggy Dog World Cup. Europeans just never thought Americans would ever take shaggy dogs seriously before, I guess.

But Bill had a problem, you see. He didn't have no money to go to no Europe. I mean, yeah he won all those shaggy dog competitions, but shaggy dog competitions ain't important like football or curling is. There ain't no money in it. Sure, by this time Bill's dog had endorsed a few dog hair products, but he still didn't have no money to go to Geneva.

So the fundraising drives began. People who had heard of Bill's dog sent money in from all around the country. Little kids gave their allowance money to get Bill and his dog to Geneva. Politicians authorized extra taxes to raise money to get that dog to Europe. Churches canceled their Haitian relief funds and redirected the money to Bill's shaggy dog.

Bill raised $5,000 to get his dog to Europe. He waved goodbye to his family and set off.

Well, eventually, he and his dog got to the Shaggy Dog World Cup. He went down to the stadium and waited for them to judge him and his dog.

The judges went up to his dog. They looked it over, checked its fur, and looked for any un-shaggy parts of it. They took a lot of notes on the little pads they had with them.

Finally, the official judgment was made from the platform. The European Commissioner on Shaggy Dogs said "The Commission has reached its decision. The shaggiest dog is... Bill's dog, representing the United States of America!"

Amid loud cheers from the three Americans in attendance, Bill went up with his dog and accepted the grand prize of €50,000 and his trophy. Bill was mighty pleased with himself, and looked forward to returning to the United States.

One of the judges motioned for the crowd to be silent. He said over the intercom, "The 14 finalists from the Shaggy Dog World Cup will be eligible to compete in the Dog Olympics in Vancouver."

PART THREE: ANTICLIMAX

So Bill went back to the United States and was put on the US Dog Olympic team. They flew up to Vancouver.

The Dog Olympic opening ceremonies were a sight to see, which is unfortunate because NPR was the only news source reporting on the event. Bill marched in with all the other US athletes, and their dogs. There were all kinds of dogs: big dogs, little dogs, purebred dogs, running dogs, jumping dogs, dogs that could fly, and so forth.

So they waited a week for the Shaggy Dog event. All kinds of shaggy dogs were in the stadium, from all over the world. Bill was worried, since there were so many other really shaggy dogs in that stadium. He really wanted that 100% five karat gold-plated aluminum medal10, and he knew he'd be heartbroken if he lost.

A judge walked over to Bill. He looked at the dog. The dog looked at him. He looked at Bill. Bill looked at his dog. His dog looked at Bill. Bill looked at the judge...11

So the judge looked at Bill, and he said to him,

"Your dog's not so shaggy."12


1. "Bill" is of course a fictional character, but adding names and geographic locations helps to keep the story mildly believable. Generally the location specified as his current place of residence should be distant enough that "Bill" would be unable to be reached for comment, but close enough that it is not totally unbelievable that he has moved there.

2. Substitute local pet store names as appropriate.

3. Or something equally frivolous. i.e. a paintball gun, a model airplane, a pit of balls, etc.

4. Substitute appropriate state/territory here.

5. Substitute appropriate state/territory capital here. Specifying mode of transportation to said capital is optional, however, it can lead to a more believable story. For the rest of the story you ought to adapt the places and shaggy dog competition authorities to suit your area.

6. Note that as the level of competition increases, so does the sophistication of the judges' diction.

7. If you are not from the Washington area, "the stadium" is sufficient here. However, if you live in the area, it adds credibility to reference local landmarks. Granted, by this time if your audience has any sort of brain they will probably have noticed that the story you have been telling is totally ridiculous, but I digress.

8. At this point there will invariably be someone who will comment on the judge's race. You can then violently reprimand the audience. Accuse them of being bigoted racists, compare them to Hitler, etc. then abruptly resume the story once everyone has all but forgotten what you were talking about.

9. Indicate size of the trophy with your arms.

10. If someone asks, tell them “It’s the Dog Olympics. They don’t even use solid gold for the real Olympics.”

11. Continue in this manner for at least a minute to build dramatic tension.

12. Preferably in a quiet voice.


I hope that this article has enlightened you in the art of telling shaggy dog stories. Telling a shaggy dog story is a great way to lose friends, annoy people, and refreeze the ice at parties. With practice, a really great shaggy dog story teller can alienate everyone he knows, as well as people he has never met.

My published Shaggy Dog Story

 


 

Curiosity

            I never really enjoyed meeting new people, but she said I had to meet her new boyfriend. “You can’t pronounce his real name, so just call him Bob.” she told me when I asked. Then she added: “Just — just whatever you do, don’t ask about his pet, in the pool. Don’t ask me, because I don’t know. I never asked.” I followed her directions, and around noon I rode up to a large wrought iron gate. I pushed the button and said “It’s me.” “Right on time.” the voice replied as the gate opened. The tree arched driveway was a little creepy, but the cool kind of creepy. A few hundred yards through, the trees were replaced by a giant hill, maybe even a small mountain. The driveway continued in a spiral, carved out of the side of the cliff face. I started thinking this Bob character may not be so bad, for a trust-fund brat.

            At the top of the driveway, there was another, smaller, gate. I shut off the engine and put the kickstand down, as I finally got my ears to pop. Then I saw my sister and Bob far on the other side of the gate waving me towards them. As I approached, I noticed the pool. I tried not to stare during our introduction, but, when Bob said, “Come on, let me give you the tour.” and headed for the door, I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t see anything but an odd-looking design on the bottom of the pool at first. I thought I saw the pattern move. Then I knew I saw it move and change colors. Even after it changed back to the light blue color of the bottom of the pool, I could clearly see the giant octopus, sitting, waiting ominously on the bottom.

             The living room was rather large, with one corner for entertainment, another for a collection of aquariums, and one for reading. He turned on the big screen and demonstrated the surround sound. They were impressive. Many of the books on his shelves were in a foreign language. Vzkriesenie Cthulhu caught my attention; I’d heard of Cthulhu. When I asked about it, Bob seemed hesitant. He told me that most of the books were his uncle’s. He’d brought them with him when he brought Bob to America. Bob said that he was very young then and that his uncle never taught him to read Slovak, but he couldn’t get rid of his uncle’s books. I didn’t quite believe him.

            Before Bob could finish telling me all about his fish, a loud buzzer went off, followed by a voice. “This is Deputy Johnson. I need to speak to Bee, or Bye-lo um, it’s spelled B I E L” Bob mercifully interrupted: “Just call me Bob, and come on up.” We all slowly wandered back to the pool, to meet the deputy. Again, I had to fight staring at the pool, at least when Bob was looking. When the deputy arrived, Bob met him at the gate. Between fighting my preoccupation with the octopus and their low voices, I didn’t fully catch what they said, something about a missing pool guy. I let the deputy know that today was the first time I’d been there and didn’t know anything. He didn’t believe me, as expected, but he didn’t push any further.  The three of them went inside, while I stayed outside.

            I sat by the pool, wondering about the octopus and reminding myself of the promise I had made to a dying brother, from the motorcycle club, to watch out for his dingbat old lady. I wondered what my sister had gotten me into this time. They were both crazier than a sack full of cats, but at least Bob was independently wealthy, unlike the usual bums she’d introduced me to. Maybe they’d work out and I won’t have to work so hard to keep my promise.

            Everything seemed okay, when they came back out of the house. Deputy Johnson paused at the pool, on his way to the gate and said, “Well, that all makes sense, but I have to ask: Why do you have a baby blue octopus in your pool?” Bob took a deep breath and quick as a blink, buried his knife hilt deep into the deputy’s throat. He knew exactly what he was doing or got very lucky. The deputy seized for just a moment, then fell limp as Bob pushed him in the pool. Bob drove that knife in at just the right angle. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen someone murdered, but this was somehow different. I put on my poker face, but I was thoroughly rattled by the suddenness of it all and the look on Bob’s face. I’d seen mean, angry people before, but this was pure evil.

            The eternity of a few seconds passed before I said, “Catherine! We have to go. Now.” Bob answered, “Let’s go for a ride. The weather’s perfect. What do you say Cat?” I couldn’t believe that she agreed. I had to think of a way to get Cat away from Bob. I wasn’t carrying that day and after seeing how fast Bob moved, I wasn’t going to try anything. What to do? What to do? Slowly putting down the driveway, I could just barely hear Cat ask, “Bob, I have to know. Why do you have a baby blue octo…” when she was interrupted by the roar of Bob’s bike, at full throttle, taking the both of them off the cliff to their deaths.

            I hate meeting new people.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.