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