The Smiths Song Meaning: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

the smithsJohnny Marr has called the song ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’ one of his favorite Smiths songs. The song also happens to be one of my favorites of The Smiths. It is so beautiful I can’t find the words to describe it.

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore was written by Johnny Marr and Morrissey and recorded in the autumn of 1984. I am presently listening to the song as I’m writing this piece.

For so many years, since the release of the Smiths album Meat Is Murder, fans of the Smiths have tried to understand the meaning of the song. Many have interpreted it the way they want to as Morrissey’s great lyrics can be quite difficult to understand. This is what makes Morrissey one of the greatest lyricists that I have ever known.

During an interview with Melody Maker in 1995, Morrissey said that the song was a direct response to the press for mocking songs that carried depressing themes. Several years later, Uncut reported in an article that the inspiration for the song came about as a result of an intimate friendship that Morrissey had with a journalist. This report has however been unproven since it came out in 1998.

If you listen carefully to the words of ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’ you will notice that the song is all about Morrissey identifying with people who are lonely and suicidal.

Many Smiths fans see this song as one about feeling so lonely and depressed that suicide seems the only option left for the narrator.

Personally I think the song is about suicide and finding a way to escape from depression and loneliness. But let us take a look at this beautiful song step after step I mean verse after verse. In the first verse of the song, we can clearly see that there are two characters – the protagonist and another character who might be the protagonist’s friend or maybe something else. From the lyrics it appears that the protagonist’s friend is fond of laughing at people who are lonely and depressed and wish to die. The protagonist probably used to participate in making mockery of the lonely and depressed but today the protagonist is not amused by the joke and remarks:

“But that joke isn’t funny anymore
It’s too close to home
And it’s too near the bone
It’s too close to home
And it’s too near the bone
More than you’ll ever know”

The protagonist goes on to tell the friend that he kicks people when they fall down. The protagonist is not happy about this of course.

The next verse talks about the protagonist finding something that might make him smile before the end. No one exactly knows what this thing is but it might end up taking the protagonist to his grave with a smile on his face.

The protagonist always saw people go through loneliness. He never knew that one day it will come his way. Hence the line, “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives. And now it’s happening in mine”

During an interview, Johnny Marr said of this song as one of his favorite Smiths songs. The brilliant guitarist said that during the composition of the song that the inspiration just fell through the roof. He said the feeling to write the song fell from the ceiling and literally played itself.

As an obsessive Smiths’ fan all I can say about the song is that its truly beautiful and  powerful beyond words