Once upon a time there was a clownfish named Tito. He was unusual for a clownfish. Unlike any other clownfish, he wasn’t funny. No matter how hard he tried to crack jokes, he never made anyone laugh. In fact, his jokes were so horrible his fellow sea creatures had coined a term for them: “Tito jokes.” What’s worse, some of his jokes were lifted from other fishes’ joke books.
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One day, to prove his worth to the clownfish community, he joined the annual Clownfish Comedy Competition. Each contestant must crack only one joke in front of an audience, and the winner would be the one whose joke the audience would laugh at the loudest. They drew lots, and he picked second.
The first contestant went onstage. He asked the audience: “What did the salesperson say to the clownfish?”
“What?” the audience replied in unison.
The audience, all clownfish, laughed their hermaphrodite asses off.
It was now Tito’s turn. Eyes were rolling. He nervously held the microphone. He cleared his throat and asked: “What did the clownfish say about the issue regarding the encroachment of Chinese fishermen on the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines?”
“What?” the audience replied, but only to get it over with.
“It’s very difficult to say there is exclusivity when it’s underwater. The fish could be coming from China and the fish from the Philippines could be going to China. If we want to be technical about it, relate it to the constitutionality of what should be owned by us, there are exclusive types of fish that are only found in China but can be found here, because of migration perhaps.”
No clownfish made a sound. An awkward silence filled the room.
“What did the clownfish say about the issue regarding the encroachment of Chinese fishermen on the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines?”
Then the audience hissed and booed him.
Disgraced and disheartened, Tito swam away from the comedy bar. He didn’t know where to go. He just wanted to swim and swim and swim away from the marine society he’d always wanted to belong to but had been rejected by.
Tito continued to swim and suddenly found himself caught in a net cast by a group of Filipino fishermen. The men were hauling up the net when a Chinese vessel rammed the Filipino fishing boat. Tito was relieved. He thought he was saved, but the Chinese fishermen, before leaving the scene, seized the Filipino fishermen’s catch. Tito ended up inside a cooler aboard the Chinese vessel.
While on the way to China and struggling inside the cooler, Tito made friends with a bigeye scad named Mr. Matambaka. Sadly, Mr. Matambaka wasn’t allowed to enter the Chinese border for obvious reasons.
By some miracle, Tito made it to China alive. One of the Chinese fishermen saw him and took him home as a gift to his son, Xi. Xi was a spoiled brat and a bully. He looked like Winnie the Pooh, but minus the cuteness and charm.
Xi immediately threw Tito into the family aquarium. There, Tito met a seahorse named Richie, a lionfish named Joey, and another clownfish named Vic.
Tito continued to swim and suddenly found himself caught in a net cast by a group of Filipino fishermen.
Vic was popular among the clownfish community. He’d already starred in a lot of movies in which he played his recurring role as a clownfish with magical powers. In his most famous movie yet, he saved a water nymph from detergent poisoning—a scene which, for some film critics, oscillated between ecocriticism and blatant product placement.
Tito, Vic, Richie, and Joey came up with an elaborate escape plan. The day they executed it, though, they faced a series of random and convoluted plot developments, which included, among others, fighting Xi’s rabid pet dog and going through the bureaucratic process of being required by Chinese immigration authorities to show legal documents they didn’t have in the first place. Like the butt of a Kafkaesque joke, they all wound up on the menu of an exotic Chinese restaurant—except Tito.
The last anything was heard of him, he was trying it out in Hollywood, to be cast in another sequel of that film about a missing clownfish. It was said he had finally made someone laugh: the minute he appeared, the casting director exploded into laughter. “This is Pixar, honey,” he told Tito in between cackles, “we can’t cast a clownfish with a pornstache.”
And then nothing was heard of Tito again. No fish found him. No fish ever bothered.