When we traveled to Japan, immersing ourselves in sadistic game shows, ribald karaoke excursions, and the (mandatory!) comedy training schools for aspiring comedians, we hardly understood any of the jokes. That’s because most of them didn’t bother with set-ups at all. As a member of the Japanese Humor and Laughter Society explained to us, Japan is a high-context society: It is so homogenous, jokesters don’t need to bother with explanations or detailed backstories. They can get right to the punch line.
One common joke, about an Olympic gymnast whose leotard was hiked embarrassingly high during a performance, has apparently become so familiar that even the punch line isn’t necessary. All you have to do is gesture to your upper thigh.