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About Giant Purple Gorilla

As is common with "real" folk tales, whatever may be good about "Purple Gorilla" is not in the text; the words require performance to be enjoyable. It's one of a whole class of folktales in current circulation-- for example, "Red, Red Lips," "Teeny Tiny Woman," "Got you Where I Want You, and Now I'm Going to Eat You," "I am the Ghost with the One Black Eye," -- which begin like jump tales, but in the end release the built-up tension as a laugh instead of a jump. [Some well-known jump tales include "Golden Arm," "Big Toe," "Johnny got my Liver," and "Johnny, I'm on the First Step." Mark Twain's essay, "how to tell a story," explains how they work.]

Experience will teach you to what extent you must become the gorilla in the last bit, reaching out to a child in the front row, and to what extent you are "me", screwing up "my" eyes to watch the horrible gorilla coming closer and closer.

The last line is amusing enough if delivered fiercely, but for the biggest laughs reach out as the monster and then change in the blink of an eye from a monster to -- I don't know-- the young Jerry Lewis, or somebody with an equally goofy (and totally unthreatening) voice.

This story was first told to me by a seventh grader. He insisted on wearing sunglasses, so people would know he was cool while he told it.

I have encountered several somewhat different versions over the years. In one the kid at first obeys the injunction not to touch the ape, & goes back upstairs, but he just can't stop thinking about that gorilla, until he finally weakens and goes back down to pet it. I don't remember all the details, but among other things, while he's upstairs he tries to distract himself with the TV, but King Kong is on!

I rarely tell it myself, though it has always gone well when I do: I prefer to teach it to elementary student tellers during my residencies. It usually has a good impact in this form, which has evolved considerably over the years.

Giant Purple Gorilla


I was out riding my bike on an old back road, and I saw a turn-off I'd never noticed before. So I thought I'd see what was out there. And as I was riding, the road got rougher and rougher, and there started being clouds and before I was even thinking about what to do, it was raining really hard. And I saw a light up a little further, so instead of going back for home, I thought maybe I could stay on somebody's porch or something, until the rain slacked off a little, or maybe I could call my parents and they'd come pick me up. So I got to the house, a little house, with no yard or anything, and there was a light on the porch, and a sign said, WELCOME in big letters. So I got my bike up on the porch, and went to knock on the door, but there was another sign, said, "Come in." I put my bike up against the wall, and went inside, and it was a nice cozy little kitchen, with a fridge, and a table, and one chair. And there was a door leading to a bedroom, and another door, it was green, and bolted shut, and it had a sign said, "KEEP OUT!"

There was a book on the table, and I started reading in it. It said that this place was left there for people, like me, who got stuck on the road. It said I could do anything I wanted there-- eat, sleep, hang out, read books, listen to the radio-- except for one thing. You know that green door that said "KEEP OUT?" The book said I was supposed to KEEP OUT!

So I ate something, and waited for the rain to let up, but it just rained harder and harder. There wasn't any phone, I knew I was going to have to leave pretty soon or my parents would get really mad. And I was really going to get wet. And somehow, I just couldn't do that without finding out what was on the other side of the door

So I went and opened the green door.

And behind it, there was a looooong flight of stairs, and as I walked down the stairs (my steps echoing wacka wacka wacka wacka) I heard the first door close eeeeeeeeeeeeeyou slam! behind me. And at the bottom of the stairs was a red door, with a sign "NO ADMITTANCE! This means you!" So I opened the door, and there was another flight of stairs, going down, and as I went down these stairs, I heard my footsteps wacka wacka wacka wacka, and I heard the door behind me shut eeeeeeeeeeeyou slam! And I got to the bottom of the stairs, and there was a blue steel door, with a huge old padlock, and hanging from a chair, a huge old key. And the sign on the door said "GO AWAY! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE! So I took the key, and opened the lock and the door swung open--


And I was in this great big room. And in the middle of the room was a great big cage. And in the middle of the cage was a GIANT PURPLE GORILLA, sitting on a stool, like this [Hand on chin. Big sigh.] And on the bars of the cage was a big sign: DO NOT PET THE GORILLA. You can feed him, you can taunt him, you can hit him with a chair. But DO NOT PET THE GORILLA.

So there were some bananas next to the cage, and I threw one in to him and he caught it like this. [Very bored and sad] And he peeled it. And ate it. [Do these things, very bored and sad. Then, hand on chin. Big sigh.] So there was a stick next to the cage, and I picked it up and poked at him with it and said, "Whats the matter with you, ya big ugly ape?" And he just sat there like this. [big sigh] So there was a chair in the cage, and I reached through bars, and picked it up, and wham! I broke it over his back, and he just [big sigh.] Then I looked at him, and I couldn't help noticing that his purple fur looked really really soft. And I really wanted to pet it. I knew I shouldn't but I really wanted-- it looked so soft. So I reached through the bars-- the gorilla didn't even look at me, just went [big sigh]. And... I... put... out... my... hand... and... I.... touched---


(hands over head, ape fashion)

and I turned around and started running away and I got to the blue steel door and I saw there was a sign on it said "told you so" and I opened it and as I opened it a looked back and I saw the Gorilla grabbing the bars like this


(grab bar #1 on "GN", grab bar #2 on "GN", pull them apart on GRAGH)

--and I ran up the stairs to the red door, and it said, "Don't say we didn't warn you!" and I opened it, and as I opened it I looked back and there was the purple gorilla getting really close, and he was going


(arms over head, ape fashion.)

--and I ran up the next flight of stairs, and I could hear the gorilla breathing behind me--

"Hh Hh Hh Hh"

and I got to the green door, and the sign on it said, "This is your own fault", and I opened it, and as I opened it I looked back behind me, and there was the purple gorilla, and he was getting really really really close, and he was going


(arms over head, ape fashion)

and I ran through the kitchen out onto the porch, and I heard the screen door slam behind me, then open again, right away, and I grabbed my bike and I heard the door slam again, and I heard the gorilla breathing right behind me


"Hh Hh Hh Hh"


and I jumped on my bike and rode it down the stairs, and out into the road, and slipped on the mud, and fell into a puddle. And I looked up. And there was the gorilla, leaning over me. And he reached out his big




with its









"Tag. You're it."

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Jennings & Ponder =+= World Tales & Celtic Music =+= Sheefra
PO Box 522 Montpelier VT 05601

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