Meaning of “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile

“The Joke” is a song written and performed by American musician and songwriter Brandi Carlile. The strong is laden with a very strong political statement in support of society’s marginalized. According to Carlie, she wrote this song for everyone who feels they are “under-represented, unloved or illegal” in society.

Carlile composed “The Joke” as a protest against the negative sociopolitical climate that began in America starting from the 2016 presidential election. That election saw Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

Speaking with the National Public Radio (NPR), Carlile expressed her disdain on America’s divisive sociopolitical climate. According to her, there are a lot of people in America who feel they aren’t represented or loved by society. Among these marginalized groups, she mentioned transgender people.

Brandi Carlile on the meaning of "The Joke"

After all is said and done, “The Joke” is a politically themed ode to every single marginalized person living in America. It encourages them to be strong, for brighter days will surely come in the end.

This clip was directed by Grammy Award winning director Danny Clinch.

Facts about “The Joke”

  • Carlile teamed up with three other songwriters to compose this song. These songwriters are: Tim and Phil Hanseroth and Dave Cobb. The latter also handled the song’s production duties.
  • “The Joke” came out on November 13, 2017. It was released as the first of the two singles from Carlile’s sixth studio album By the Way, I Forgive You.
  • Contrary to what some say, this isn’t an anti-Trump song. It is a song that speaks against the social and political ills prevalent in America.
  • President Barack Obama picked “The Joke” as one of his favorite songs from 2017. It’s not exactly clear why the former president chose this song. However, it is likely that the song’s political statement could be one of the contributing factors.
  • The official music video for “The Joke” came out on February 16, 2018. On this same date, the album on which the song appears was also released.
  • The phrase “the joke” appears approximately three times throughout the song.

Did “The Joke” win a Grammy Award?

It was nominated for four Grammy Awards at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in 2019. Below are the categories in which this song was nominated:

  • Song of the Year
  • Record of the Year
  • Best American Roots Performance
  • Best American Roots Song

In addition to the above, the album By the Way, I Forgive You also received a Grammy nomination for the Album of the Year.

27 Responses

  1. K says:

    I absolutely love this song. The lyrics are subtle yet powerful and the musical arrangement flows to the core of my soul . I saw a segment of Benicio Bryant singing this song and it sent chills down my spine . Spectacular !

  2. Breda says:

    So moved by this ? it captures human vulnerability & strength. Thank you Brandi

  3. J says:

    This is a moving song. It speaks to the individual and the strength of character it takes to be committed to individuality and personal determination. In my opinion it should not be used in a political sense but rather as inspiration for the individual. All societies ills begin with the individual. They can only be fixed where the roots grow.

  4. Lyn says:

    One of the best songs I’ve heard. The only thing wrong is her injection of politics in why she wrote it. I can wrap my mind and beliefs around those who are marginalized. But “illegals”? Really! Don’t do illegal things and your not a part of the discussion. She just marginalized all those she sang about!

    • Mary Mesa says:

      Well illegal will be always a bad thing no matter the reason why people do it, and every country’s law will punish it and even everyone who has common sense , I know life for some sucks but nobody specific are guilty , This is the way is, some born to be millionaires and other poor. Sad? Yes , but at the end you have to enjoy the little moments you have because at the end that is what it counts … all the millions couldn’t save job Steve and many other who are millionaires so enjoy whatever is you have and smile and be happy , you can try to change your situation but doing illegal things will not make it better , bringing your kids in a risk adventure and suffering the consequences of your acts , will not exit you from guilt , nobody is guilty from your actions , if you willing to do sacrifice that is your choice, now life is not fear who say it is !! , you can’t force thing because it will fall in your face …

      • Jan Shedivy says:

        illegal isn’t always the actual word illegal – sometimes metaphor for what you or others envy or wish someone else to not possess like good looks, good nature – just my opinion also

    • Anonymous says:

      Get some facts and compassion, then you can have a legitimate statement.

    • Anonymous says:

      I thought the “illegals” are people who came to america illegally, like dreamers.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t see it the way you do. The use of the word “illegals” here is not about immigrants or criminals. As an older gay American person, I am keenly aware that it used to be “illegal” to even be gay. It had nothing to do with actions or crimes. You could be arrested and incarcerated just for being yourself.

  5. Mary Butt says:

    I heard “The Story” many long years ago. This is almost as good. She belts the melody out with her unique voice and you are captured for life.

  6. Ellen says:

    This song speaks to me on a personal level. Not political. Hurt and pain that flooded into my life very unpredicted, unfortunately began a shit storm in my life. Still unresolved, something I didn’t bring on, can’t fix, tried to suck up emotions and make it better only to have the door shut in my face. So I close my eyes listen to her words, relate to them, not stealing my joy, my gentle heart will always prevail. So let them laugh, blame me as they feel the need to do so but I’m okay, my eyes behind my hair are tired but no longer scared , the jokes on them ❤️

  7. Leslie Wilson says:

    Such a beautiful song. This woman sings from her toes and can belt this song out like no one else could. The violins are so amazing and the lyrics are really moving. Also I can’t help but favor this artist because she has another song called “The Mother” about her daughter named Evangeline. I also have a 5 year old named Evangeline as well and almost fell over when I heard the song for the first time!

  8. Mary Marin says:

    A beautiful song with a very touching meaning. Let them spin!!!!! The world is better for the diversity we can enjoy. We all need to embrace it!

  9. Robert Frost. says:

    An amazing song from a flawless album.

  10. Ray says:

    Doesn’t align with the Bible, so there’s that. Otherwise powerful.

  11. Ken says:

    @ray. The song is in support of the marginalized, those in the edge of society. All of whom are our “neighbors “. Doesn’t align with the Bible?. Immediately you have marginalized all of earths population who have different beliefs. How does that agree with your comment it is a powerful song? I get the impression you think these people – Gods children- should be consigned to hell, or treated as sinners. Do you KNOW your Bible? Do you act in accordance with it and Gods teaching? What then is the most important sentence in it?? When asked about commandments Christ had just one thing to say; “The greatest of them is this; love God with all your heart, the second is love your neighbor as yourself; all the law is built on these”. Do you feel it is good to ignore Gods teachings?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I love this song. That said, I fully support Trump, no apologies as he is much misunderstood in these regards. I look forward to the day this song meets with its resolution. That resolution will only be found in Christ. Not the one you perhaps heard rumors of, but the one who came, died, rose again and will, with out any doubt, rule again. May you know him fully.

    • Paul Chandler Chandler says:

      “came, died”
      “know him fully”

      I get the distinct sense that you mean “came”, “died”, and “know” in the naughtier Biblical/Shakespearean senses there. Which suggests to me that you must truly know who Jesus Christ was. I’d like to know him someday, too. Like, I want to shake his hand, not bang him, lol.

  13. Jeff says:

    Fell in love with this song & artist first time I heard it as a sound track on the movie Joe Bell on Dec 18th 2021 one of the good things about the google machine you can look up who sings this song & that song likety split.

  14. Anonymous says:

    A beautiful song with powerful fitting that it would be the closing sone for an equally powerful movie ‘ Joe Bell’. …tolerance, love, equality for all..the way GOD intended it.

  15. Lawrence says:

    The line, “ I have been to the movies and I have seen how this ends” is such a comment on American culture and the times we live in. We often learn about the “right side of history” through the movies to tell us about the struggle. Movies more and more or chronicling the struggles of marginalized people. “The Joke” is a powerful song as is Carlisle a powerful person in so many ways.

  16. Paul Chandler Chandler says:

    When everybody realizes the full scope of the joke in question, please remember: DO NOT DIE* LAUGHING. It would be too ironically tragic to die of laughter while celebrating still-being-alive.

    *Unless you mean “die” in the orgasmic Shakespearean sense, in which case, feel free to die, lol. Or in the contemporary online sense of laughing yourself “dead”, that would also be appropriate.

  17. Kathy says:

    I have heard The Joke sung by Adam Lambert. His voice is magical and he does such an emotional performance that it brings me to tears.

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