There is an old joke about old jokes. In a prison cell block, one or another of the prisoners will occasionally call out a number, and all the others will laugh. A new prisoner is puzzled by this and asks his cell mate for an explanation. The cell mate replies that the prisoners have told all the funny stories they know so many times that they are bored with telling them. So they've numbered the stories and now tell numbers instead of jokes.

There is a recurring theme in your letters pages that needs a number. It is the protest that berates The Post for its lack of sensitivity and humanity for printing one or another comic strip. The letters invariably say: "My sense of humor is as good as anyone else's, but it is simply unforgivable to make a joke at the expense of . . . " Then the writer takes offense on behalf of some group or cause: a racial, ethnic, national or political group; women, the young, the aged, the handicapped, the poor -- in fact, anyone and everything except middle-class white American men of indeterminate age.

What makes these letters so tedious is that their writers never have a sense of humor. Most good jokes are rude and insulting. Jokes that aren't are reserved for use in sermons.

If you feel compelled to acknowledge these scolds' outbursts, you can improve your columns immeasurably by skipping their letters and printing a number instead. Simply call antihumor tirades "Letter #1," and list them by comic strip and cause. For example: "Letter #1, 'Bloom County,' alcoholism"; "Letter #1, 'Doonesbury,' Republicans"; "Letter #1, 'The Far Side,' animal rights"; or "Letter #1, 'Beetle Bailey,' feminism."

Alternatively, you could replace them with a revival of the Welsh rarebit controversy.

Gary Imhoff