(ILLUSTRATIONS BY ZOHAR LAZAR)

He would tell you what he does for a living, but then. ... Okay, that’s an old one that prompts real CIA employees to roll their eyes.

“We hear that all the time,” says Edward Mickolus , 61, who retired from the CIA after 33 years as an intelligence officer.

Mickolus lives in Northern Virginia, where he collects “ugly neckties,” is a sports announcer for a high school and drives a 1960 white Cadillac Fleetwood. He has worked as a stand-up comedian and a contract counterterrorism expert — two occupations that seem to contradict each other. Or do they?

Mickolus, who has written 20 books on terrorism, recently published “The Secret Book of CIA Humor,” a collection of “internal stories the agency folks tell about themselves.”

Take this one: “Yuri” Gagarin, a cosmonaut and the first man to orbit Earth, “leaves a note for his wife and says, ‘Dear Wife, I am orbiting the Earth. Will be back tomorrow.’ ” In turn, “his wife leaves a note for him, saying, ‘Dear Yuri, I’m going to be standing in the breadline. No idea when I’ll be back.’ ”

He joined the CIA in 1975. While an analyst, Mickolus finished a doctorate in political science from Yale University. His dissertation, he said, was one of the first on terrorism. “Apparently I wasn’t any good at it, because I didn’t solve the world’s terrorism problems,” he says. Mickolus had never written jokes on Twitter before this contest. In fact, he had never tweeted. The joke that won, he said, just occurred to him one day. “I thought, ‘There must have been something that came out before Preparation H.’ ... It just hit me one day. I don’t think I was using Preparation H at that moment.”

When The Post called to tell him he was a finalist, he asked, “I’m going to win a case of Preparation G, aren’t I?”

— DeNeen L. Brown

What the judges said about Mickolus’s tweet:

Harris Wittels: This is a very succinct joke that conjures up horrible imagery in the reader’s imagination. Well done.

Lisa Cohen: I like this one for a couple of reasons: (1) I like jokes with a surprise at the end. This tweet doesn’t give anything funny away until the very last character. (2) Anything about butts is funny. (3) You have to think a little to really get it. (“So they did all these tests with Preparation A thru G, and terrible things must have happened. ...”)

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FINALISTS:

Christina Honan , a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, lives in her hometown of Hinsdale, Ill. , where she was known as a “very loud baby who grew into a tomboy child famous for falling asleep under piles of books.”

Honan has younger brothers, Jimmy and Patrick. “Patrick,” she says, “is probably my favorite, unless Jimmy reads this first. In which case, Jimmy is definitely my favorite.”

She has been fascinated by comedy since childhood. In high school, Honan says, she not only watched but also analyzed “Saturday Night Live” DVDs and Comedy Central shows.

Her friends told her, “It was annoying to watch stand-up with me because I couldn’t just watch it.”

Honan, who recently started her own business as a Web and magazine designer and social media consultant, says the strangest reaction to any of her tweets was “being chosen for this contest.”

— DeNeen L. Brown

What the judges said about Honan’s tweet:

Lisa Cohen: This one uses a couple of tried-and-true comedy devices: the rule of 3, and repetition. Also, we’ve all been in that situation. This tweet taps into that sinking feeling we all have — that Starbucks is taking over the world.

Erin Jackson: I laugh out loud every time I do this. The Starbucks in my old neighborhood were so close sometimes I’d swear I’d been walking in place. Like, maybe I just came out of that one. ...

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Mark Davis , 29, a winemaker in Napa, Calif., grew up in Bowie, where his parents are both teachers. His mother, he says, is now retired, “spending her days taking weird classes like yoga-sewing ... that could only be offered at a community center.”

Davis’s methodology for writing humor on Twitter requires math. “I write a humorous Tweet by having less than or equal to 140 characters tied together forming a comical quip.”

Davis thinks Twitter is the perfect platform for a younger generation, “especially since they can’t seem to even make it through a single para ... whoa! Check out that bird!”

— DeNeen L. Brown

What the judges said about Davis’s tweet:

Jackson: This misuse of this phrase is one of my biggest pet peeves. I wrote what I thought was a great joke about it a few years ago, but the only people that got it were fellow grammar snobs.

Cohen: I like tweets that reveal our darkest impulses as humans ... impulses like wanting to confuse others ... with our superior grammar.

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Phil Leverrier , 27, a Baltimore real estate agent, says that although his Twitter submission was about fish and water, his humor is mostly dry.

“I have a deadpan delivery most of the time, and a lot of the things I say can get lost or misinterpreted,” Leverrier says. “Occasionally, I am very goofy, too. I have a tendency to ask people to consider absurd hypothetical situations or ‘what if’ scenarios.”

He is constantly thinking about hypothetical situations and “what if” scenarios. “I think that drives a lot of my creativity.” Leverrier grew up in Bethesda and Kensington, consuming huge amounts of “Comedy Central.” “I used to love watching any stand-up comedy and the British version of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’,” he says.

Leverrier says he hasn’t had too many strange reactions to his Tweets, save two followers that bewilder him.

“There are two toy tractor Twitter handles following me,” he says. “I have no idea what I said to worthy of their following. I’m not sure why more than one toy tractor account exists in the first place.”

— DeNeen L. Brown

What the judges said about Leverrier’s tweet:

Lewis Black: This one is absurd like an early Mitch Hedberg joke, and he always made me laugh. As did that tweet. I can’t believe I just typed “tweet.” How sad.

Gene Weingarten: The best humor is simple and concise. The previous unfunny sentence has more words than my choice for winner. Nuff said. 

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Doug Hecox , who says he is 85, lives in Wesley Heights. He is an author and comedian who has performed in comedy clubs throughout the country. In 2008, he recorded a comedy CD, and he has appeared on Country Music Television and was on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in 2010.

Hecox says one of his first-grade classmates told him he should be a comedian when he grew up. “Not knowing what a comedian was at the time,” he said, “I was sort of offended.”

Comedic material often comes to him when he is tired. “There was a time when I slept with a notepad and pen, but I’ve graduated to sleeping with my cellphone and tweeting my latest thoughts. My followers are seeing jokes in their purest, unprocessed form.”

— DeNeen L. Brown

What the judges said about Hecox’s tweet:

Jackson: This joke is about murder, right? Hilarious.

Black: It’s nice and dark, and I am always partial to dark comedy.

The tweets

MORE FROM THE HUMOR CONTEST:

Memoir winner:

A stroke of luck?

Finalists:

Proof of Age

Flipping a wig

The joy of cooking

Prophets and losses

Humor Contest judges

Photo contest winner