"WASHINGTON—Every Wednesday morning when the House and Senate are both in session, Nebraska's five representatives in Washington get together and tell jokes to the folks from back home.

But this is Congress after all, so there's a limit on how funny jokes can be. And they're talking to Nebraskans, so it is best to stick to safe topics. The easy targets: Rep. Lee Terry's sculpted hair and fellow Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's dull weekly budget presentations.

"Last year my colleagues, they were really, I think, kind of hard on Jeff," GOP Sen. Deb Fischer said at a recent breakfast. "It was my first year here and it was disappointing to watch them and how they treated you. But then I had to sit through a whole year of Jeff and watch him do his charts."

There weren't many laughs from the audience, but the head table guffawed. "Nicely played," Mr. Fortenberry said.

The setting for the corny jokes from the Corn Belt is the Nebraska Breakfast, an open-to-the-public gathering of the state's congressional delegation that has been taking place at the Capitol since 1943.
Held at 8 a.m. in a basement cafeteria, the breakfast is the only one of its kind in Washington. Created to allow Nebraskans with business in Washington one-stop shopping for its congressional legislators, the sessions are regular viewing for tourists, school groups and state business organizations in town to lobby Congress.

But in a gridlocked Washington, the business of Congress can be dull and depressing, so most of Nebraska's delegation does what it can to keep its crowds entertained during the breakfasts that last about an hour.

That has been tougher since the state's acknowledged funniest congressman and holder of the best head of hair title, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, didn't seek re-election in 2012 and was replaced by Mrs. Fischer, a 63-year-old grandmother.

"Senator Nelson left us, so it disrupted my ability to tell hair jokes," Mr. Fortenberry said. "I mean, I can't really do the same to Senator Fischer, it just doesn't work right."

Mr. Terry has tried to pick up the slack.

For a gag earlier this year, he photoshopped a picture of Mrs. Fischer's face with Mr. Nelson's hair—a carefully-brushed silver helmet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once praised as "hair like a 15-year-old." For another bit, he crossed a photograph of Mr. Fortenberry with an alpaca.

"Jeff and (GOP Rep. Adrian Smith ) aren't the best joke tellers, but you know what, they try," Mr. Terry said. "Jeff is always so serious I think it is hard for him to be intentionally funny. And poor Adrian needs to work on his delivery. I think the content of the jokes are good but the delivery isn't there."

Mr. Nelson said when he got to Congress in 2001 the issues of the day were "too boring" to fill an hour. So he passed the time with jokes and pranks on the state's House members, and told the same joke at every breakfast for years.

"When the show 'Desperate Housewives' was on, I would say that one of them was being featured in a new HBO series called 'Desperate House Members,'" Mr. Nelson said. "Fortenberry was almost always late, so I would say that he was having trouble getting enough sleep at night after having all that filming."

Mrs. Fischer said she tries to keep the sessions light to signal to constituents that the delegation is approachable and welcoming. But she admits she's no comedian.

"I am not a good joke teller, so I do not tell jokes," she said. "I'm more of a one-liner person."
Being a lousy joke teller hasn't stopped her colleagues from trying. Mr. Fortenberry kicked off his remarks at a recent breakfast by aiming for a safe space: the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.
"With all that's going on in the world, in the Middle East, on the border, various difficulties here in Congress. I finally have thought of the solution: It's time for football season," he said. There was no audible response from the audience. "I thought that would be greeted with a little more enthusiasm. Football! What do you guys think?"

The breakfast has long been a mandatory event on the Nebraska delegation's calendar. Bill Barrett, who represented the state's rural third district during the 1990s, said he sometimes slept overnight in the Denver airport so he could catch an early flight to Washington to attend.

Occasionally the jokes get too racy for a gathering of Nebraskans. Mr. Terry once made a graphic case against erectile dysfunction ads on TV only to spot a well-known Omaha priest in the audience.
And during the House impeachment proceedings of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Mr. Barrett said the humor wasn't always wholesome. "Most of them were very cute but some of them were getting on the vulgar side," he recalled of the jokes at that time. "Usually it was a very clean show but it was on the edge sometimes."

On occasion the breakfast's jokes have crossed into official congressional business. Mr. Terry liked the "Desperate House Members" gag so much he used as the title of a TV show in a white paper his office issued about video distribution systems to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Few people have heard more of the same Nebraska breakfast jokes than Jake Thompson, who spent 11 years as the Omaha World-Herald's Washington bureau chief and another four as Mr. Nelson's communications director.

Staffers, he said, would mutter the jokes to each other in the back of the room as their bosses unspooled them—just as aides do along with campaign stump speeches. He heard Mr. Nelson deliver his "Desperate House Members" joke every week for years.

"Having to hear the same bad jokes so many times, that was the painful part," Mr. Thompson recalled.

That is no matter to the Nebraskans who dutifully wake up early to hear what amounts to an hour-long congressional status report.

Michelle Myers, a stay-at-home-mom from Omaha, said her family arrived early to secure a front-row seat at a recent breakfast. It was the fourth time Mrs. Myers attended with her husband and four children. They'd heard all the jokes and seen Mr. Fortenberry drone on with his budget charts.

"It's just such a great way to have a personal connection with the representatives," she said. "The kids get to take pictures with them and think they're rock stars.""