I understand that "told" is the most literal translation of "fortalt", but shouldn't "made" be accepted in this context? As a non-native speaker, "made a joke" sounds more natural that "told a joke". Is that correct?
very different. Telling jokes implies that he is repeating them - like a comic. Making a joke is more situational - a response to something that happens - more spur of the moment. I can't think of a context where "making jokes for many years" would be correct.