Thursday, October 14, 2010

These Are the Jokes, Folks

Google “joke database” and you’ll get a few hits – 20,600,000 at least.

The internet has blessed joke collectors – and cursed the rest of us who have to listen to these jackanapes – with vast joke databases where, for hours on end, one can probe the hilarity of everything from yo mama jokes to the tenebrous world that is “adult” humor. (For examples, go here. And here. And there. And over there. And here again. And here. And over here. Go, frankly, anywhere. NOTE: Don’t come crying to me if the jokes in the links I’ve provided aren’t to your liking or satisfaction; I’m only responsible for the stuff in the Treasury of Laughter, not anything else.)

Robert O. Foote would feel at home here.

So would Joe Miller, his mysterious fictional researcher of everything jokey. And he might repeat the mild anti-sophisticate rebuke in “Who was Joe Miller,” a “research” piece Foote put together on ribald humor through the ages:

Humor, say philosophers, is the index of an era’s sophistication. Because the present day laughs at broad jokes, it is inclined to fancy itself as tolerant; “modern” is the popular word. The stories we tell in mixed company would only have been whispered by grandfather to his barroom cronies. Ipso facto, we’re pretty darn sophisticated. But are we?

Examine a case example: You see a cartoon – or will shortly when the gag men realize what they have been overlooking – which shows a young man getting out of bed in which still reposes a lovely dame. The caption says “I think I’ll get up and rest.” Now, except for the manner of its telling through the aid of a drawing reproduction process unknown to our ancestors, instead of completely by words as was necessary with them, that is the identical joke at which our forbears of two hundred years ago were snickering. Here is its exact wording, No. 164 in the now priceless first edition of Joe Miller’s Jests:

“A Young Lady who had been Married but a Short Time, seeing her Husband going to Rise pretty early in the Morning, said, ‘What, my Dear, are you getting up already? Pray lie a little longer and rest yourself.’ ‘No, my Dear,’ replied the husband. ‘I’ll get up and rest myself.’”

So sophistication is obviously in the eye of the beholder. As is humor, but Foote doesn’t argue that. He figures everything is funny. Just like somebody else I know: The Bat-Bat.

The pertinent bit begins at 1:36. Listen through to 2:30, then skip to 3:08 for more punnery and a Bob Hope-inspired payoff. For you anal retentives, the first portion of this cartoon is available here.

Joe Miller, at least in this piece, focuses on the ribald – though the mildly ribald, compared to much of the stuff that we hear said in the open today.

To be honest, however, I’m not quire sure what Foote’s point to all of this is: that ribald humor is common in all eras, just more open today? Anyone who reads Chaucer ought to know better than that.

It might just be that (whispers) I’ve never been all that much into jokes. Funny stories and situations, yes, but not jokes. No one in the family really is into jokes. Want proof? Here’s my mother’s favorite joke:

Why do gorillas have big noses? Because they have big fingers.”

And my Dad’s:

Two Americans were at the train station in Amsterdam and wanted to go to the town of Deloo. The man went to the ticket counter and said “Two to Deloo,” to which the agent responded “Tee teedle lee!”

I rest my case.

No comments:

Post a Comment