Jokes are better than war. Even the most aggressive jokes are better than the least aggressive wars.

GEORGE MIKES (1912-87)


The World's Oldest Joke

The world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 bc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's an example of toilet humour. It is a saying of the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq. It goes: 'Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.' We don't understand it either.
The first gag book in English was Caxton’s 1484 translation of Aesop, to which he added some jokes lifted from a compilation by the Pope’s secretary, Poggio Bracciolini. By Shakespeare's time, joke books were very popular; he mentions one (the Hundred Merry Tales) by name in Much Ado About Nothing. Their content was pretty unsubtle: 'What is the most cleanliest leaf among all other leaves? It is holly leaves, for nobody will wipe his arse with them.' 
Possibly the largest joke collection in the world is the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor, at the San Francisco Public Library (its only rival is the House of Humour and Satire, in Gabrovo, Bulgaria). Nat Schmulowitz (1889-1966) was the San Francisco lawyer who defended Fatty Arbuckle. His passion was collecting 'humorous ephemera' - including joke books, ancient and contemporary.


A pun is two strings of thought tied together with an acoustic knot.

A 'babelavante' is an obsolete word meaning 'one who makes feeble jokes.'

Electronic Joke-Tellers

Robotic joke-tellers suffer from two main problems. Firstly jokes are inherently illogical. The joke, 'My dog has no nose. How does it smell? Terrible' makes no sense as a joke to a computer, unless it has been programmed to realise that the middle sentence can have two meanings, whereas a human recognises this immediately. The second problem is that they are often given terrible acronyms by their creators, for example WAISCRAIC (Witty Idiomatic Sentence Creation Revealing Ambiguity In Context), JAPE (Joke Analysis and Production Engine) and STANDUP (System To Augment Non-speakers' Dialogue Using Puns). 
STANDUP had a more serious intention, to help non-speaking children such as those with cerebral palsy to use language more effectively. The project has now developed 'The Joking Computer' which has come up with such classics as 'What kind of pre-school has a wine? A Play-grape' and 'What do you call a washing machine with a September? An autumn-atic washer.' 
The computer has a three-part system: first it chooses the punchline by (for example) finding a two-word phrase in a dictionary and then replacing the second word with something that sounds similar. So 'computer screen' might become 'computer scream'. Then it finds words associated with the two words; say 'pixel' for 'computer screen' and 'shout' for 'scream' and puts it all together: 'What do you call a shout that has a pixel? A computer scream!' 

Under the prime ministership of Canaan Banana, it became illegal in Zimbabwe to make jokes about long yellow fruits.


One good thing about telling a clean joke is there’s a good chance no-one’s heard it before.

What's the Point of Jokes? 

Philosophers offer three competing explanations for jokes:

The superiority theory is based on the 'sudden glory' we feel when we see someone trip on a banana skin. All humour is based in mockery and derision, feeling superior to schmucks.

The incongruity theory is the most widely accepted today. It argues that humour 'arises when the decorous and logical abruptly dissolves into the low and absurd'.

The relief theory. Freud argued that the naughtiness of a joke 'liberates the laugher from inhibitions about forbidden thoughts and feelings. The result is a discharge of nervous energy through the facial and respiratory muscles'. This noisy outburst distracts the inner censor’s attention from what is happening. If Freud’s theory was right, the people who laugh most at sexual jokes should be the most sexually repressed, but this seems to be the opposite of the truth, from common experience and from research. Freud wasn’t a natural comedian - one of the jokes he quotes begins as follows: 'An impoverished individual borrowed 25 florins from a prosperous acquaintance, with many asseverations of his necessitous circumstances...'.

Washington and Jefferson didn't let Benjamin Franklin draft the American constitution because they worried that he would put jokes in.


A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.


Research by psychologist Peter Derks indicates that what makes people laugh hardest is not the cleverness of the joke but the speed with which they get the punch line, which suggests an element of narcissism. Furthermore, scanning research suggests that the left lobe of the brain processes what the joke means, while the right ('emotional') lobe 'gets' the joke. Patients with lesions in their right lobe are not able to distinguish humorous statements from neutral ones.

In 1988, doctors at University College Los Angeles applied an electronic probe to various parts of an epileptic’s brain. When it touched a particular point she laughed, because everything in the lab appeared funny. This is troublesome for philosophers of humour, because a physiological response in which everything is funny destroys the idea of 'joke'. The New York Times reported the UCLA findings as 'a bombshell that could wreck the humor industry.'

There was an Irishman...

Just as the English make jokes about the Irish being stupid, the French and the Dutch make jokes about Belgians: and the Spanish make jokes about the Portuguese. The Irish, Belgians and Portuguese look closer to home and make fun of people from Kerry, Wallonia and Alentejo respectively. The Soviets and Nazis used jokes mocking the stupidity of Poles in their propaganda, but today Russians are more likely to make jokes about Ukrainians or Eskimos. Germans seem to think the Austrians are a bit slow


I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb... and I also know that I'm not blonde.

Young Mind

There's a schizophrenic condition called 'hebephrenia' (young mind) or 'disorganised schizophrenia', one of the symptoms can be that you make jokes all the time. Some professional comedians may have a low-level form of this disorder.

A psychological study found that if you ride around on a unicycle, around two-thirds of comments will be 'lost your other wheel?'

Maths joke: if you have a pizza with radius z and thickness a, it's volume is pizza  (pi x z x z x a).

People from Bolton are known as 'trotters' from the practise of 'trotting' or playing tricks on visitors.

Researchers spent 6 months reading through 33,326 Facebook posts to find doctor jokes. They found 263.

There are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those that understand binary and those that don’t.