Saturday, September 21, 2002

Old jokes

This past week some of us were talking around the water cooler and sci-fi came up. Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" came up, especially Mike the computer.

Mike was pretty smart, but he had a hard time with jokes. This was a problem because Mike was a joker. Humans had to explain to him that some jokes were funny once, and others could be funny repeatedly. And to this day I haven't heard of any computers that were successful in generating non-formulaic funny material on demand. So work on your jokes folks - comedians may be the last people on the planet that aren't displaced by computers and robots.

Humor certainly doesn't age well. Shakespeare has some great lines, but you have to read a dozen footnotes or be familiar with ancient cultures to appreciate them. Likewise for Chaucer, Boccaccio and innumerable others. I really don't want to work that hard.

Even old joke books can be mystifying. The oldest one I've heard of is Joe Miller's Jests, published in 1739. Here's one killer from the collection:
A Westminster Justice taking Coach in the City, and being set down at Young Man's Coffee-house, Charing-Cross, the Driver demanded Eighteen-Pence as his Fare; the Justice asked him, if he would swear that the Ground came to the Money; the Man said, he would take his Oath on't. The Justice replyed, Friend, I am a Magistrate, and pulling a Book out of his Pocket, administer'd the Oath, and then gave the Fellow Six-pence, saying, he must reserve the Shilling to himself for the Affidavit.
Alright, are you composed yet?

There were idiotarians around before they were so named, and their recent "chickenhawk" slur isn't anything terribly original. It reminds me of a joke popular with Democrats around 1988 when Bush 41 and Dan Quayle were running against a nonentity named Dukakis (who desperately needed to get out of Massachusetts before the impact of his policies set in) and future Clintonoid Lloyd Bentsen. When Dem sympathizers weren't accusing Bush of strafing lifeboats in the Pacific Ocean, they were giving Dan Quayle lip about being in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. (This was before it became convenient for them to act outraged whenever anyone questioned Bill Clinton's dishonest behavior regarding military service). Anyway, the joke was "What do you get when you cross a hawk with a chicken?". "A Quayle".

(You remember Dan Quayle, don't you? He was accused of being stupid by people who later supported Al Gore, who couldn't cut it in divinity school during the Vietnam War. And he didn't have a brother with a history of substance abuse and drowned women, so he was 'no Jack Kennedy').

I don't hear so much from them nowadays, but for a long time there has been a charity called the United Negro College Fund. Anyway, back around the early 80s accidents affected black entertainers Michael Jackson and Peoria, Illinois native Richard Pryor. Jackson's hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, and Pryor was badly burned while free-basing some cocaine. About then I heard a joke that the two of them were starting a charity - the "Ignited Negro College Fund".

That's all I can think of for right now. Well, I edited out two that concerned a mass murderer - I have some taste.

No comments: