Friday, April 3, 2015

HISTORY and HUMOR by Carol E. Wyer Humorous Novelist/Blogger

Laugh now, cry later – Erma Bombeck


Laughter is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal and I have written at length about the benefits of laughter: 
Indeed my day is not complete unless I have made at least ten people laugh. Why? I don’t know. I guess I’m addicted to laughter and to seeing people giggle. It’s one of the reasons I took up writing but I wasn’t the first person by any means to write humour or to tell jokes.

People have been writing jokes and telling funny stories for centuries. I was astonished to discover even the Victorians, who I consider to be a pooh-faced bunch told marvellous jokes: What is the difference between a tube and a foolish Dutchman? One is a hollow cylinder and the other a silly Hollander. –


I researched the history of laughter and humour before I set about my new challenge as a stand-up comic and it is fascinating but too lengthy to document here in one post. There are many who should be credited for this form of entertainment, including the Greeks and Plato, and a virtual saunter around the internet will provide you with much information. The earliest known joke is set some way back in time—back to 1600 BC if my sources are accurate. The joke was a bawdy one—they all were to start with—and involved a Pharaoh, some women and a fishing line. I’m not sure how it went but I guess you could look it up.


As people travelled so too did humour. The bedrock of British humour, sarcasm for instance, was actually brought to the UK by the Vikings, typically noted for raping and pillaging throughout history, when they brought trade from across the world to British shores. Sarcasm, irony and understatement are part of the “common heritage” between Denmark and the UK. There are traces in comic tales used in the later Old Norse sagas, such as Orkneyinga Saga where an Earl goes out disguised as a fisherman, to help a farmer.

These sagas, largely from the thirteenth century and known for their “laconic humour, detail examples of comedy in the face of adversity, and also contain the roots of some Danish and English words showing more similarities in how we communicate.


Humour has been attributed to many story-tellers and writers such as Chaucer whose Canterbury Tales written and unfinished in the late fourteenth century is full of wholesome bawdy humour but it is Shakespeare who gets the prize for the first knock knock joke. It occurs in Macbeth, just after the scene in which King Duncan is slain by Macbeth and his wife. Shakespeare juxtaposes the horror of the murder with an amusing scene involving a gatekeeper. “Knock, knock, knock. Who’s there I’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Have napkins enough about you. Here you’ll need them.”… Okay, you and I might not “get” the humour there but trust me when I say an Elizabethan audience would have been chortling merrily at it.


Knock knock jokes are not as puerile or childish as you might think. The first documented one was in 1934.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Rufus who?

Rufus the most important part of the house.

Since then, they have become more sophisticated and now are conduits for other forms of humour such as anti-jokes, puns, the new interrupting knock knock joke, the reverse knock knock joke and so on. I’ll spare you my routine at this point.


Humour developed from bawdy into the more sophisticated forms we enjoy today. The British are considered to have an advanced sense of humour. I suppose due to the fact we are stuck on a windy, grey island full of potholes, we have to find something to alleviate the situation. However, not all nationalities share the same sense of humour. For instance, what a Brit might find amusing, an American might not. (Although, in my opinion, we both seem to like puns and Monty Python.) The French do not in general, have the same sense of humour as us, as I discovered when I gave a talk to an ex-pat group in France. Little did I know that secreted in the audience were several French teachers who had dropped by to learn about humour in writing. After the talk, one of them came up to me and said, “Eet was a verrey good talk but I did not understand your first joke. What do you call a Frenchman in sandals? Philippe Fellop!” I had trouble explaining it to him.


Many jokes are at the expense of others. The French love jokes about the Belgians as do the Dutch and people from Luxembourg. For the British that would be like telling jokes about the Irish or for our friends across the pond, jokes about Bubba. There is a famous joke about a Belgian truck driver getting stuck under a bridge. I told it at a dinner party in France to gales of laughter yet the same joke fell flat on a UK tour. On the other hand, that same UK audience laughed like mad at the joke about Paddy and Mick in an aeroplane: Paddy says to Mick, “If the plane goes upside down, will we fall out?”

“No,” says Paddy, “We’ll still be friends.”

In Norway, Denmark and Finland they laugh at the Swedes and vice versa. Jokes about Dutch people being tight-fisted or scrooge-like with money tend to be similar to jokes we tell about the Scots.


My own love affair with laughter and humour began many years ago. A child of the seventies, it appears I was born in the right decade. Evidence points to the fact anyone who was a child in the seventies is more likely to be light-hearted and enjoy a laugh. The 1970s were the golden age of sit-coms and comedy on radio and television and as a young person, I recall watching endless comedy and entertainment shows.


From story telling to literature, art, music, radio and television, humour has played a part in our lives, releasing tension and helping us to feel better about ourselves. It will continue to develop, dependent on sociological views and individual, reflecting our feelings and views about life and provide that necessary antidote to life with its woes. So, if you are feeling down, drag out an old comedy DVD or sing along to Always Look On The Bright Side of Life. You’ll feel a lot better.
Carol E. Wyer
Humorous Novelist/Blogger 

"A laugh every turn of the page"
Signed author with Safkhet Publishing 
Blogger for Huffington Post

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