Q. What did the ocean say to the sailboat?
A. Nothing, it just waved.
Q. Why couldn’t the bicycle stand up by itself?
A. It was two tired.
Laughter, according to Aristotle, is a distinctive trait of humanity that sets us apart from animals, and humoring people with witty one-liners or comical tales has been considered an art form for many years. Linguist Robert Hetzron defined a joke as: “… a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence called the punchline …” which sums up the basic structure of a typical joke.
The oldest known joke was traced by academics at the University of Wolver Hampton to the Sumerians of Southern Iraq in 1,900BC, making the art of joke-telling almost as old as civilization itself.
(Photo by Cris Faga/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
It’s All Physiological Response to Humor
Since then, history has been full of amusing gags in all areas of life, from Shakespeare’s literature to Winston Churchill’s political quips.
This article focuses on the best jokes of all time and explores the history and psychology behind them, as well as the reasoning as to why they’re so popular with people currently. The jokes have been grouped according to type: traditional, one-liner, anecdote, non-sequitur, and topical.
Q. What do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter?
A. An irrelephant
Some jokes are timeless – and, as their name would suggest, traditional jokes are those that have been around for a while. As a result, more often than not, they have a fascinating history or story behind them, and their evolution throughout the years can be traced. Additionally, because of their longevity, traditional jokes are often adapted for alternative cultures, languages or subject matters when appropriate.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visits the University of Chichester’s Engineering and Technology Park on October 3, 2018, in Bognor Regis, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
They usually consist of a question and answer – a format that has persisted despite the rise of alternative types of jokes and humor – but there are some variations, such as “knock” jokes. Whatever the structure, they consist of a “punchline” – a point at which the audience becomes aware of a second or conflicting meaning to the question or story. This is often achieved through wordplays such as irony, a pun or pure nonsense. Here are some of the best traditional jokes:
The Never-Ending Question
Q: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
A: “To get to the other side!”
Being a joke, you expect some sort of funny response to the question, but the answer is very obvious. Interestingly, the question first appeared in an 1847 issue of a New York City magazine called The Knickerbocker, which used it as an example of what is known as “anti-humor” – a quip that, despite seeming like a riddle or a trick question, is just a straightforward, unamusing fact or solution. The full quote was: “Here are ‘quips and quillets’ which seem actual conundrums, but yet are none. Of such is this: ‘Why does a chicken cross the street?’ Are you ‘out of town?’ Do you ‘give it up?’ Well, then: ‘Because it wants to get on the other side!'”.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers laughs as he speaks on a set during the Los Angeles Lakers Media Day at the UCLA Health Training Center on September 24, 2018 in El Segundo, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Not very funny by today’s standards but, soon after, it was modified to become an actual joke and, in 1890, a pun version appeared in the magazine Potter’s American Monthly: “Why should not a chicken cross the road? It would be a fowl proceeding.” Many variations and subversions have been invented since, playing on assumptions of familiarity with this well-known joke: for example, a dinosaur crosses “because chickens didn’t exist yet” and a duck crosses “because it was the chicken’s day off.”
Knocking on Laughter’s Door
A: “Knock, knock.”
B: “Who’s there?”
B: “Lettuce who?”
A: “Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.”
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, laughs as he speaks during the Economic Club of Washington’s Milestone Celebration event in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
“Knock knock” jokes are traditional jokes that use word sounds to create the punchline. They involve questions that always follow the same order. Their origin isn’t confirmed, but many experts believe William Shakespeare invented this form of a joke in 1606, in Macbeth: in Act 2, Scene 3, a porter is awoken by a man knocking at Macbeth’s door. Macbeth asks, “Who’s there?”, which is left unknown. Despite this, it didn’t become a widely used joke format until much later – specifically, 1930s America, during Prohibition. According to historian Charlie Orr, speakeasy patrons would have fun with the password custom where they would knock on the door, and the owner would ask “Who’s there?”. As the night wore on and the patrons consumed an increasing amount of alcohol, the answers would become sillier and funnier, thus turning this type of exchange into a format for a joke. This was confirmed by Variety magazine in 1936 when it was reported that a “knock knock craze” was sweeping the US. Today, they are still considered one of the most basic forms of jokes.
It’s All Coming Back to Me
Q: “What do you call a boomerang that won’t come back?”
A: “A stick.”
Arguably one of the better known traditional jokes – and admittedly, not particularly funny – this joke represents a completely logical, understandable idea that is told as a joke purely to find humor from the sheer obviousness of it. A boomerang is a curved, flat, wooden tool traditionally used by the Aboriginal population of Australia and is designed to ensure that it can be thrown in such a way that it returns to the thrower.
US President Barack Obama laughs as he listens performer Joel McHale telling jokes during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on May 3, 2014, in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
If the boomerang does not come back, it is literally just a piece of wood – i.e., a stick. The audience, when hearing the question, unless familiar with the punchline, are more than likely to expect an intelligent answer and therefore overlook the obvious one. This joke probably generates more groans than fits of laughter! There are quite a few alternative versions to this classic, traditional jokes about boomerangs, including the one-liner: “I couldn’t quite remember how to throw a boomerang, but eventually, it came back to me.” Here, this joke plays on the double meaning of “come back,” which refers to either something returning or a person remembering something.
A Color Play on Words
Q: “What’s black and white and red all over?”
A: “A newspaper.”
This classic joke first appeared in 1917 in an American humor anthology and, between then and 1939, was featured in 15 collections of folk riddles and jokes. This is the traditional version, which plays upon the identical pronunciation of the words “read” and “red.” There are, however, alternative answers that have evolved over the years, most of which use red as a color: for example, “an embarrassed zebra” and “a penguin with a rash.” It must be noted, however, that many view these alternatives as merely adequate, rather than clever, as they lack the homophonic pun.
VENICE, ITALY – AUGUST 29: Actress Kate Hudson attends ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ Premiere And Opening Ceremony during the 69th Venice International Film Festival at Palazzo del Cinema on August 29, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Although Delia Chiaro notes in The Language of Jokes that it is technically impossible to translate this joke into languages other than English, some variations have been used for politics-based jokes, for which the color red represents typically one side. Additionally, this joke has also been adapted to current situations: for example, in 2009, Jason Jones asked the question to Bill Keller, the Editor of The New York Times, and was answered with: “Your balance sheet”; and in 2012, at the 2012 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, Jimmy Kimmel answered the question with, “Nothing anymore”, in an allusion to the death of print news.
Mom’s the Word
“Yo’ Mama so fat, she went to the movies and sat next to everyone!”
This “maternal insult” can be combined with most insults, although suggestions of promiscuity are particularly common. This is an old practice – in the Bible, the rebel Jehu replies to King Joram’s question, “Is it peace, Jehu?” with “What peace, so long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” Even William Shakespeare employed the tactic of insulting one’s mother in Act I Scene 1 of Timon of Athens, implying that a character’s mother is a “bitch”: Painter: “Y’are, a dog.” Apemantus: “Thy mother’s of my generation. What’s she, if I am a dog?”
Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist laughs as she poses in the lighted water of the Hirschengraben indoor swimming pool during an artistic performance and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). (Photo credit FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
As history has progressed, this has adapted, and the modern version – most commonly known as “Yo Mama” – originated in the inner cities of the US, becoming popular in the 1960s as part of an insult game called the Dozens, which itself has its origins in the slave trade of New Orleans. The intention is for two people to trade insults until one can no longer think of a comeback – and insulting your opponent’s mother is considered to be the lowest blow possible.
An Elephant in the (Comedy) Room
Q: “What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?”
A: “Time to build a new fence”
This is a typical example of what is known as an “elephant joke,” which is almost always an absurd conundrum that involves an elephant. The humor relies upon absurdity and contrast with the normal presumptions of knowledge about elephants. One key to the construction of a joke of this type is that the answers are somewhat appropriate if one merely overlooks the apparent absurdities. In this case, if the common connotation that questions requesting the time are expected to be answered regarding hours and minutes is ignored, then by the implied destruction of one’s fence from being sat on by an elephant, it would indeed be time to build a new fence.
Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images)
The appropriateness of the answer, when accounting for the absurd incongruences existing between the implied premise of the question and the common assumptions the question invokes, distinguishes elephant jokes as jokes rather than nonsensical riddles.
Elephant jokes gained popularity in the 1960s, when L.M. Becker Co of Appleton, Wisconsin, released a set of 50 trading cards titled “Elephant Jokes.” They were first recorded in mid-1962 in Texas and gradually spread across the US, reaching California in early 1963. By July of that year, elephant jokes could be found in newspaper columns, and in Time and Seventeen magazines, with millions of people working to invent more. According to writer and Professor Isaac Asimov, they were “favorites of youngsters and unsophisticated adults.”
Letting the Side Down
“Did you hear about the man whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.”
This is an extremely simple, but effective, traditional joke that plays on the double meaning of “he’s all right” to generate humor and laughter. “He’s all right now” – a phrase commonly used in everyday life – would normally be taken to mean “he’s okay now” or “he’s fine now”, but this poses a stark contrast with the set-up of this joke, as anyone who has had their whole left side cut off is far from likely to be okay.
(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
This gives the audience a clue that there is an alternative meaning to the punchline, and the reference to his “whole left side” being “cut off” in the set-up suggests the intended meaning of “he’s all right now” means, in fact, “he has no left side now”, which is an amusing visual image.
Laughing Down the Law
Q: “Why don’t sharks eat lawyers?”
A: “Professional courtesy.”
This is a typical example of a “lawyer joke,” which is typically told with contempt, criticism, and disdain by those outside of the profession. It would seem lawyer jokes have been a form of satirical social commentary reflecting the stereotypes of lawyers and other people’s perceptions of them, as they predate the era of Shakespeare.
(Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images)
In fact, in Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4 Scene 2, Dick the Butcher says, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” – although this was meant by Shakespeare as comic relief at the end of the scene, supported by the fact that he gave the line to a character that often makes comedic statements, this is one of the first examples of a joke made to express ordinary people’s frustration with the law and those in that profession. Lawyer jokes have evolved, as lawyers are still perceived to be part of a highly privileged, almost unaccountable, class, and the jokes are often direct, blunt, and outright insulting.
“Two sociologists are sitting by the pool. One turns to the other and asks, “Have you read Marx?” to which he replies, “Yes, it’s these damn wicker chairs.”
(Photo credit PHILIPP GUELLAND/AFP/Getty Images)
This joke is another play on words – it has nothing to do with Karl Marx’s theories on society, economics or politics, but instead about how red indentations can be left on the skin due to wicker chairs. The second sociologist in this joke has interpreted the question to be “Have you red marks?” rather than “Have you read Marx?”, moreover, this is where the humor is derived from. This is similar to the traditional newspaper joke discussed previously, which plays on the identical pronunciation of “read” and “red” to form the punchline.
The Hot Circus
“Did you hear about the fire at the circus?The heat was in tents.”
(Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
This traditional joke differs from other plays on words in the sense that it highlights similar phonetical pronunciations rather than multiple meanings of a word or phrase. “In tents” refers to the structure in which a circus is held, which is therefore likely to be where the fire took place and therefore literally true, but the pronunciation is very similar to “intense”, which means “extreme” – which is also likely to be correct and therefore also makes sense in this context. It is the clever phonetical wordplay that forms the basis of this joke and generates humor.
Aging without Pressure
“Granddad, what’s the best thing about being 104?”
“No peer pressure.”
(Photo by Stefano Montesi – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
This is an excellent example of a joke about old age – of which there are many. Comedians often choose topics that their audience will relate to – and death, and perhaps old age, is something that will affect all of us, one day. Making light of a serious, and sometimes somber, topic allows light relief, and people are often willing and eager to find humor in these areas. This particular joke makes light on the fact that, by the time anyone gets to 104, they will have lost the majority – if not all – of their peers, which of course, in turn, eliminates the danger of peer pressure. It is, in fact, sad that that grandfather in this joke has outlived all his peers by making it to 104 years of age, but the joke allows us to see the funny side and appreciate the irony of the situation.
Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow
“What do you call a row of rabbits jumping backward?
A receding hare line.”
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
This traditional question-and-answer joke is a play on the words “hair” and “hare” – both of which are pronounced the same but have completely different meanings – to change the meaning of the phrase “receding hairline”, which refers to when people (predominantly men) get older, and their hairline at the front of their head starts to recede. It is worth noting that a receding hairline is often the subject of comedy or jokes – it tends to be a sensitive subject for men, and therefore somewhat of an “easy target” for comedians. The punchline of this particular joke, however, highlights that a row of rabbits jumping backward could, indeed, be referred to as “a receding hare line.”
Yankee Doodle Went to Town
“What do you call an American drawing?
A Yankee Doodle.”
This particular joke has its origins in history – “Yankee” is an informal name for an American used by those outside the US, although there is debate as to when it was first introduced. The earliest recorded use of the word, however, was by British General James Wolfe in 1758, and it has been used in various contexts since then. By the 18th century, “Yankee” was being used for humor and in-jokes, evidenced by a 1775 newspaper cartoon strip that ridicule “Yankee” (American) soldiers.
(Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
The name was reinforced through constant use in the American Revolutionary War, mainly by British soldiers as a somewhat derogatory name for their enemies. Also, there was a famous song entitled “Yankee Doodle,” which is the state song of Connecticut today. This joke takes this historical reference to suggest another type of “doodle” – an aimless or casual scribble, design, or sketch – to suggest that an American drawing could actually, in fact, be called a “Yankee Doodle.” This double meaning and play on words – as well as a clever reference to historical events – is what makes this joke funny.
A Tasty Dinner Party
“What did the cannibal get when he turned up late to dinner?
The cold shoulder.”
This traditional joke uses the double meaning of the well-known phrase “the cold shoulder” as its punchline and the basis of its humor. A cannibal is a person who eats other people, so this could be referring to a piece of meat – in this case, a shoulder that we would presume to be human – that he was given to eat when he turned up to dinner – and because he was late, it makes sense that it would be cold.
(Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)
Alternatively, however, the phrase “giving someone the cold shoulder” can mean to ignore someone, which also makes sense as a punchline in the context of this joke, as perhaps others were acting this way toward him as a result of his cannibalism or his tardiness – or both. The audience is left unsure of the intended meaning of the punchline but is aware of the alternatives, which is what makes the basis of this joke’s humor.
“What do you call a clairvoyant dwarf who just broke out of prison?
A small medium at large.”
(Photo by: Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images)
This is a clever play on words and actually makes perfect sense: a dwarf is small, and a clairvoyant is often called a “medium” – hence “a small-medium” – and someone that has broken out of prison and has so far evaded capture is often referred to as being “at large.” The play on words also comes from the fact that “small,” “medium” and “large” all refer to size and they are listed in the punchline in ascending order. Clever word plays such as this often generate laughs when told as a joke, as does the nonsensical, abstract image of a clairvoyant dwarf breaking out of prison.
A Lightbulb Moment
“How many divorced men does it take to change a light bulb?
Who cares? They never get the house anyway”
“Lightbulb jokes” always follow the same format: “how many *** does it take to screw in a light bulb?” They use the changing of light bulbs – an easy task – as a measure of intelligence, highlighting stereotypes of certain types of people; in this case, divorced men. This type of joke originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was mainly used to insult Polish people and their intelligence as a result of tensions arising from the high number of Polish immigrants to the US.
(Photo credit BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
This was as a result of Adolf Hitler encouraging the ill-informed “unintelligent Polack” stereotype to divide and isolate communities – a stereotype that had spread through Europe to the US. Consequently, by the 1960s, Polish people had become the punchline of a multitude of jokes, with the TV show Laugh-in, which aired from 1967 to 1973, featuring a regular segment purely dedicated to Polish jokes. As this perception began to change in the late 1970s – mainly due to the inauguration of the first Polish Pope in 1978 – the joke was adapted to reflect current tensions and stereotypes of the time. Today, there is a vast range of variations, with almost anything capable of being the punchline.
Setting the Bar
“A man walks into a bar after a long day at work and orders a drink. As he sits there, mulling over his day, he hears a high-pitched voice say, “That shirt looks great on you!”
The man looks around, doesn’t see anything, and returns to his drink thinking nothing more of it. But then, a moment later, the voice returns, this time offering, “You seem like a really cool guy!” Again, the man looks around, sees nothing, and returns to his drink, wondering if he should get checked out by a professional. Then he hears, “I bet your parents are really proud of you!” He slams down his drink and looks around wildly. Frustrated and finding no possible source of the voice, he calls over the bartender. He says, “Hey barkeep! What’s that voice I keep hearing?”
“Oh, those are the peanuts,” the bartender replies. “They’re complimentary.”
(Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
The syntax of this joke is “A man walks into a bar and …” – a very basic, common type of joke that was first published in a 1952 article by C. B. Palmer for the New York Times entitled “The Consummately Dry Martini.” This read: “A man walks into a bar and says he wants a very, very dry martini at a ratio of 25 to 1. The bartender is a little startled but mixes it precisely. As he pours it into just the glass, he asks the customer, ‘Would you like a twist of lemon with that?’ The customer pounds the bar and shouts, ‘Listen, buddy! When I want a goddamn lemonade, I’ll ask for one!’. Although not as funny now as it presumably was in the 1950s, there is a vast range of variants that have developed since then, with this format being used by professional comedians as well as people in everyday scenarios telling jokes to friends. The man is often replaced with a woman; a person of a specific occupation, religion or nationality; a famous person; or an animal, depending on the punchline and/or the audience.
“There were three men stranded on a desert island. One day they find a genie that grants each one of them a wish. The first man said, “I wish to go back home,” and the genie granted his wish and sent him home. The second man says the same and also gets sent home, and the third man said, “I’m lonely, I wish my friends were back here.”
(Photo by DEA / C.DANI / I.JESKE/De Agostini/Getty Images)
This is a typical example of what is known as a “desert island joke,” which are always based around a person or group of people stranded on a desert island. This type of joke first started appearing in cartoon strips in The New Yorker in the 1930s, according to Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker. This is apparently due to the huge popularity of Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, which is about a castaway that spends 28 years on a remote tropical island before being rescued. The earlier newspaper cartoons feature a large island with a ship sinking in the distance, and later cartoons show one or two people on a tiny island with a single palm tree. Sometimes, this setting is used to portray certain stereotypes based on nationality, profession, race, or religion or the people involved can be famous people and take on a more topical form.
The Three Stooges
“An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman were in a pub, talking about their sons. “My son was born on St George’s Day,” commented the English man. “So, we obviously decided to call him George.” “That’s a real coincidence,” remarked the Scotsman. “My son was born on St Andrew’s Day, so obviously we decided to call him Andrew. That’s incredible – what a coincidence,” said the Irishman. “Exactly the same thing happened with my son Pancake.”
Photo credit ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
In the UK and Ireland especially, “An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman” is the opening line of a common category of joke – if the joke requires four people, a Welshman is included, but generally it uses the rule of three: the first two characters set up an expectation which is subverted by the third. Traditionally, an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman are used, but the joke has evolved to feature various nations and their stereotypes. For example: “A Chinese, an American, and a Japanese” in China; “A Pole, a German, and a Russian” in Poland; “A Portuguese man, a Frenchman, and an Englishman” in Portugal; and “A Finn, a Swede, and a Norwegian” in Finland. It is interesting to note, however, that all variations typically start with the favored (or home) nationality, with the others faring poorly in the joke according to their national (often negative) stereotypes.
“Did you hear about the crook who stole a calendar? He got twelve months.”
The title “one-liner” is fairly self-explanatory: the joke only has one line or sentence. Although the rules can be bent slightly to include two or even three – albeit short – sentences, the aim is the same: to force the reader or listener to laugh by combining a set-up and a punchline into one short, simple, memorable line.
(Photo by Felix Kunze/Redferns)
This first gained popularity in the Victorian era but, as comedy tastes and preferences changed throughout the 20th century, it lost its appeal among crowds, who began to request and savor “material” – comedy that mainly consisted of longer stories and anecdotes in which a scene or context was set – in stand up, rather than a string of one-liners reeled off continually. Due to the prevalence of social media platforms today, however – especially Twitter, where users are limited to 140 characters in their posts, so have to limit their output to one or two lines – the one-liner is making a comeback. Here are some of the best one-liner jokes:
A Jumbled Bar
A dyslexic man walks into a bra …
This is a play on the traditional bar joke described earlier in the article. Instead of the usual set-up of “A man walks into a bar …” followed with the comedic punchline, this popular one-liner uses dyslexia – a condition in the brain that makes it difficult for a person to read, write and spell – as the basis of mixing up the letters in “bar” to make “bra”.
(Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
Although it can be claimed that this joke is offensive to those with dyslexia, it is rarely poorly received as it is regarded as reasonably light humor. Additionally, the short length of the joke means people generally are not left pondering its political correctness – it is just quick-fire humor with a clever play on a traditional joke format.
Breaking Away from the Norm
“A man walks into a bar … and breaks his nose!”
This is another adaptation of the traditional “bar” joke that uses a play on words to introduce comedy. The classic set up puts the audience into a false sense of security, as they presume they know the structure of the joke and the general premise behind it.
(Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
The punchline, however, focuses on the alternative meaning of “bar” – a long, round piece of metal or wood, which would definitely have the capability of breaking someone’s nose if they walked into it. The humor in this particular one-liner comes from the fact that the punchline is unexpectedly obvious.
“I wondered why the tennis ball was getting bigger and bigger; then it hit me.”
Like many other one-liners, this particular joke plays on the double meaning of phrases. “It hit me” can be intended to mean “I suddenly realized” or “I suddenly remembered” – that is to say, the teller suddenly realized the tennis ball was getting bigger and bigger because it was coming toward them.
(Photo credit GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
However, the set-up of this joke also leads us to interpret the punchline in a physical sense – which the tennis ball ended up literally hitting them. This slapstick imagery of the teller standing clueless as a tennis ball travels toward them before finally realizing what is going to happen, but still being hit, is comedic.
I Spy with My Little Eye …
“Conjunctivitis.com – that’s a site for sore eyes.”
This play on the commonly known phrase “that’s a sight for sore eyes” – meaning something is attractive – was by Tim Vine, brother of TV presenter Jeremy Vine. This one-liner relies on the fact that the audience is likely to know the common phrase (which in turn requires a good knowledge of the English language and well-known sayings) – if not, it will fall flat.
Tim Vine attends Centrepoint’s ultimate pub quiz at Village Underground on February 4, 2014, in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
However, that clearly wasn’t a problem for Vine, as the joke was well received and has been attributed to him since.
The Cure or the Cause?
“I have kleptomania, but when it gets bad, I take something for it.”
Ken Dodd’s humor in this one-liner is derived from the fact that kleptomania is defined as “a mental illness in which you have a strong desire to steal things.”
Ken Dodd (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Although “I take something for it” implies he is taking medicine as a cure for his ailment, the subject nature suggests he means he continues to steal to satisfy his desire. This is a clever – and slightly dark – play on words which were well received by Dodd’s initial audience.
The Holiday of a Lifetime?
“I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.”
Comedian Tim Vine poses at The Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards at Dovecot Studios on August 25, 201,2 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Scott Campbell/Getty Images)
This joke was told by Tim Vine and was voted as the best from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here, he plays on the well-known phrase “once-in-a-lifetime holiday” – the idea of a holiday so special and unique, the opportunity will only arise once in a lifetime and will never be attained again – and focuses the punchline on not wanting to do it a second time, which suggests it was disappointing. The juxtaposition of this joke is what creates the humor.
The Force of Gravity
“I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.”
(Photo by Martin O’Neill/Redferns)
This one-liner gives a commonly used phrase a double meaning when following the subject matter – in this case, anti-gravity, which is described in Merriam Webster as being “a hypothetical effect resulting from cancellation or reduction of a gravitational field.” “It’s impossible to put down” is a clever punchline in the sense it can mean that the book is so good, the teller is finding it difficult to stop reading it, as well as it is literally impossible to place the book on a surface because of anti-gravity. It is not completely clear what the teller is referring to here, which is where the humor in this joke is generated from.
Put ‘em Up
“I was mugged by a man on crutches, wearing camouflage. Ha, ha, I thought, you can hide, but you can’t run.”
Comedian Milton Jones performs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 13, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Scott Campbell/Getty Images)
Comedian Milton Jones plays on the commonly known phrase “you can run but you can’t hide” to mock the impediment of his attacker, who is unable to run while having to use crutches. The addition of camouflage, however – which is used to hide something by blending it into its surroundings – means that the attacker would be able to hide and evade capture. The humor also comes from the fact that despite laughing at his assailant, Milton Jones is, in fact, the loser in the scenario, as he is the one being mugged.
“I want to die like my father, peacefully in his sleep, not screaming and terrified, like his passengers.”
British comedian Bob Monkhouse in the process of thinking up new jokes. Original Publication: Picture Post – 7331 – Comedy Is A Serious Business – pub. 1954 (Photo by Maurice Ambler/Getty Images)
The set-up of Bob Monkhouse’s one-liner lulls the audience into a false sense of security, as the subject of the set-up is somber and resonates with many people who have lost their fathers or other loved ones. The punchline, however, provides enough shock to generate laughs, turning the peaceful picture he painted into a chaotic one. Although the subject of this joke is slightly dark – focusing on death and terrifying situations – the delivery of the punchline ensures the comedy value of the contrasting situations is the focus.
“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
American women’s rights activist and author Gloria Steinem speaks from a podium at a press conference about Ms magazine, which she co-founded, 1980s. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
Gloria Steinem champions feminism with this one-liner, clearly stating that women do not need men – just as a fish has no need for a bicycle. The start of the joke – “A woman without a man” – echoes the start of various sentences said by men in the past, when it was commonly perceived that a woman was incapable of being independent of men and that they were the “lesser” and “weaker” of the two sexes. The punchline – “is like a fish without a bicycle” – not only drives the feminist message home to the audience, but also provides a comical reference and visual image, which adds to the comedy value of the joke. For this reason, men are just as likely to find this joke amusing as women are.
The Alternative Way to a Man’s Heart
“The way to a man’s heart is through his hanky pocket with a bread knife.”
Here, female comedian Jo Brand takes the perceived concept of getting to a man’s heart in a loving way – usually cited as “through his stomach” – and turns it on its head; presumably, to appeal to women.
Comedian Jo Brand, photographed at Dulwich picture library, London. Jo Brand (born 23 July 1957) is a BAFTA-winning English stand-up comedienne, writer, and actress. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for ten years in Wales and South London. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
This type of humor has become more popular with the rise of feminism and women’s rights, and strong, independent female comics have grown in popularity in recent years. This type of joke will undoubtedly receive a laugh from women in the audience that can relate to Brand’s frustration with men, as well as her cynicism.
Wishing Well Wonder
“My mother-in-law fell down a wishing well; I was amazed, I never knew they worked.”
(Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)
This amusing one-liner gets its humor from the relatively modern generalization that people do not like their mother-in-law. Evidence suggests that “mother-in-law jokes” date back to Roman times: Satire VI by Juvenal goes so far as to say that one cannot be happy while one’s mother-in-law is still alive. A workshop leaflet called Cultural Awareness: General Problems, printed in London in 2010, advised against using mother-in-law jokes, stating: “mother-in-law jokes, as well as offensively sexist in their own right, can also be seen as offensive on the grounds that they disrespect elders or parents.” Despite this, the jokes are often still seen as light-hearted humor and have definitely stood the test of time.
An anecdote is, simply, a short story about a – usually funny – event or occurrence. This can be about yourself, someone you know or people you have heard of – and it can be real or fictional, without any biographical or factual origins. Although generally intended to be humorous, anecdotes differ from other types of jokes because there is an intended “point,” moral, or lesson to be learned rather than simply intended to provoke laughter. They can, in addition, advise caution. The word “anecdote” is derived from a Greek word meaning “unpublished” and originates from the biographer of Justinian I, who produced Anekdota, which is translated to Unpublished Memoirs or Secret History.
Equity or a sailor’s Prayer before Battle. Anecdote of the Battle of Trafalgar (caricature). A sailor praying before the Battle of Trafalgar. The officer asks why, as victory is assured. The seaman replies that he hopes that the enemy’s shot is distributed among them in the same proportions as the prize money. ( the custom was when a ship captured an enemy man-of-war or merchantman, the value of the prize was awarded to the captain and his crew and divided between them) (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
Gradually throughout the course of time, the term came to be applied to a range of short stories or tales that were used to illustrate or emphasize whatever point the teller or author desired to make. Here are some of the best anecdotes:
A Minute to Spare
A lady with a clipboard stopped me in the street the other day. She said, “Can you spare a few minutes for Cancer Research?” I said, “All right, but we won’t get much done.”
Comedian Jimmy Carr speaks onstage at The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe at Sony Studios on August 27, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Comedian Jimmy Carr used this anecdote in one of his stand-up routines – no doubt, this was inspired by a real-life experience, as most people (in the UK, at least) have, at some point, been stopped in the street by a charity worker who asks for a few minutes of their time. The punchline of this anecdote is that he has assumed the lady is actually asking him to research cancer – which, of course, she is not. It is Jimmy Carr’s misinterpretation of the situation that creates the humor in this particular anecdote.
Blind to the Burden
(Photo by Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
“In a rural area, a farmer was tending to his horse named Buddy, and along came a stranger who desperately needed the farmer’s help. The stranger had lost control of his vehicle and ran it off into a ditch. The stranger asked the farmer if his horse could somehow pull the car out of the ditch for him and told the farmer that the car was small. The farmer said he would come, bring his horse, and take a look, but could not promise anything. When arriving at the ditch the farmer sees that the stranger was correct and that the vehicle was small, so the farmer took a rope and fixed it so that his horse, Buddy, would be able to pull the vehicle out of the ditch.
The farmer then said, “Pull, Casey, Pull,” but the horse would not budge. The farmer then said, “Pull, Bailey, Pull,” but the horse would not budge again. The farmer then said, “Pull, Mandy, Pull,” and again the horse would not move. The farmer then said, “Pull, Buddy, Pull,” and the horse pulled until the vehicle was out of the ditch. The stranger was so very grateful, but asked the farmer why he called the horse by different names? The farmer said, “Buddy is blind, and I had to make him think he had help pulling the car out of the ditch or he would not have pulled.”
The lesson to be learned from this anecdote is that although it’s often daunting to attempt to do something by yourself, you shouldn’t wait for assistance from others to accomplish something – more often than not, you’re capable yourself, even if you do not realize it. It is interesting to note that there are slight variations of this anecdote from country to country, which all seem to use different names. For example: in the US, the horse is usually named “Buddy”; in the UK, he is “Winston”; and it’s “Scotty” in Australian versions. This shows adaptation depending on location and culture.
A Camel’s Purpose
(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
“A mother and a baby camel were lying around, and suddenly the baby camel asked, “Mother, may I ask you some questions? Mother said, “Sure! Why son, is there something bothering you? Baby said, “Why do camels have humps?” Mother said, “Well son, we are desert animals, we need the humps to store water, and we are known to survive without water.”
Baby said, “Okay, then why our legs long and our feet rounded?” Mother said, “Son, obviously they are meant for walking in the desert. You know with these legs I can move around the desert better than anyone does!”
Baby said, “Okay, then why our eyelashes long? Sometimes it bothers my sight”. Mother with pride said, “My son, those long thick eyelashes are your protective cover. They help to protect your eyes from the desert sand and wind”.
Baby, after thinking, said, “I see. So the hump is to store water when we are in the desert, the legs are for walking through the desert, and these eyelashes protect my eyes from the desert then what in god’s name are we doing here in the Zoo!?”
The moral of this anecdote is that skills, knowledge, abilities, and experience are only useful at the right time in the right place. The camels possess amazing capabilities due to their bodily features, but they all render useless in an environment that is so far removed from their own. Additionally, it could be argued that this anecdote is also making reference to – and criticizing – the function of zoos, which have plummeted in popularity in recent years, especially with Millennials, who increasingly regard keeping animals in captivity as a cruel, inhumane practice that should be abolished.
Know Your Position
“A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A rabbit asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?” The crow answered: “Sure, why not.” So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow and rested. A fox jumped on the rabbit and ate it.”
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
This anecdote has an important moral: live within your means, realizing that what others do is not necessarily the best option for yourself. The rabbit has looked enviously upon the crow’s situation and, as a result, has completely overlooked the imminent danger that faces it as soon as it stops and copies the crow. The rabbit has failed to realize that, despite the action – resting – being the same, the crow is in a much better position to do so and therefore the outcomes of the situations will be extremely different. Both animals wanted to rest and do nothing all day long, but only the crow was at liberty to do so, so the rabbit ultimately becomes the focus of the joke – and in this case, loses his life. It’s the stark reality of the situation and the bluntness of the punchline that delivers the comedy in this particular anecdote.
Information is Key
“A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor. Before she says a word, Bob says, “I’ll give you US$800 to drop that towel.” After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her US$800 and leaves. The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.
When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, “Who was that?” “It was Bob, the next-door neighbor,” she replies. “Great!” the husband says, “Did he say anything about the US$800 he owes me?”
(Photo by Elisabetta Catalano/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
This anecdote is amusing for multiple reasons: firstly, the woman is left embarrassed and foolish after exposing herself unnecessarily and for no gain at all; secondly, Bob, the next-door neighbor has played a trick on the unsuspecting – but slightly promiscuous – woman and presumably leaves feeling very pleased with himself; and thirdly, the idea of the husband being utterly clueless about the entire situation provokes humor. It is also important to note that this anecdote, like so many others, has a meaning or “moral”: if you share critical information at the right time and with the right people, you can avoid undesirable situations and – literally, in this case – exposure. Information sharing is key – if you’re aware of all the facts before going into a situation, you are likely to fare better.
Kid vs. Barber
“A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer. “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!'”
(Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
This anecdote begins in such a way that the audience believes the joke will be on the young boy, but this is turned on its head at the end, when we realize the young boy is significantly smarter than the barber and that the joke is, in fact, on the latter of the two. This is ironic, as the barber initially describes the young boy as “the dumbest kid in the world.” Additionally, the barber is portrayed as the villain at the end of the joke – a grown man who has tried to make fun of a young, seemingly naïve, boy on multiple occasions – so the audience is welcoming to the outcome and are happy to mock the barber, which adds to the humor.
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
“There was a preacher who was an avid golfer. Every chance he could get, he could be found on the golf course swinging away. It was an obsession. One Sunday was a picture-perfect day for golfing. The sun was out, no clouds in the sky, and the temperature was just right. The preacher was in a dilemma as to what to do, and shortly, the urge to play golf overcame him. He called an assistant to tell him that he was sick and could not do church, packed the car up, and drove three hours to a golf course where no one would recognize him. Happily, he began to play the course. An angel up above was watching the preacher and was quite agitated. He went to God and said, “Look at the preacher, he should be punished for what he is doing.”
God nodded in agreement. The preacher teed up on the first hole. He swung at the ball, and it sailed effortlessly through the air and landed right in the cup three hundred and fifty yards away (as they say in basketball, nothing but net). A picture-perfect hole-in-one.
He was amazed and excited. The angel was a little shocked. He turned to God and said, “Begging your pardon, but I thought you were going to punish him.” God smiled. “Think about it – whom can he tell?”
This humorous anecdote tells us that if you lie to evade your existing commitments and responsibilities, the fun and excitement is diminished, as you must continue the deception – and that is the punishment for lying in the first place. It is a story of karma – had the preacher waited and played golf at an appropriate time when he was free, he would have been able to share his exciting news of a hole-in-one with his family and friends, but, because he has lied, he is forced to keep it quiet. For such an avid golfer, this surely is punishment in itself. This anecdote really reinforces the message of “honesty is the best policy.”
Non-sequitur is a Latin term that means “it does not follow” – that is to say when you try to connect two points that have nothing to do with each other. Non-sequitur humor is increasingly used in material directed at Millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) – random, nonsensical humor is used haphazardly in replacement of a traditional setup joke within the context of the material. Marketers and advertisers argue that non-sequitur humor, when novel enough to warrant attention but simple enough to remember easily, grab millennials’ attention and aligns them to the intended narrative.
(Photo by M. Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
It is the employment of shock, absurdity, and nonsense that generates humor in non-sequitur jokes, which are typically not clever regarding wordplay or puns, but instead random and often silly in nature. Here are some examples of non-sequitur jokes:
Flying Through the Air
“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like bananas.”
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
The first sentence of this non-sequitur joke can be regarded as a reasonable statement – after all, “time flies” is a well-known and commonly used phrase to describe how time often seems to go extremely fast. As “flies” is used as a verb about speed, the use of “arrow” tallies with this image as, when an arrow is fired, it travels through the air at high speed. The second sentence of this non-sequitur joke, however, in complete contrast, makes little to no sense, and serves as a punchline that is in contrast to the setup. Fruit is not something that conjures an image of flying, especially not when in comparison with an arrow, and “like bananas” is nonsensical in itself. However, if we view this punchline in a literal way, taking “fruit flies” to be a noun referring to the type of insect or bug that eats fruit, it makes more sense – they do, in fact, like a banana. This is where this non-sequitur joke gets its humor – the absurdity of and contrast between the setup and punchline will, more often than not, generate laughter.
Sleeping Like a …
“Man, I’m so tired I could sleep like a horse.”
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
This non-sequitur joke is humorous due mainly to the fact that it is a random and almost abstract idea. There are many regularly used idioms in the English language – many specifically regarding sleep, such as “sleep like a log” and “sleep like a baby” – but “sleep like a horse” is not one of them. The idea that horses are particularly known for sleeping heavily, or a lot is amusing – and again, the nonsensical aspect of the joke generates humor. Additionally, this plays on the other commonly known phrase “I could eat a horse” – meaning someone is extremely hungry. The amalgamation of two well-known idioms to make one nonsense sentence is the basis of this particular non-sequitur joke.
Living on the Edge
“The town was so small; everyone had a purple backpack!”
(Photo by Timur Emek/Getty Images)
The idea that everyone has a purple backpack purely because the town they live in is so small is absurd, which is where the humor in this non-sequitur joke comes from. Literally one of the last links an average person would make would be between coming from a small town and having a purple backpack, so the audience is extremely unlikely to guess or expect the punchline unless they are already familiar with the joke.
Topical jokes are created during or after a big event and are often controversial – for this reason, they are popular with comedians who use humor to address current political and economic events. This is especially true since the internet has become so accessible worldwide, as news is continuously updated, and people are therefore more aware of global events as they occur.
(Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)
Coupled with the rise in popularity and usage of social media around the world, where people are given a platform to express themselves however and whenever they want, topical jokes are becoming much more popular and commonplace. However, as a result of a “constantly updated world’, where news is reported 24/7, the majority of topical jokes lose their relevance reasonably quickly, so few stand the test of time. Here are some of the best current topical jokes:
The Swedish Challenge
“IKEA is being accused of evading over US$1 billion in taxes. Prosecutors have actually been after IKEA for years. They’ve just been having a hard time putting their case together.”
(Photo by JOKER/Alexander Stein/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
IKEA is a Swedish furniture store that’s famous for selling furniture that you assemble on your own at home – and it is often regarded as being extremely difficult and frustrating to assemble the furniture. The joke plays on this perception, with the punchline stating that even the lawyers are having trouble assembling evidence and putting their legal case against IKEA together.
You’re One in a Million
“China has a population of one billion people. One billion. That means even if you’re a one-in-a-million kind of guy in China, there are still a thousand others exactly like you.”
(Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)
This joke starts out with stating a fact – although admittedly, the figure “one billion” is approximate. It plays on the commonly used phrase: “you’re one in a million” – meaning you’re special and unique. It is usually reserved for loved ones or those you hold in high regard. The punchline is more of a funny fact rather than a quip or play on words – mathematically speaking, if you’re one in a million, there really are a thousand other people like you. The humor comes from the fact that the loving sentiment, therefore, becomes eradicated from the phrase, and it is now no longer as complimentary as it typically should be.
Taking a Bite Out of Apple
“How many Apple employees does it take to change a light bulb?
Seven. One to change the bulb and six to design the T-shirt.”
(Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images for Apple)
This traditional “light bulb” joke has been adapted to make a topical joke that mocks the way that the technology company Apple runs its business by focusing on design and marketing. It is hinting at the fact that the actions taken by Apple are, in fact, straightforward, but that most of the effort goes into the other aspect of the business. Apple often receives much criticism for its marketing strategies, so this joke is generally received well among its 588 million users worldwide.
Tread with Extreme Caution
“Whenever I’m near an uptight vegan, I tend to walk on eggshells … which really upsets them.”
(Photo by Bettina BRINKMANN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
This joke is a play on the commonly known phrase “walking on eggshells,” which means to take extreme caution in not offending or upsetting anyone or doing anything wrong. It is topical due to the huge rise in veganism in recent years, which is often criticized by non-vegans. The stereotype that has grown in popularity is that vegans are “uptight” and fairly forceful with their dietary requirements and lifestyle, and this joke plays on that perfectly, considering an egg is an animal product and therefore not part of a vegan diet. The punchline, “which really upsets them,” is, therefore, true – which provides the humor and comedy value in this topical joke.
“After being advised to put trade tariffs on China and aluminum, Donald Trump said he’d heard of China, but which continent was Aluminum on?”
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
This topical joke is fairly recent, focusing on the current US President and the seemingly common impression that he is unintelligent. It is also highlighting the relatively serious news topic of Donald Trump edging closer to a trade war with China – something that many people were anxious about across the globe. Humor in reaction to serious situations is a typical reaction by many comedians and often provides light relief to the public in an otherwise tense and worrying situation. Also, this particular topical joke undermines the US President – something that a large proportion of the media, comedians, and the public alike enjoy doing, worldwide.
“After endless negotiations with North and South Korea, Donald Trump remarked that East and West Korea must be much more peaceful as he never hears from them.”
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
This is another example of a topical joke based on a serious topic – the negotiations that took place between US President Donald Trump and the leaders of North and South Korea were often tense, and many feared the worst. Bringing light to this situation, this joke also highlights the perceived unintelligence of Trump, as the majority of the audience will be well aware that there is no East Korea or West Korea.
“Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then gives you some milk.
Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then sells you some milk.
Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
Nazism: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.”
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
The commonly known satirical “two cows” joke mocks various political and economic systems around the world and can be traced back to the 1930s. This type of list circulated throughout the US from around 1936 under the title “Parable of the Isms”, according to Bill Sherk, and a column in The Chicago Daily Tribune in 1938 attributes a version involving socialism, communism, fascism, and New Dealism to an address by Silas Strawn to the Economic Club of Chicago in November 1935. The joke has been adapted throughout history to address current topics, and modern frustrations and perceptions: for example, in their book about the global economy, Richard M. Steers and Luciara Nardon use the “two cows” metaphor to illustrate the concept of cultural differences: “Russian company: You have two cows. You drink some vodka and count them again. You have five cows. The Russian Mafia shows up and takes however many cows you have.”