Engaging Humour 1.3 – Researching & Presenting

Engaging Humour 1.3 – Research & Presenting – LOL’s through the aeons.

Good evening Madam Toastmaster, Mr President, fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests

‘Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine’ – Lord Byron

As this is a speech from the Engaging Humour Pathway, I thought that I would research and present a speech on the oldest known jokes in the world.

What is humour? For the purposes of tonight’s speech, we will use the meaning of the noun rather than the verb, ‘the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.’

A joke is a thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline, or it is to talk humorously or flippantly. 

Jokes like speeches should have a story arc of a beginning, the setup, a middle and an end, the punch line. Also like a speech, a joke relies on content, pacing and delivery, both sometimes can benefit from subverting expectations. Dutch linguist Andre Jolles has identified jokes as one of the simple forms of oral literature as they passed along anonymously from friend to friend, in private, public, written form, or the internet, the most recent version being memes.

‘Life is better when you’re laughing’ – anonymous

According to the evolutionary psychology article from 2006 called ‘The First Joke: Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Humour’ co-authored by Joseph Polimeni and Jeffrey P. Reiss from the Department of Psychiatry from the University of Manitoba, Canada, ’humour is a complex cognitive function which often leads to laughter.’

In July 2008 Dr Paul McDonald, a professor from the University of Wolverhampton published a report from a team of Researchers that he had led on a mission to find the world’s oldest jokes, which had been commissioned by the TV Channel Dave.  

Comedy has seemingly always been present in society and has not changed that much over time, there are records of witty proverbs, riddles, puns and question and answer jokes. The team from Wolverhampton discovered that basically the jokes from the past still work today, so should any modern day comic find a time machine and go back to any time in history they would still be able to make people laugh. 

One of the common denominators to humour over the ages is that it has always been willing to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion, according to Dr McDonald, the Report’s author. In an interview with John Joseph from Reuters on July 31st 2008, Dr McDonald went on to say that “modern puns and toilet humour can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research.”

The earliest form of writing appeared almost 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) where early pictorial signs were gradually replaced by a system of symbols that represented the sounds of the Sumerian language. Over time the language evolved into something we could more easily recognise today. It is also interesting to know that one of the earliest things humans did when they learnt to write, was to make a note of things that amused them. 

One of the jokes that was voted the best joke of the year in 2020 was ‘Two aerials get married. The ceremony was rubbish but the reception was brilliant

The oldest English joke, but, not the oldest joke in the world, appeared in a 10th century book of anglo Saxon poetry: ‘What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? A key!’

So, if the 10th century English key joke is not the oldest joke in the world, what is

It dates back to 1900 BC, which is about 4000 years ago, and comes from Sumeria, which is now Southern Iraq, it has been translated and reads like this ‘Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.’ You, like me, May not have found this joke funny, and that’s ok, Dr Paul McDonald didn’t either and he said that things get lost in translation between languages or that in the case of this joke, it is over 3920 years old. That being said, if you watch a repeat of a comedy programme like have I got news for you or Mock the week, a number of months after the original date of airing, the joke may now be forgotten. Do we think that in 12 months time people will still be laughing about Boris and his parties or his renovated apartment, only time will tell?

The second oldest joke that we are aware of is from about 1600 BC and is about a pharaoh, King Snorfru, it says “How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of women wearing only fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish. 

As I was researching this speech, it became clear that we have been laughing at the same themes and topics over the aeons. We have always been amused by the same type of jokes, observational, one-liners, self depreciating, topical and anecdotal. It seems that the more things change with humour the more they stay the same.

Dad jokes seem to be the new thing, so here are some I think you may like:

Which bear is the most condescending? A pan-duh!

What do you call it when a group of apes start a company? Monkey business.

Why do bees have sticky hair? Because they use a honeycomb.

I will end with a quote from Charlie Chaplin who said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

Thank you Madam Toastmaster, Mr President, fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests.






‘Every time you find some humour in a difficult situation, you win’ – anonymous

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