The Oldest Jokes|in the World

     “Doctor, when I get up in the morning I feel dizzy for half an hour.”
     “So get up half an hour later.”
     This joke is 2,000 years old.
     It’s one of 260 yuks collected in the oldest surviving joke book in the Western world, the Philogelos.
     The Philogelos, published in the 4th century, collected jokes that already were old. Lots of the jokes were about bald men, and eunuchs, and stupid people who came from a town called Abdera. Abdera jokes were the Romans’ Polack jokes.
     (I’m half Polish myself, so leave me alone.)
     The doctor in that joke, by the way, was bald. I left it out, but I guess that made it funnier back in 400 A.D.
     Skip ahead 1,100 years, to “Tales and Quicke Answeres,” which Shakespeare may have mined for jokes.
     “The wyse man Socrates had a coursed scolding wife, called Xantippe, the which on a day she had chydde him also powred a urinal potte on his heed. He, takynge all paciently, sayde: dyd nat I tell you that when I herd Xantippe thunder so fast, that it would rayne anone after?
     “Wherby ye maye se, that the wiser a man is, the more pacience he taketh. The wyse poet Virgil sayth: all fortune by sufferance must be overcome.”
     This proves that the Romans were funnier than the Elizabethans. And spelled a lot better, too.
     In those 1,100 years, morality crept into jokes. And made them less funny.
     I have here 15 Elizabethan joke books (average length, 36 pages) collected and edited by William Carew Hazlitt. To the vast majority of these jokes, the Elizabethan collector added a moral.
     Perhaps he felt he had to. After all, there were Puritans around. But in no case does a moral make a joke funnier. The moral, apparently, was an excuse for the guy to tell a joke at all.
     I have studied jokes for my entire life, which is one reason I am so dull.
     Any good joke is amoral. It can take a side – stand up for this or oppose that – but the humor in it, if any, doesn’t depend which side you take. Humor is a meat-slicing machine in a delicatessen – it just cuts meat. Thin slices or fat ones, it cuts meat.
     Which is why I have said for years that the CIA should have a clandestine Office of Jokes. I’m serious about this.
     We want our enemies to do stupid stuff, right? To defeat themselves without our having to do a thing, and to spend the least amount of money. There is no better way to do this than jokes. We should broadcast them over the Voice of America.
     Dictators and terrorists have no sense of humor about themselves.
     Want to flush the leaders of the Taliban and ISIS out of hiding? Tell cruel jokes about them on Voice of America, and watch the signals traffic.
     Want Kim Jong Un to shoot himself in both of his tiny fat feet? Bombard North Korea with Glorious Leader jokes.
     Any Glorious Leader who calls a Hollywood comedy about him “an act of war,” as the little twit did last week, is just a quarter of an inch from being pushed off his rickety pedestal.
     The late, great Arizona senator Mo Udall wrote a book called “Too Funny to be President.” Mo Udall had his priorities straight.
     The best way to “destabilize” a country is to make it do dumb stuff, against its own interests.
     That’s all our country has done since Sept. 11, 2011.
     Heard the latest one about Putin and the ayatollah?

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