The study was commissioned for Dave
to celebrate a night of top notch stand-up comedy for Live at the Apollo on Saturday 2 August 2008. A team of academics were tasked to research the world’s oldest examples of recorded humour. Led by humour expert Dr Paul McDonald from the University of Wolverhampton, the team spent two months trawling the annals of history to produce the first report of its kind into the world’s oldest recorded jokes.
The Dave Historical Humour Study defines a joke as having a clear set-up and punch line structure - this definition enabled the team to plot the history of the joke as far back as 1900 BC. The results provide a unique and compelling insight into how jokes have evolved over the years, both globally and in the UK.
The world’s oldest joke is revealed to be an ancient Sumerian proverb dating back to 1900 BC - Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap. The Sumerian version of this joke occurs in tablets dating to the Old Babylonian period and possibly even dates back to 2,300 BC. The study notes that this joke is almost the ancient equivalent of a well known quip by the actor John Barrymore – “Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock.”
Other jokes that also make it onto the world’s oldest list include a more conventional gag from 1600 BC - how do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish. This is featured on the Westcar Papyrus and is said to be about King Snorfru. The tale of the three ox drivers from Adab completes the top three oldest jokes in the world. Dating back to 1200 BC, this joke adheres to the so called ‘rule of three’ where the set up for the joke is reiterated three times. A full rundown of all the jokes unearthed in the research can be found at the Dave website http://www.dave-tv.co.uk/
and at the end of this release.
By contrast, the UK’s oldest joke is a crude riddle that features in the Exeter Codex and dates back to the 10th Century AD - What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? Answer: A key
The UK’s oldest one liner is taken from England’s earliest jest book and was written in 1526 - When a boy was asked by the Law to say his father’s craft, the boy answered that his father was a crafty man of Law.
Dr Paul McDonald, Senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, says: “The Dave Historical Humour Study shows that jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles. What they all share however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion. Modern puns, Essex girl jokes and toilet humour can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research.”
Steve North, Dave channel head, says: “Throughout the years, British humour has always had an element of witty banter to it. What is interesting about these ancient jokes is that they feature the same old stand up comedy subjects: relationships, toilet humour and sex jokes. The delivery may be different, but the subject matter hasn’t changed a bit.”
Dr Paul McDonald from the University of Wolverhampton is an eminent lecturer whose work on comedy writing and humour research has been published extensively worldwide.
Dave – the home of witty banter – showcases the best in contemporary entertainment alongside the very best quiz shows and cult comedies, including QI, Top Gear, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, The Catherine Tate Show, and its own originations including the World Rally Championships. http://www.dave-tv.co.uk/
On Saturday 2nd August 2008 Dave will showcase Live at the Apollo on Saturday night. It will include stand-up from Lee Mack, Joan Rivers, Jack Dee and Marcus Brigstocke and Rich Hall.
For University of Wolverhampton media inquiries, contact Vickie Woodward in the Press Office on 01902 322736 or 07973 335112.