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The 100 Jokes that shaped modern comedy

Posted February 3, 2016 into Funny by John Birmingham

For anyone interested in the artform, this is kind of amazing, even if the authors admit the limits. (One joke per comedian, and only American gags).

I don't get some of the early ones, which just goes to show how much of our humour is contextual. Worth a long read on the weekend. I can't help but feel that Professor will study this closely.

Example:

1937 ‘Take My Wife … Please.’ Henny Youngman

It’s hard to say with authority exactly who invented the one-liner, but Borscht Belt comedian Henny Youngman (the man Walter Winchell called “the King of the One-Liners”) is arguably responsible for the most famous one ever. Just like how Groucho's moustache, eyebrows, nose, and glasses became synonymous with “comedian,” “Take my wife … please” is the Platonic ideal of a joke. The format is one that is still mimicked to this day: using a familiar phrase to draw people in, then taking a sharp left turn. And though the joke is seen as shticky and hacky at this point, structurally it is deceptively elegant, as the setup is hiding inside what seems like a transition. Despite writing tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of jokes in his life, legend has it that Youngman’s most famous one was the result of an accident. When he first started working on the The Kate Smith Show, Youngman's beloved wife, Sadie, brought a bunch of her friends backstage with her. Annoyed, Youngman brought his wife to the stagehand and said, “Take my wife, please.” The rest is history.

22 Responses to ‘The 100 Jokes that shaped modern comedy’

BigWillieStyle is gonna tell you...

Posted February 3, 2016
I couldn't see "Coal is good for humanity" on the list anywhere.

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NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted February 3, 2016
Are you familiar with the term 'facilitator' as it relates to addiction? What did poor Mrs Professor Boylan, their charming son ever do to you? Why would you cause them such pain? You may not have lit the fire, but you've handed a known pyromaniac the accelerant and a bic lighter.
For shame sir.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted February 4, 2016
And I am itching to burn down the argument that those jokes shaped "modern comedy" - if there is such a thing. Funny, yes (Robin Williams' joke about cocaine is fucking hilarious). But influential?

w from brisbane ducks in to say...

Posted February 4, 2016
PNB, I don't know if you are joking, but most professional comedians are very knowledgeable about the history of funny. They love listening to other comedians. They study them. What is the funny idea, what is the rhythm used, the word selection, the number of syllables etc. Is someone doing something new? Why is that gag funny, why is that gag not so funny. Pro comedians will say how Woody Allen's gag telling style is taken from Bob Hope and explain why. I think the history of joke telling is very influential, not always for thinking up the idea behind the gag, but for the toolkit of how to get the laugh.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted February 4, 2016
I was serious because it is funny to be deadly serious and analytical when discussing humour. When I was younger I instigated violent arguments over what is and isn't funny. My mantra was "comedy is serious business."

There is an incredibly funny group of very well thought out and reasoned scholarly papers that came out of a psychology conference on humour back in the early 1980's. Very dry. Very bland. Discussing things like "glee factors" without any glee at all.

What could possibly be funnier than that?

BigWillieStyle has opinions thus...

Posted February 4, 2016
I can't think of a comedian who wasn't influenced by those that came before. Jerry Seinfeld grew up studying Bill Cosby and Robert Klein. Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock were heavily influenced by Richard Pryor, who in turn was influenced by Cosby and Lenny Bruce. Jim Carrey was influenced by Jerry Lewis. Michael Richards' slapstick turn on "Seinfeld" was a nod to Lewis and Laurel & Hardy. WC Fields used a cigar as a prop, and Groucho Marx, George Burns and Milton Berle did likewise.

Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider, to their credit, have steadfastly refused to be influenced by anybody, and their commitment to being relentlessly unfunny for their entire careers is to be applauded.

dweeze asserts...

Posted February 4, 2016
"Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider, to their credit, have steadfastly
refused to be influenced by anybody, and their commitment to being
relentlessly unfunny for their entire careers is to be applauded."

Now, that is piss funny.

Lulu has opinions thus...

Posted February 4, 2016
"most professional comedians are very knowledgeable about the history of funny. They love listening to other comedians."

w, I'm assuming you know about the English comedian Ross Noble who lived here for a while. He spent years collecting an entire tradition of English comedians (on tapes, vinyl etc etc), and built up a huge library, some of the material apparently quite rare.

Then, AFIAK, lost the lot in the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted February 4, 2016
Adam Sandler is a comic genius. Little Nicky is one of the best films of all time. I have to agree with you about Rob Schneider. He is mixed race, and that is never funny.

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Lulu is gonna tell you...

Posted February 3, 2016
I want to spend the rest of the day reading this. It's reminded me of my teenage love of Mae West & the Marx Brothers.

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insomniac would have you know...

Posted February 3, 2016
Man, that 'Nobody' joke is a cracker.

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KreepyKrawly asserts...

Posted February 3, 2016
As a young'un, I grew up on the Goon show and British comedy... Reading those 100 "Jokes" is like going to the pub, ordering a beer and getting metho...

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DarrenBloomfield asserts...

Posted February 4, 2016
I got ready to read it, already primed to be pissed off that it was Seppo-only.
But then as I read it, I realised that this kind of list really needs to be country/cultural-specific. I'd love to see a similar one for the UK (or British Isles) : Goons, Python, Morceambe and Wise, Sellers, Moore and Cook, etc etc.
And Australia? pretty much covered on the ABC recently in "stop laughing, this is serious" but Roy Rene through to Barry Humphries to Kennedy to ...


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GhostSwirv mumbles...

Posted February 4, 2016

Springtime for Hitler is my favourite - Brooks is a anarchic genius from Bialystok & Bloom, KAOS v CONTROL, Froderick and Egor to ... "how did he do such fantastic stunts with such little feet?"

PS - PNB ... someone should rip off Big Bang Theory by creating a sitcom of academics arguing over the science of what constitutes the essential funny elements necessary to generate comedy - their mortal enemies could be a phalanx of twitter followers hell bent of ridding the world of academics who ruthlessly appropriate humour and break it down into its unfunny sub-atomic parts.

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JG is gonna tell you...

Posted February 4, 2016
Terrific stuff. Thanks for the link, JB. There's a lot to read and view, so I'll savour this a few gags at a time. True that comedy is a serious business, PNB. Punch lines are often born of tragedy, cutting against normality, the unexpected, and shock value. I love absurdity and comedy gold. Laugh and the world laughs with you... laughter is the best medicine. I think comedy has an important place in changing and recontextualising thoughts about oneself and issues in tha world both big and small. Funny that many comedians come from a place of truth that touch on fear and suppressed desires or urges. Neh. Too serious about the funny stuff. Just laugh. Release. It's instinctual. I think all animals laugh.

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BigWillieStyle mutters...

Posted February 4, 2016
Two of the most successful TV comedies in recent years are "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory". If this constitutes "modern comedy", then we're already in the seventh circle of Hell.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted February 4, 2016
If you are alluding to Dante, I think the Fourth Circle is more appropriate. Not judging. Just sayin.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 5, 2016
and may I present the world's funniest joke. One of my favorites they had in their "Gentelmen you can't fight in here this is the war room". from Dr Stranglelove.

DarrenBloomfield has opinions thus...

Posted February 5, 2016
A man goes to the zooIt only had one exhibit, a dog.It was a Shih tzu

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Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted February 5, 2016
Aspiring comedians should also study Dave Allen - in fact go look up the plethora of his stuff on youtube yourself!

DarrenBloomfield reckons...

Posted February 5, 2016
"Goodnight, and may your God go with you"
The man was a genius. I used to watch - mesmerised - his (short-a-fingertip) hand, trapping a cigarette and fondling his whiskey glass, while spinning a yarn...

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GhostSwirv puts forth...

Posted February 5, 2016

Can anyone imagine any of our home-grown comedians being hard core enough to cut off a fingertip to emulate #TheFunnyDave?

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