In the quest for the oldest, the search for the first, and the exploration for the original funny oration, there have been recordings of jokes since as far back as 3,000 years ago from civilizations like Babylon and ancient Greece. These millennium-spanning knee-slappers have stood the test of time, perhaps not always in their humor but at least in our records. Even with the confusion that results from translating ancient languages into modern English, you’ll find that sources of comedic material haven’t really changed since the Sumerians. Expect the expected.
The world’s oldest joke is attributed to this Sumerian proverb from 1900 B.C.: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
Yes, the first joke was a fart joke.
The Babylonians had a tablet that supposedly conveyed wise sayings, but at least some of them read like jokes- check them out here. Good luck deciphering some of them.
This study by the University of Wolverhampton compiles some of humanity’s historical forays into joke writing, from 10th century Britain to ancient Egypt.
The longest surviving collection of jokes is an ancient Greek text titled Philogelos, which translates to The Laughter Lover. It’s got some real winners, like this one: “An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had ‘departed,’ the intellectual replied: ‘when he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?” Get it? Because intellectuals don’t have common sense. It’s a thinker.
Here’s an article with a whole bunch of translations from the collection to tickle your fancy.
If you want to try your first stab at the ol’ chuckle-makers, go to an open-mic at Stand Up NY, or come see a show by many of the popular and up-and-coming comedians at one of Stand Up NY’s shows.