Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Material For a Minstrel Show


An Egyptologist Studying Humor as Known to the Empire of the Nile.

The avowed intention of M. Ollivier Beauregard, the eminent Egyptologist, to publish a few of the mummified jokes of that ancient empire of the Nile has necessarily overwhelmed the great host of modern humorists with consternation. Egypt has been claimed as the great mother of almost everything else, save for a baby's share which has been allotted to Babylonia, and it is to be dreaded that the true antiquity of the joke will be revealed among the other awful secrets of the tombs of the pharaohs. Solomon's maxim that there is nothing new under the sun has long been an accepted dictum, even among the jokemakers, and no less a personage than Mark Twain has reduced the joke germs — or, rather, joke elements — to seven Aryan ancestors. What those seven jokes of the seven foolish men of ancient days were it may only be conjectured, but undoubtedly the woman's age, woman's tongue and the mother-in-law jokes were among them and were cracked by our rude ancestors in the old cave dwellings of early Neanthropic times with infinite gusto. The young man who stays late and the old man's boot may have been later accretions. Certainly the young housekeeper and the man who never pays back witticisms do not date much earlier than the days of Noah.

The spring poet first appeared on the scene in the days of old King Sargon, who founded the royal library of Assyria and called for competitive odes. The office goat is a purely modern version. The summer girl and the chappie have a latter day look, but their antetypes can be discovered in the pages of the Greek Theophrastus and the Roman Petronius. The nouveaux richesse figure in that latter romancer's character of Trimalchio. As for the pun, that is undoubtedly a relic of antediluvian jocosity, and it is not impossible to imagine the wicked old Nephelim asking one another, as they stood around and laughed at Noah buiding the ark, "When is a door not a door?" and "Where was Moses when the light went out?"

It is distressing to realize those facts in the case, but what a harrowing situation will ensue if M. Beauregard shall discover the one original, primitive, protoplasmic joke globule, the father of all these nineteenth century jokelets! Imagine the literary scientists placing this Akkadian joke under the microscope and inviting the world to gaze upon the great and only "Jokiensis eozoon!" The modern joker could not survive such a pitiless expose. His occupation, like Othello's, would be gone forever. — Philadelphia Record.

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