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Scott Hansen: "Just about anything goes, still."

JOEY MCLEISTER, Star Tribune file

Groaners through the ages

  • Article by: BILL WARD
  • Star Tribune
  • July 23, 2009 - 11:28 AM

"Did you hear the one about ... ?" When that query arises, chances are the answer is yes -- because almost all jokes are old jokes, or at least evolved from them.

"I've always heard that all jokes stem from two jokes," said local comic Scott Hansen. "One is fill-in-the-blank like 'A priest walks into a bar ... ' and most of the blonde jokes and Polish jokes. And then there's the list joke like 'A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar ...' or 'How many priests does it take to ...' There are one-liners and puns, but they all seem to go back to those two forms."

So on Friday, which, as everyone surely knows, is National Tell an Old Joke Day (and National Tequila Day -- coincidence?), don't be surprised if you hear more groaners, "knock-knocks" and blonde-bashing bits than usual.

But you probably won't be "treated" to the world's oldest joke, which isn't all that humorous. For that and tips on telling jokes, plus whom it's still OK to make fun of, read on.

Last year, a team of wise, crack researchers at the earnestly named University of Wolverhampton in Great Britain determined that the hoariest known quip was a Sumerian proverb from somewhere between 2300 and 1900 B.C:

"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Yup, a flatulence joke, and a lame one at that. The humor didn't improve much over the next few centuries, if the study's second-oldest joke (circa 1600 B.C.) is any indication:

"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."

By the 10th century A.D., wit had entered the picture, if the oldest bit of British Isles jocularity is any indication:

"What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? Answer: A key."

In these PC times, who or what is it still OK to make fun of?

The answers, culled from Twin Cities comedians, range from oneself to virtually everything:

Dave Mordal: "Probably just Hitler. It's gonna be a scary world if we get to a point where you can't make fun of Hitler. ... And maybe rednecks. I'm one of them, and it still amazes me some of the stuff we do. You have to be part of the group you're making fun of, or it's gotta be Hitler."

Maxine Jeffris: "Oh, everybody. Of course, you don't make fun of people who are standing there -- unless they're hecklers, and then you nail them hard. You can still tell Polish jokes or blonde jokes. Especially blonde jokes. Most blondes aren't really blondes anyway."

Hansen: "Just about anything goes, still. I heard Michael Jackson jokes hours after he died, but people had been telling Michael Jackson jokes for years. There are not a lot of taboos. You don't hear a lot of abortion jokes, or a lot of cancer jokes."

Rox Tarrant: "If you wanna pick on someone, pick on yourself. One of my jokes is that ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to be a comedian; now that I'm a comedian, all I want to be is a young girl."

Tips on telling jokes

Mordal: "The best thing to do is edit. There's nothing worse than listening to a drunk tell a 30-second joke and it takes 2 1/2 minutes. They start over; they forget the punch line. I've had that happen a hundred times. Haven't you? So edit, edit."

Jeffris: "Most people, it's better if they don't tell jokes. If you don't nail it, you've just made someone very uncomfortable and wasted their time. People overestimate how funny they have to be. Most of us can be spontaneously funny. But I guess people want to recapture that moment on TV, so you're just standing there saying, 'Get done, get done.' In my daily life, I don't tell jokes. I did in high school, but I got over it."

Now that's funny.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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