The oldest joke ever recorded is a Sumerian joke from about 1,900 BC, or nearly 4,000 years ago. We’re not about to suggest that this is the first joke ever told, that would be preposterous. It’s just that this is the oldest joke ever recorded. Before the written language, people obviously had the intelligence to make one another laugh with verbal communication. The problem with spoken words is that until recently in history there has been no way to record it. That’s why recorded writing s so important to discover how life was centuries ago, even when it came to comedy. So do you want to read the funny?
It goes something like this:
Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.
~First joke written
Alright, we said it was a joke, we didn’t say that it was a good one. It should be taken in context though. When compared to the daily drudgery of life back then it would have been a riot. Make a comparison of this joke to the plague, malaria, small pox, leprosy, starvation, working in salt mines and tyrannical autocratic rule and it would have been the best thing since the advent of the wheel, or a hole to crap in. But fear not. As lame and unfunny as this joke was, the Egyptians improved upon it significantly only 300 years later.
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.
~First Egyptian joke in 1,600 BC
OK, now that’s a little more entertaining, and blasphemous along with being treacherous all at the same time. One could imagine that the stone mason who carved that little gem into a wall of tablet would have cut their own life somewhat significantly shorter for their effort in chiseled in comedy.
Thankfully for us, along with the growth in literacy came improved jokes. By the 10th century in England jokes had evolved into sexually suggestive riddles, like this one:
What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?
While the oldest joke ever recorded was about as funny as a Far Side cartoon, time and education has allowed for more humorous bouts comedy to begin to enter our society. It has also shown how jokes have changed over time to fit in with changing social acceptance.