National Tell A Joke Day: A brief look at the history of humor

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ORLANDO, Fla. – What does it mean to assume something? What are we taught?

Depending on how you were brought up, you may have heard the phrase “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me,” paired with some form of demonstration showing you how the word gets split up. I like it too, it’s catchy in a way, but it’s not going to stop me from making the following assumption of you and everyone else: We all love a good joke.

Aug. 16 is National Tell A Joke Day and I’m here to give you some amiable ammunition, as well as to share some light research I’ve done on the history and applications of joking around.

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That’s a good one, right? For clarity, all of the jokes used in this article were sourced from a now 7-year-old archived thread on Reddit where users posted their favorite one and two-liners. I saved it expecting the material would be useful in the future, and hey, look at me now. Eat your heart out, Nostradamus.

As mentioned on National Today, some point to Ancient Greece — around 1900 B.C.E. for our purposes here — as roughly when and where jokes were invented, or at least when cultures began to record them. However, if we’re to follow the findings of Jim Holt in his 2008 book “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes,” cultural critic and folklorist Gershon Legman once shared a piece of advice likely meant to manage our expectations as we go searching for where it all began: “Nobody ever tells jokes for the first time.”

An excerpt from the book as reviewed on NPR shows while Holt did acknowledge the idea that jokes were invented in Greece, the buck stops there.

“The joke is sometimes said to have been invented by Palamedes, the hero of Greek legend who outwitted Odysseus on the eve of the Trojan War. But since this proverbially ingenious fellow is also credited with inventing numbers, the alphabet, lighthouses, dice, and the practice of eating meals at regular intervals, the claim should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt,” Holt wrote.

OK, let’s get modern. One of my favorite pieces of Media trivia — picked up during my time as a journalism student at the University of Central Florida — concerns a retrospective look at Americans’ reaction to the Vietnam War. I lost track of my textbooks though, so bear with me as I rely on an article published in 2000 by Patrick Goldstien for the Los Angeles Times.

The long and short of it is that many Americans, especially those active in the arts, lost their trust in the government throughout this war. The cynicism essentially led to the normalization of criticizing it, spawning a new age of fearless political commentary, satire and humor, dark or otherwise. To put the notion in better words, Goldstien quoted then-president of Reprise Records Howie Klein: “The war was this hammer that split everything apart. Once you questioned the war, you began to question everything.”

But, I mean, come on. Tone it down. Why talk about Ancient Greece and a doomed land war in Southeast Asia when I could just segue into discussing the health benefits of laughing or something?

Surely you’ve caught yourself in the middle of a belly laugh with friends thinking: “That’s strange, there’s so much in my life that I’m constantly worried about, but in this moment I feel alright.”

According to Mayo Clinic, that’s no coincidence. The “Stress Management” portal on its website describes how laughing can leave you feeling relaxed after the simultaneous rise and fall of your stress response, heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, Mayo Clinic lists an improved immune system, relief of pain and increased personal satisfaction as some of the long-term effects of laughing often.

You rarely ever need an excuse for telling a joke, but today, you’ve got one.

Get out there and make someone laugh, and don’t bore them with stories about history or war or medicine, I’ve already taken care of that.

Make like a calculator, because I’m counting on you!

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.