The 5 Oldest Jokes in History (and Why They’re Still Hysterical)


BACKGROUND: While quite a few jokes on this list date back to when people were still wearing togas, the expression “that’s what she said” is a proud product of the old-timey twentieth century. The phrase is of British origin and stretches as far back as the Edwardian era from 1901-1910. Back then, the expression was most commonly took the form: “Said the actress to the bishop.”

We’re guessing this elusive bishop was an ancestor of Ricky Gervais.

THE JOKE: If you can believe it, the following example comes from the set of the 1929 film Blackmail. Yes, we are talking about the same Blackmail that was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and yes, that fat, balding guy in the video is Alfred Hitchcock.

WHY IT’S STILL HILARIOUS: Considering the four Primetime Emmy Awards and 26 nominations, three Writers Guide of America awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and one Golden Globe Award won by the US version of The Office alone, we’re pretty sure our actress will continue saying what she does to the bishop for at least another century.


BACKGROUND: For those of you unfamiliar with The Canterbury Tales, let’s put it this way: If you think things like sex and farts are funny now, imagine how hilarious they were during the most uncleanly moments of the Middle Ages.

Geoffrey Chaucer.

 “The Miller’s Tale” ranks far and wide as one of the highest examples of this art form. Specifically, the type of humor that makes “Terrance and Phillip” possible.


“This Nicholas just then let fly a fart
As loud as it had been a thunder-clap,
And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap;
But he was ready with his iron hot
And Nicholas right in the arse he got.

Off went the skin a hand’s-breadth broad, about,
The coulter burned his bottom so, throughout,
That for the pain he thought that he should die.
And like one mad he started in to cry,
“Help! Water! Water! For God’s dear heart!”

WHY IT’S STILL HILARIOUS: As far as humor goes, whenever anyone farts so hard that it produces a flame… it works.


BACKGROUND: A few years ago, a Cambridge professor with the hilarious name Mary Beard found an Ancient Roman joke book some 1,700 years old. This book, Philogelos [the “Laughter-Lover”] enjoys the rare distinction of being the oldest joke book in history.

The book was dedicated to Carlos Mencia.

Originating from Ancient Greece, Philogelos contains 265 jokes, some of which still hold up well. Naturally, it should not be too surprising that the book does not contain that many gay jokes.

Pictured: Ancient Greece.

THE JOKE: A man buys a slave, who dies soon after. When he complains, the slave seller replies, “Well, he didn’t die when I owned him.”

WHY IT’S STILL HILARIOUS: Ever hear of the Monty Python “Dead Parrot Sketch”? Well, this is it.

Picture this, only with slaves and togas.


BACKGROUND: One of the finest anecdotes in the One Thousand and One Nights is about a guy named Abu Hasan who “let fly” a fart on his wedding reception so long and loud that he immediately skipped town for several years. Yup, these are the types of nuggets you are able to sneak inside a 1,000-chapter-long book without anybody noticing.

Naturally, there’s sex as well.

However, as entertaining as it is for a man to ruining his own wedding day by ripping one, check out the punch line waiting for Abu Hasan when he returned from his exile:


Drawing near to his old home, he looked down upon it from the hills with brimming eyes, and said to himself, “They might recognize me, so I will wander about the outskirts and listen to what people are saying. May Allah grant that they do not remember what happened.”

He listened carefully for seven nights and seven days, until it happened that, as he was sitting at the door of a hut, he heard the voice of a young girl saying, “Mother, tell me what day was I born on, for one of my companions wants to tell my fortune.”

The mother answered, “My daughter, you were born on the very night when Abu Hasan farted.”

No sooner had the listener heard these words than he rose up from the bench and fled, saying to himself, “Verily my fart has become a date! It will be remembered for ever and ever.

He continued on his way, returning finally to India, where he remained in self exile until he died. May the mercy of Allah be upon him!

WHY IT’S STILL HILARIOUS: The fart-induced exile was hilarious on its own, but the idea of a fart being so epic that it becomes the new A.D. is storytelling that even Tarantino couldn’t pull off.


BACKGROUND: It should not be too surprising that the single oldest joke on record, one that stretches all the way back to Sumer in 1900 B.C., is a fart joke.

We’re guessing this had something to do with 1900 B.C. also being the year we invented chili.

THE JOKE: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”


WHY IT’S STILL HILARIOUS: When your lead-in is “time immemorial,” you’d better believe that’s a high bar to set. Nevertheless, even after 4,000 years later, the idea of a hot young wife farting in her hubby’s lap is still hysterical.

In Japan, however, the joke gets kind of creepy.

Jacopo della Quercia is on Twitter. Follow him!


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